This event featured keynote discussions by Nyunt Than, chair of the board of Burmese American Democratic Alliance, Edith Mirante, an expert analyst on the ecology and environment in Burma and author of “The Landless vs. Landless,” and Professor Larry Diamond, a leading expert on democracy and author of “A Prospect for Democracy in Burma.”
While I myself am no expert on Burma, I do follow the country with keen interest and consider myself a serious student of the country and an advocate for positive change there. I’ve also traveled to the region — I volunteered in Thailand in 2011; and later this May, I embark for India, again for volunteer work-study, for 7 weeks.
On the world stage, the recent political and economic opening of Burma is a true bright spot, a glimmer of hope for positive change for the world.
I count myself among the many who have been dazzled by the rise of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s Nobel Peace laurate and champion for democratic reform.
Equally dazzling is the pace of change in Burma right now. In just over two years since some government restrictions have been lifted, Burma has witnessed a sudden rise of press freedoms, the penetration of digital technology and access social media, and new economic opportunities in the form of access to minerals, timber, and hydropower.
But what are the real prospects for Burma, both as a nascent democracy and as an emerging economy? Perhas as a reminder of the military dictatorship that still grips the country (and has ever since 1962), Burma still carries its official name of Myranmar.
Burma – Rich in Natural Resources, but also Environmental Exploitation
To put the future of Burma’s economy into perspective, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by the end of the next decade, Burma’s economic growth will vault her among middle income countries, will quadruple her GDP to over $200 billion, and draw $100 billion in direct foreign investment.
It is as though Burma is opening its door for the world, giving the world access to its riches of natural resources and growing markets. From a business and economic perspective, Burma appears to be open for business for the first time since its independence from British colonial rule in 1948.
But not all is rosy for Burma. Even as the country prepares for this first elections in 2015, Burma suffers from years of neglect at the hands of military rulers, as well as international sanctions that have crippled the economy for decades.
Corruption is still rampant throughout Burma, and there are increasing tensions among Burma’s ethnic minorities (especially in Burma’s western-most Rakine state where violence has occurred between buddhist and muslims).
The education system in Burma is seriously obsolete after years of neglect. Infrastructure in the country is disfunctional — huge hydroelectric projects carry power to China while children read by candlelight in Rangoon.
At the same time, your waiter is likely to take your order using a digital tablet at a Rangoon restaurant today, something unheard of only 2 or 3 years ago.
Burma has no formal environmental law today; all of the land technically belongs to the government. That is why projects like Miytsone Dam, a huge hydroelectric facility planned along the Irawaddy River and financed by China’s state-owned China Power Investment Corporation, are drawing concern from environmentalists worldwide.
Avoiding another Cambodia
But despite the lofty economic projections, Burma is at a critical crossroads. With elections coming in 2015 — Burma’s first real opportunity for democracy since the military took power in 1962 — the civil, political, environmental, and economic situition in Burma is precarious, much like Cambodia in the 1990s, when the international community was lured into the fasle perception of normalcy, deceived by initial apperances of democratic reforms after decades of iron rule.
Need for Continued Pressure by the International Community
We must not be lulled into a false sense of business as usual in Burma. There is really only the faint beginnings of true democracy. The international — with leadership from the United States and others — should continue to apply pressure on Burma to insist on greater transparency, promotion of civil society, protection of the environment, and human rights.
Let us also insist that Burma open up to allow international monitoring during its much-anticipated elections next year.
Throughout the pages of this site, I seek to build the case for a new, emergent role of a Chief Global Officer today — someone I see as a global advocate, a global change agent, a curator of globally relevant content to help link events in the face of rapid, fundamental changes impacting our world today.
Whether in work or education or society in general, I argue that changes today bring with them vast implications that point to the need for a globally inter-connected and inter-dependent wold view, something more practical — and personal — than much of today’s mainstream discourse on global affairs and foreign policy.
In the case of technology especially, we see how these global forces of change are both making the world more complex and bringing us as global citizens — all 7 billion of us — closer together. These forces are today shaping our experience to an extent far greater — and a pace far faster — than anything our parents or grandparents ever experienced.
A recent ambitious study just published by the McKinsey Global Institute (“Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business and the global economy“) inspired me to consider technology today in the context of the role of the Chief Global Officer.
“A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.” Photo credit: New York Times (via Associated Press).
The big picture as I see it — and full disclosure here: I’ve worked in the Internet world for tech companies for 20 years — can be found in how the technological advances today are playing off of each other:
1. advances in computer automation enabled through things like cloud computing (massive scaling) and Web 2.0 technologies (CSS, HTML5, H.264)… have led to;
2. exponentially more data processing capabilities, and with it, new ways to “slice and dice” data on the fly (read “Big Data”)… which leads to;
3. advances in sensors and mobile hardware and the ability to inter-connet and process more data streaming out from ever more devices, regardless of geographic location, which leads to;
4. new technologies like autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, remote medicine, robotics, and advanced genomics, and…
5. vast new efficiencies in energy, yielding significant reductions in the use of non-renewable resources like oil and water and fostering improvements in the development of new renewable resources like wind and solar, plus the reduction of electricity through improvements in remote measurement and monitoring, and in battery storage technology.
What’s interesting to me about the McKinsey Global Institute report is how it attempts to measure the global implications in terms of jobs, new investment, and disruptions to established ways of doing things.
If the next 5 years are going to be anything like the past 5 years, we’re in for a fun ride. Consider that merely 8 years ago, the technologies so prevalent here in the West today were either not even around or were in their nascence: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, iPhones, iPads, Google Earth, Skype, and apps.
The implications of speeding global change — and the interdependence of causes and effects — are perhaps no more evident today than in the Arctic region.
Within the pages of this site, I seek to investigate the emerging role of the Chief Global Officer — not only as means to help understand the converging global world, but also as a framework to shed light on critical new skills needed to assimilate global change, guide enlightened thinking, and promote intelligent decision-making.
I recently attended a briefing entitled “The Opening of the Arctic — Challenges and Opportunities.” And while the speaker, Gary Roughead of the Hoover Institution and former chief of naval operations, focused on the national security implications, I was struck by the myriad global impacts of melting ice and the need for global cooperation in the Arctic region.
The Chief Global Officer might consider the following mix in the Arctic region right now:
1. Environmental impacts — the Arctic is one of the most sensitive environments in the world. The past year was the least iced period in recorded history, and also the stormiest. Melting permafrost causes methane gas to be released.
2. Human impact — The Arctic is home to some 4 million people and the indigenous populations are especially susceptible to climate change in the region. Migration as a result of climate change and the influx of new populations coming to exploit natural resources are bound to have major impacts. Infectious diseases brought by warming temperatures and insects will likely have international consequences.
3. Emerging competition for resources — beyond merely oil and gas, the Arctic is rich in zinc, copper, and iron ore; China has begun to make investments in extraction in the Arctic region.
4. Security and the opening of new seaways — beyond military security, there is also food security; changing climate impacts fisheries and water supply. The opening of the Arctic may not alter global shipping routes entirely, but new access is bound to have implications for global trade, as well as consequences in terms of heavier traffic and more pollution.
4. Global Governance — challenges and opportunities — The eight-member Arctic Council (including Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Canada, and the United States) is a model for global cooperation in the 21sth Century. And the United States is next up in the rotation to become chair of the Arctic Council in 2015 (a position currently held by Canada). Yet, the U.S. may find itself leading from behind. Budget cuts in an era of sequestration prevent critical investments in U.S. infrastructure and hamper capabilities; the U.S. has but one heavy icebreaker (compared to Russia’s 43, Sweden’s 9, Finland’s 9, and Canada’s 13).
Chinese Arctic Map by Hao Xiaoguang — http://www.hxgmap.com