August 29, 2012, was a momentous occasion for USAID as Chris Milligan, amid an overflowing crowd of friends, supporters and high-level dignitaries, including Ambassador Than Swe and Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma Patrick Murphy, was sworn in as the Agency’s first mission director to Burma since 1988.
“The challenge before us—and before Chris—is not only to build a Mission from the ground up, but to help the Burmese people and government seize these opportunities and capture the potential of this moment in their history,” said USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, who administered the oath of office.
Milligan will lead the newly re-established USAID mission at a critical time in the evolving relationship between the United States and Burma. Murphy said, “We have today, I think, the culmination of the Obama Administration’s experiment when it comes to this country. Just a few short years ago, we decided to embark on a path of engagement to bring dialogue and diplomacy to several decades of isolation.” Secretary Clinton announced the re-establishment of the USAID mission in Burma April 4, 2012, as part of the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment to support the Burmese people and governmental efforts toward reform and democracy.
Ambassador Swe thanked the American people and government for their support, which he said is “of vital importance for my country’s reform.” Noting the challenges and the potential of his country, he expressed the Burmese people’s appreciation to USAID and the American people, and their eagerness to move forward, telling Milligan, “If you work together with our people, nothing is impossible.”
As Dr. Shah noted, the standing-room-only audience of colleagues, family, and Burma experts not only demonstrated the great interest in Burma and USAID’s new presence there, but it also highlighted the loyalty and friendships that Milligan has garnered in his career at USAID spanning more than two decades.
Assistant Administrator for Asia Nisha Biswal said that the United States is at a “new place” in its relationship with Burma, adding, “It is my privilege and delight to have Chris Milligan lead that effort on behalf of USAID.”
Milligan expressed gratitude for his appointment and stressed the value of American overseas assistance: “Development is about expanding opportunity—the opportunity to live a life free from fear, to have basic needs met, and to pursue a better future for ourselves our families and our communities.”
Milligan also reflected on the important historical moment of his appointment and the challenges facing the country, saying: “The country I’m going to is in the process of a remarkable transition. The world wants to see this transition happen. […] We will work in partnership and we will follow principles. We think carefully about what we do. [..] We will balance urgency and diligence.”
Led by Milligan, the new USAID mission will build up a team in country, including more technical experts, which will enable USAID to more effectively engage with partners, oversee programs, coordinate with other donors, and directly benefit the Burmese people.