I have worked now for 20 years in countries such as Cambodia or Laos, which experienced the same rapid opening to the world that Myanmar faces today. Every time there is a real sense of hope and optimism. However, everyone knows that such rapid opening does not go without challenges.
To me, the real challenge is to ensure that the country and its people get maximum benefit from new opportunities, while mitigating the numerous risks that that go hand in hand with these same opportunities. These can include:
Economic risks – The country and its people are seen as a way for companies (both local and international) to make a quick profit.
Environmental risks – The impact of industry and uncontrolled tourism on natural resources.
Social risks – Risk to communities in their traditions, risk to individuals and certainly to children, risk of ending up with a two-speed society (few rich, many poor) and risk of social unrest.
Unfortunately, these risks can probably not be completely avoided, but their negative impact can be reduced.
We are all at risk of falling for the dream of short-term, quick enrichment, often at the expense of the country’s population and resources. Governments, companies, citizens and civil society actors, we all are tempted. To avoid this, we need a strong long-term vision and a national will to implement it beyond personal and corporate interests.
This is possible only if we all act together around a clear vision created by the people of the country as a whole. In such an ideal situation, the government would lead the creation of a shared long-term vision and create and implement frameworks for its good implementation. Companies would be conscious of their responsibilities to implement shared value and made responsible for their actions. Donors, including government aid agencies, would support the vision with their money and influence. Civil society would collaborate on building the framework and support its implementation and ensure monitoring of the situation in different fields. Communities and people would be able to act on the long-term vision.
Myanmar is facing a great opportunity with some huge challenges. All actors must work together to ensure that the country and its people are returned to the international community in a position where they can contribute and benefit. If we cannot develop and support a great common vision, it is probable that development will be slow, arduous and that a great hope will be shattered to the great loss of ASEAN and the world.
Author: Sébastien Marot is Executive Director of Friends-International, Cambodia
Image: Construction workers are seen building a road in Nay Pyi Taw REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang