Our mission is to support innovative, community-based approaches to sustainable economic, environmental and social development in Myanmar. Our main focus is to address the basic existential needs of disadvantaged communities.
Identify and Prioritize Local Needs
As a small, “startup” nonprofit organization with limited resources, our approach is to cultivate a dialogue with local communities to identify and prioritize their needs, capacity and willingness to participate. We then collaborate with representative working groups to develop and pilot projects that have the greatest potential to benefit the most disadvantaged in the community.
Where We Work
We chose to begin our operations in Bagan as the location for our first office and training center in Myanmar. An emerging international tourist destination, the tourism industry provides a potential source of revenue for community projects through small-scale social enterprise development. As a small startup nonprofit, we work closely with village leaders and residents to prioritize their needs and make our activities possible.
This community was forcibly relocated to this site from Old Bagan in 1989, following the failed democratic uprising of the previous year. Earlier a fishing village, many households have experienced serious negative impacts as a result of the relocation, including loss of land, property, and livelihood. As a result, the community suffers from severe poverty, lacking adequate shelter, sanitation, and education opportunities.
We collaborate and work in partnership with local disadvantaged communities. Our aim is to create a model operation that will share knowledge and technology with other local businesses and the community at large to deliver positive impacts in local communities. Our activities emphasize appreciation for local culture and traditions by educating locals and visitors in how traditional practices can be integrated into the larger, globalized economy sustainably. Our projects are planned to be self-sufficient and sustainable in the long term.
Challenges of Myanmar’s “Dry Zone”
Bagan is situated in the “dry zone” of Myanmar. The area is characterized by flooding in monsoon season and nearly no rainfall from November to June. The dry zone comprises the central regions of Mandalay, Magway, and Lower Sagaing, which cover 13 percent of the country. It is home to 58 million people, a majority of whom are engaged in agricultural-based livelihoods, and is characterized by limited rainfall. In Myanmar, 44 percent of households had problems meeting food needs in 2014 despite being part of a major agricultural region, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The vulnerabilities of many farming communities are increasingly complex as Myanmar undergoes unprecedented political, social, and environmental changes, making the design of impactful development interventions challenging.
Collaboration With Local Communities
In the Bagan area, we have been working together with two rural agricultural villages since early 2016. West Pwa Saw village lies just inside the Bagan Archeological Zone and therefore its villagers face additional challenges from to limitations on their activities imposed by their location within the protected area. This village of around 100 households mainly earn their livelihoods with livestock and farming grains and nuts. A few have access to income from tourism, yet others face new challenges from limitations on surface irrigation, degrading soil quality, and lack of rainfall. We are working together with several teams in the village to include them in responsible tourism activities and an improved organic agriculture pilot project in a collaborative effort to improve local livelihoods.
In nearby Na Kyo Ai village, about two kilometres outside the Bagan protected to the west, agricultural water is less constrained due to the irrigation canals from the Irrawaddy that supply the village fields and paddies. We work together with the village monastery abbott to define income targets and prioritise needs for the village. Through this relationship we have initiated several local livelihood projects as well as a supplementary education project for village children to improve their access to secondary school as their education competes with the demand for labor from their farming families. Read more about our community engagement projects and stories below and on our blog.
Our team is dedicated to improving local livelihoods and passionate about sustainability. We use our free time and travel opportunities to support local projects, network, and share knowledge of sustainable development best practices wherever possible. Join us by engaging as a member, donor, or volunteer!
Sincere and constructive engagement with local communities is key to our approach. Following decades of colonisation and military rule, new opportunities are emerging in Myanmar under democratic government since 2012. Restoring social cohesion and local participation in community planning, public policy, and engaging with foreigners is a challenge as the people of Myanmar experience their first opportunity in generations to have their voices heard and to interact with the global community.
Lacking contact and information about the outside world for several generations, many local people in Myanmar remain sensitive to foreign influence and suspicious of foreign aid as well. We have found it advantageous to begin our interaction with local stakeholders through listening and observation to develop an understanding of their needs, abilities, resources, constraints and aspirations. A sustainable solution to our challenges is one that is both well understood and supported by local stakeholders and also achievable in the local context within a relatively short time.
Our strategy is to strengthen the capacity of marginalized local communities to participate in the local economy as skilled providers of goods and services that enable them to achieve sustainable, living-wage incomes. This means we work with all age groups within the community, especially young people, women, and the elderly.