Dr. Aung Tung Thet, economist and member of the Presidential National Economic and Social Advisory Council, speaking at the Myanmar Futures Exchange (MFE) workshop in Yangon, Myanmar, April, 2013. Image: Taku Jindo

Looking to the Future with the Myanmar Futures Exchange

ASEAN The Mekong

“The key drivers of change are the interplay of economic, social and political factors. We cannot predict Myanmar’s economic future without dealing with its political and social developments” stated Dr. Aung Tung Thet, economist and member of the Presidential National Economic and Social Advisory Council, at the Myanmar Futures Exchange (MFE). The event in Yangon was hosted by the East-West Center and sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, the British Council and Pyoe Pin, brought together approximately 200 participants, including government officials, local business owners, and NGO workers to discuss the future of economic development in Myanmar.

Myanmar has gone through rapid change over the past few years. Since dramatic political and economic reforms began in Myanmar—also known as Burma—in 2011, the country has been faced with difficult questions about the path to economic development and the models it would like to emulate. At the landmark MFE workshop on April 26 and 27—the first such strategic planning event to be held in the country—participants spent a weekend in small working groups to identify drivers of economic change, examine the interconnectivity of these drivers, and create a variety of scenarios for the country out to the year 2020. Approximately 75 percent of attendees were from Myanmar, a relatively new phenomenon for a country where large public gatherings were prohibited just a few years ago.

Given recent troubling events in Myanmar, participants saw ethnic relations as one of the key drivers of change over the next seven years, along with the development of human capital, democratic gridlock, and external influence by the power triangle of China, India and the United States.

The MFE focused on a grassroots approach to big picture economic development questions and provided a collective “on the ground” perspective that is invaluable to any discussion on Myanmar’s trajectory.

Delegates at the Myanmar Futures Exchange, hosted by the East-West Center in Yagon, Myanmar. Image: Taku Jindo (Click on image to enlarge)

The outcomes of the MFE were threefold. First, participants learned strategic forecasting tools through the process of building scenarios and working with drivers of change. Second, they gained from the insight of 200 other leaders and community members working to build a strong and sustainable economic future for Myanmar. Finally, they developed relationships outside of their sector for potential future collaboration.

Participants left feeling empowered to create change and connected to others with similar goals. One participant stated that over the next seven years he would like to see a “rise in the standard of living for farmers through mechanization and government policy” and “a reduction in ethnic tension as it only slows down development”.

Plans are already underway for a 2014 Myanmar Futures Exchange with the goal of furthering dialogue and cooperation on inclusive development for Myanmar. The East-West Center has a long history of engagement with Myanmar, with about 170 East-West Center award recipients having participated in Center programs over the years, who have established an active alumni chapter of the East-West Center Association in Yangon. This June, the East-West Center plans to conduct media programs in Myanmar for the first time.