A conversation with the Open Society Foundation's Burma Project on December 3, 2013

Participants

Note: This set of notes gives an overview of the major points made by OSF Burma Project staff.

Summary

Good Ventures spoke with the Open Society Foundation’s Burma Project about its main objectives, its current grantmaking, and its e-governance initiative.

Recent developments in Burma

Burma is in the midst of a transition from a military dictatorship to a more democratic government. In the last several years, significant progress has been made. Currently, the Burmese government is focused on fighting corruption and developing Burma’s technology infrastructure.

However, rights violations and unjust confiscation of resources are still common, particularly in ethnic areas. In many places, Burma still lacks basic infrastructure, such as clean water, electricity, and a secure banking system.

OSF’s Burma Project

The Open Society Foundation (OSF)’s Burma Project has been active since 1994. Its current budget is $5-6 million per year, including administrative costs.  OSF also has thematic programs that have activities in Burma funded from different budget lines.

In the past, OSF’s grantmaking largely provided scholarships to train students and workers in fields such as information technology (IT), journalism, health, and education.

Its current work supports scholarships, independent and ethnic media organizations, human rights groups, and civil society groups. It also works with the education and health ministries of the government to support political reform, policy research, and improvement of basic infrastructure.

If OSF’s Burma Project received additional funding, it would fund more scholarships to build human resources, especially in IT, and add funding to its other existing programs.

E-governance initiative

One of the OSF Burma Project’s key new projects to support political reform is its e-governance initiative. This initiative will make important government information, such as budgets, sources of revenues, and procurement data, available to the public electronically, so that the government is more transparent and accountable to its people. The initiative may also make official processes, such as applying for a business license, possible to complete online.

In the past, the Burmese military and government appropriated billions of dollars in oil revenue from the Burmese people. E-governance would enable people to keep track of government funds and encourage better practices during Burma’s political transition and for the future.

OSF’s Burma Project would like to see e-governance fully implemented in the near term. To facilitate learning about e-governance, Burmese leaders visited experts in e-governance in Estonia and other cities in Europe. An example of an e-governance project that has already been implemented is a complaint mechanism on the President of Burma’s website. The Burmese public has used this feature to send in thousands of complaints.

The technology infrastructure does not currently exist in Burma for many people to take advantage of online information, but this infrastructure is expected to improve within the next year. Recently, telecommunications companies committed $5 billion to build technology infrastructure in Burma and an agreement was made with Wikipedia to create a Burmese language version of its online encyclopedia.

The e-Governance Academy in Estonia aims to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) related to its initiative with the Burmese ministry of IT and communications. The draft of the MoU is being prepared in consultation with the Open Estonia Foundation, which is part of the OSF network.