Professor Yunus with Myanmar Ministers in Nay Pyi Taw
On final day of his three day visit to Myanmar, Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus travelled to Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar, to address ministers, senior government officials, and members of parliament about the role of social business in the development of Myanmar.
He was received at the conference venue by two Union Ministers U Tin Naing Thein and U Soe Thein. They are referred to as ‘super ministers’ since each them oversees five or six ministries and based in the President’s office. U Tin Naing Thein had been a retired brigadier general in the Myanmar Army and previously held the post of Minister for Commerce. U Soe Thein had previously served as the Commander in Chief of the Myanmar Navy and is a retired Vice Admiral.
They were joined by U Ohn Myint the Minister of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development U Khin Yi who is Minister of Immigration and Population. U Khin Yi was previously the Chief of the Myanmar Police Force, and is also a retired Brigadier General.
The meeting was attended by more than 100 senior representatives of various ministries, importantly, the Ministry of National Planning and Economy, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, among others. In attendance too were Members of Parliament including from the NLD, the leading opposition party led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
The opening speech was given by Supervising Minister U Soe Thein who described the policies undertaken by the Myanmar government to bring development to Myanmar particular on their initiatives for the rural poor. He mentioned in particular that microcredit following Grameen experience was given high importance as part of the development strategy for Myanmar, and that 197 organizations had been given licences to operate microfinance organizations, and that a legislation for microfinance had been introduced in 2011. It is worth mentioning that the largest MFI operating in Myanmar is the program implemented by PACT, an International NGO. The program was originally set up and run by Grameen Trust for six years from 1997 in the delta zone, and currently reached 700,000 families with microcredit in Myanmar.
Professor Yunus, in his one hour address, thanked the Minister for the steps that the government had taken to help development of the bottom poor of Myanmar as recounted by him. He described his journey in initiating microcredit and how over the years he had created companies and entities always building in sustainability to tackle different problems faced by the poor .
He stressed that as Myanmar opened up, it had the opportunity to pursue the right track of development avoiding the mistakes of other countries. In particular he said that a lot of investment capital and donor money were coming into Myanmar and the country had the opportunity to make it work for the people at the bottom rather than have all the surplus taken away, from extractive industries and other sectors, to foreign lands or to benefit just a few people at the top. In this context, he recounted the experience in Bangladesh with microcredit and social business, and especially talked about the importance of creating selfless businesses where profits of successful business are ploughed back into the local communities. He said that social business was a non dividend company to solve human problems and gave examples of effective social businesses and social business funds being implemented in Bangladesh and around the world. He urged the government representatives to allow the young people to lead the way in the creation of a new Myanmar.
The keynote was followed by a panel moderated by economist Professor Aung Tun Thet, Special Ecoomic Adviser of the President, Daw Khine Khine Nwe from UMFCCI, Mr Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK, and U Aung Naing Oo Director General of the Myanmar Investment Commission which is responsible for creating policy relating to new investment coming into the country. This was a followed by a Q and A session with the audience.
One of the questions came from U Win Htein, NLD MP from from Meiktila constituency and close associate of Aung San Suu Kyi. He raised the question that Myanmar has problems along its borders with Bangladesh. There are clashes among people who originate from Bangladesh with those who are from other groups. He said his party is committed to protect human rights of all people. He wanted to know the views of Professor Yunus on this problem. Professor Yunus said that the relationship between the people of these two neighboring countries with centuries of historical relationship should be one of deep friendship. He emphasised that all people have the right to live in peace and security wherever they live. He applauded the MP and his party for upholding human rights of all people living within the boundaries of his country.
In the same evening in Yangon, Professor Yunus addressed a group of young Myanmar students, activists and civil society representatives and urged them to not wait for the elders to show them the way, rather dream up the world they want to create for themselves, and to get working on that immediately. He also urged them to break down walls among groups of people prejudiced against each other, on the basis of religion, place of birth, or ethnic identity. Young woman leader of Rohingya community also participated in the discussion with Professor Yunus. He wanted the young people of Myanmar to reach out to the young people all around the the world , particularly to the young people of neighboring countries. He invited them all to visit Bangladesh to get to know their neighbour and its young people.