Partnership Address at the KOICA Flagship Projects Launch Forum by Country Director Toily Kurbanov

Dec 2, 2014

In 1950s United Nations convened a panel of high-level experts to study development conditions and future prospects of two newly independent states. I will refer to them as Country A and Country B. Country A had relatively small population; was rich in mineral resources; in proximity to Western markets; and inherited functioning institutions from former colonial administration. Country B was much poorer; it was devastated by war and situated in the middle of equally devastated region, far from markets; no natural resources; starving population relying on low-productivity agriculture. The panel concluded that Country A is very likely to experience rapid development and prosperity, whereas the Country B was destined to a slow growth and many years of reliance on foreign assistance.

I found the report written by those experts at a library in Harvard. Its detailed analysis and well reasoned conclusions were impressive – except, after 60 years that passed the Country A is still a poor nation in West Africa, and the Country B, which was doomed by experts as economic basket case, is the Republic of Korea. I wish we could have invited those high-level experts to join us today as we celebrate Korea’s development success. But even without them present we can conclude that that country analysis from 1950s underestimated the Korean combination of people’s resourcefulness and leadership’s foresight, as was the case in Korea, which outweighed any disadvantages in Korea’s starting conditions.

From the perspective of the United Nations Development Programme, which is an old friend and partner of both Korea and Myanmar, may I submit to you just two reasons why Korea’s development solutions are highly relevant for Myanmar.

First reason: people’s empowerment. In the context of Myanmar’s 4 waves of reforms, people’s empowerment is at the core of people-centered development. While Saemul Undong started as a village development programme and later became national campaign for rural modernization, what it has ultimately achieved is people’s empowerment. Millions of rural Koreans have dramatically expanded their life choices and have become empowered agents of Korea’s historic transformation. When a 2008 Korean Gallup poll revealed the nation’s views on their main achievements, Saemul Undong came on top of the list; even before 1988 Seoul Olympics, 2002 World Cup and Korea’s successful industrialization. This highlights how closely it has become associated, through people’s empowerment, with the new national identity of Korea.

Second source of relevance is policy innovation. Just like Saemul Undong stands for much more than livelihoods, so does Korean Development Institute represent more than a research centre. Established in 1971 – when “development” was routinely equated throughout the globe with infrastructure projects– from outset KDI was thinking outside of the box and proposing innovative policy recommendations. And here in Myanmar both the Government and its partners pay close attention to policy innovations in various fields of economy and social life. Innovations will be crucial if Myanmar is to leapfrog XXI century development paradigm. We in UNDP are proud to have supported KDI in its initial years. And we welcome the formation of Myanmar Development Institute and are confident that it will become one of the chief policy innovators in the country.
As we know, no structure that stands alone can make lasting difference. Neither Saemul Undong nor MDI will be alone in Myanmar: because they are embedded in the canvas of Myanmar’s development, and because they can count on support from many partners, including UNDP.

Perhaps 60 years from now future students will read a report of our today’s meeting. Hopefully, they will relate it to people’s empowerment and policy innovation that, through these two flagship initiatives and partnerships around them, are going to ignite Myanmar’s spectacular development in the decades ahead.

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