For any public policy wonk, the current situation in Myanmar is kind of a serendipity; to witness closely, how different policies implemented by agents in different sectors change or establish key institutions, which in turn change nations. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that the current situation in Myanmar resembles the policy lab that public policy professionals and academics have long lamented to be deprived of- in their own countries. And it doesn’t end here, there is a piece for everyone: from economic development guys to political reform and social policy fans, to researchers of ethnic conflicts, nation building and reconciliation pundits and environmentalists.
Moreover, due to the collective will formed inside the country – at least in discursive repertoire of public officials- there seems to exist a welcoming atmosphere among policy makers to hear new voices and international institutions on how to address their serious woes plaguing almost every measure necessary to hold their nation together. This is a great motivation for all those with a desire to make a difference in world, to believe that their professional recommendations will be heard and may well be implemented. Even the thought of having such an impact, and living to see the results of your work is thrilling.
It was these reasons that convinced the International Policy Center of the Ford School to choose Myanmar as the case country for International Economic Development Program of 2014. The unique history of country in the past decades and the pace that the country is changing, provides a situation of flux in policy making that is extremely suited for IEDP’s core philosophy, which is to provide hands-on experience through combining field research with classroom learning to analyze emerging issues.
A friend of mine on IEDP team, once told me “you know….It will be kind of cool, because in twenty years when Myanmar has developed and turned into a developed tourism hub, we can say that we were there, witnessed the change and contributed to it; “Tough my dear friend retains a highly optimistic perspective of Myanmar’s future, his statement bears some level of truth.
It has been 15 years since the Ford School of Public Policy started the International Economic Development Program (IEDP). The rationale behind the program was that, as the domestic students could get hands-on experience in Washington D.C, Chicago and Detroit, the students with an interest in international development should have the same opportunities. The new program’s top priority was to create a space that would allow students with international development interest, to get that hands-on experience. the program was structured in a form that students would select a developing country to study and visit, investigate the economic development issues that affected the country, invite speakers with expertise in those areas to visit the classroom, and plan the trip—arranging interviews with policymakers, members of civil society, and foreign development agencies for the week-long spring break visit.
Combining field research with classroom learning to analyze emerging issues in international development, is the core philosophy of IEDP. At the first seven weeks of the program, the IEDP team dividing itself to several committees, each designated to a specific policy issue, creates and implements a course plan that gives student a solid grounding in the policy issues and challenges faced by the developing economy. The schedule for meeting with policy makers, social activists and other significant players through the trip, is planned in advance in this period.
The actual experience in the selected country lasts seven days. During the first six days, students met with mid- to high-level policy makers from NGOs, ministries, and businesses. Highlights include sharing perspectives with policy makers and getting feedback to analyze the differences and trips to see local agencies in action. The final day of the trip is for students to sightsee.
This year’s IEDP plans to study the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar-Burma. The IEDP team will be in the country from March 2nd to 8th, 2014.