by Scott Lansell, divisional vice president for Business Development & Civil Society, World Learning
With this week’s historic visit by President Thein Sein to the White House, Burma (also known as Myanmar) remains a priority in the eyes of policy makers, democracy promoters, and the private sector—all watching as this critical country in Southeast Asia repositions itself after decades of isolation.
The U.S. Department of State’s latest fact sheet, which highlighted Sein’s visit, noted that the American Center, Rangoon has the highest attendance of any American Center in the world, and trains political, civil society, and labor activists in democratic systems and civic engagement.
World Learning’s flagship civic education project in Burma, run out of the American Center, represents a strategic focus linking democracy and governance to our rich capacity in higher education in the developing world. The Institute for Political and Civic Engagement (IPACE) works with party and labor leaders as well as civil society organizations (CSOs) in Burma to provide education and training to a diverse array of community leaders throughout the country. IPACE courses offer approaches, best practices, and theories behind increasing the capacity of CSOs in Burma, and engage participants in discussions on how to best support their communities.
Our participants represent a vast cross-section of Burmese society, and come from organizations that conduct a range of service delivery and constituent services, from environmental awareness to community education programs. These organizations also actively promote rights for women and ethnic and religious minority groups at the local and national levels.
Inaugurated in January 2013, the three-year project’s activities now include:
- Creation of two of four session curricula as of May 2013 and design of democracy-focused courses, in close collaboration with civil society, democracy, and labor leaders;
- Development of half of IPACE’s train the trainer modules;
- Implementation of IPACE courses for two of four sessions to be conducted in 2013; and
- Creation of online and off-line networking sites for course participants.
At the end of the project, we envision more than 1,600 leaders participating in our program, with 540 leaders trained each year. We aim to:
- Enhance skills and knowledge of the core components of democratic governance systems;
- Expand capacity of civil society and democracy leaders to participate in and influence the reform process;
- Increase capacity of civil society and democracy leaders to advocate for democratic governance and to engage the Burmese public and the government at local, regional, and national levels.
- Broaden networks, consensus-building, and coalition-building efforts between and among Burmese civil society and democracy leaders; and
- Offer demonstrable engagement among civil society and democracy leaders to influence democratic debate and decisions with the potential to cross all ethnic groups.
To accomplish this aggressive yet necessary effort, we hope to expand upon a generous contribution from the U.S. Embassy and pursue new sources of funding to ensure that the broadest level of participation is made possible. Our enhanced development and fundraising efforts, now underway, will help economically disadvantaged participants pay for the cost of traveling, expand the number of languages into which the curriculum might be translated, and increase the number of participants in years two and three with focus on delivering coursework outside Yangon (formerly Rangoon) to accommodate rural regions.
If you are interested in learning more, or offering your thoughts, support, or contacts, please reach out to me directly at email@example.com.