Spreading globally, thinking locally

October 20, 2014

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BRAC understands the significance of cultural context as well as the dangers of imposing any foreign solutions disregarding local reality. Community organisation and mobilisation and understanding the local context has been central to BRAC’s development work. This hasn’t been an exception for BRAC’s latest international undertaking in Myanmar. We now have two entities there, namely BRAC Myanmar and BRAC Myanmar Microfinance Company Limited, a for profit organisation. With three branch offices and over 1,000 microfinance borrowers, we are proud to celebrate one year of operating in Myanmar this October.

Monks attend the opening of a branch office in Myanmar

Monks attend the opening of a branch office in Myanmar

BRAC understands the significance of cultural context as well as the dangers of imposing any foreign solutions disregarding local reality. Community organisation and mobilisation and understanding the local context has been central to BRAC’s development work. This hasn’t been an exception for BRAC’s latest international undertaking in Myanmar. We now have two entities there, namely BRAC Myanmar and BRAC Myanmar Microfinance Company Limited, a for profit organisation. With three branch offices and over 1,000 microfinance borrowers, we are proud to celebrate one year of operating in Myanmar this October.

BRAC considered expanding to Myanmar as an opportunity to assist the country get back on its feet. Initial country analysis and visits by senior BRAC management confirmed that the country has a genuine appetite for development assistance. With BRAC’s pro-rural and pro-poor holistic development model, delivered through its microfinance plus approach, we can help ensure that economic growth is more equitable between the urban and rural areas and between the rich and the poor.

myanmar-factsFrom the very beginning we have been working on meaningfully engaging national staff, communities, civil society organisations and other stakeholders. One small example of adapting to local context and empowering the national staff was the decision to provide uniforms to all field staff. This is unprecedented in any other BRAC country; however the suggestion came from a local staff member. They felt it would make them more acceptable to the people during daily interactions, as it is a norm for many employees to be dressed in uniforms there.

For expatriate staff, who provide supervision, it has been made mandatory to take language and cultural integration lessons.  Also a first in BRAC’s history, this will help expatriate staff better engage with communities. Finally, through capacity building, we will help ensure that management of the programme can gradually be handed over to national staff.  Currently, national employees at country office are heading administration, training, communications, and IT.

Aside from its own employees, BRAC has also been regularly engaging government and other community leaders. A high-level government delegation from Myanmar visited Bangladesh during the inception period in early 2013 to learn more about BRAC’s practices. Additionally, local leaders and monks are invited during inauguration of new branch offices as per Myanmar custom. Managers from BRAC branch offices also attend their respective township leaders’ meetings to provide with programme updates. These are only but a few of the examples of how BRAC considers the local context in all its interventions.

BRAC understands that Myanmar is still lacking capacity in the area of human resources. However, we recognise that the country’s youth population is eager to see change.  Meanwhile, to address the issue of human resources capacity building, BRAC has already taken several initiatives, including a scholarship to attend the Institute of Governance Studies at BRAC University in Bangladesh. This year, three government officials from Myanmar’s Ministry of Planning have received the scholarship, which we plan to continue in coming years. To further increase the supervisory capacity of Myanmar Microfinance Supervisory Enterprise, the main regulatory authority of MFIs in Myanmar, we have also arranged an exposure visit for them to see our operations in Bangladesh.

To learn more about our operations in Myanmar, visit http://myanmar.brac.net/

Upoma Antara Husain is a financial analyst at BRAC Myanmar.

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