Participants discuss important topics for Myanmar's future at the Inya Lake Hotel, Yangon, on May 3, 2014. Image: Myanmar Futures Exchange team.

The Myanmar Futures Exchange: Using Futures to Create Sustainable Change for 2025

ASEAN

“In the year 2025 I would like to see a woman president, women comprising 35% of all members of parliament, 90% literacy, 3 meals a day for everyone, and children completing primary, secondary, and tertiary education.” –MFE 2014 participant

Myanmar is currently a country in transition. While dramatic political and economic reforms have taken place since 2011, there is still much left to be done in ensuring that now Myanmar has opened up, it continues to prosper and grow. The US government, the UN, and many in-country development organizations, have been working in Myanmar for several years to reduce poverty, increase jobs, and build capacity of local institutions.

Anticipating these needs, on May 3rd, 2014 the East-West Center hosted the second annual Myanmar Futures Exchange (MFE) in Yangon, Myanmar. The event, the first of its kind, is a multi-stakeholder futures event that brings in leaders from diverse groups to discuss Myanmar’s future out to 2025.

Building off the energy of the MFE 2013, the 2014 event took a decentralized approach to engaging with the public in Myanmar. Scenario building workshops were undertaken at 15 sites in Yangon and around the country including Shan State, Mandalay Division, Kiyin State, and Mon State. 560 participants from diverse sectors including government, business, civil society, education, religious groups, media, and the arts attended the workshops. The MFE concluded with a 60 person full-day workshop with “civic creatives” in Yangon using consolidated data from the smaller workshops and building on existing scenarios to create systems change.

The work of the MFE is particularly important at this point in time when the world is watching. Critical issues such as national resource management and ongoing ethnic tension must be resolved if Myanmar is to join the ASEAN community and take its place on the world stage. The East-West Center has worked in Myanmar for many years and roughly 175 East-West Center award recipients have participated in programs since the founding of the Center. The EWC was able to strengthen established networks in country, and bring new groups of people to the table.

During the event, participants discussed the field data as well as other drivers of change reformers from various sectors. Participants started the day with a framing session during which the data from the smaller workshops was consolidated into 10 main ‘drivers of change’ these drivers were prioritized individually, and in groups, and ultimately mapped based on the number of leverage points, or opportunities for action associated with each driver.

The three main drivers that came out of the workshop were: Access to Quality Education, Responsive Governance, and Financial System Reform. Participants identified these are the most critical issues facing Myanmar out to 2025. The group discussed systems change, and how to enable tipping points around these issues in each sector. Participants left with a framework for creating change, an understanding of futures thinking, and a network of like-minded people to collaborate with.

Plans are underway to develop the 2015 MFE. Timing will be important as 2015 is an election year for Myanmar and events like the MFE that build capacity of reform minded people and organizations as well as engage with thought leaders will be critical. The goal of the MFE is to further dialogue and cooperation in Myanmar around the issue of inclusive development. As the quote at the beginning of this post reveals, people have many dreams for the future of Myanmar. It is hoped that by targeting change-makers the MFE can create a tipping point around key issues, provide a forum for engagement, and ultimately help create sustainable change.

For more information, please visit http://www.mfe2014.org/, and follow the Myanmar Futures Exchange on Twitter, @MyanmarFutures.

Alisha Bhagat is an alumna of the East-West Center's Asia-Pacific Leadership Program and a futures advisor at Forum for the Future. MFE sponsors included British Council, US Embassy, and Pyoe Pin.