Nisha Biswal is USAID's assistant administrator for Asia. Photo Credit: USAID.

Last week, over 180 representatives from universities, non-governmental organizations and private businesses joined us in Washington to discuss “Opportunities for Higher Education Partnerships in Burma.” Another 140 people joined us via live webcast. The event aimed to share information with prospective applicants to USAID’s recently announced Higher Education Partnerships.

The current reforms underway in Burma, and this new opportunity for partnership, generated a buzz in the packed room that was palpable. The speakers themselves projected this enthusiasm, among them were USAID’s Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah; His Excellency Than Swe, Myanmar Ambassador to the United States; and Joseph Y. Yun, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Administrator Shah announces Higher Education Partnerships in Burma. Photo Credit: Pat Adams, USAID.

What’s notably different and exciting about this call for proposals is that concept papers, due January 31, 2013, must not only include a U.S. university but also a Burmese higher education institution and a U.S. business as part of the partnership. Our past experience shows us that these kinds of strategic partnerships plant the seed for long-term results that endure even after our own assistance has ended.

And we are focused on the long game — we’d rather take the time to do it right, and do it well, than do it first. That’s why we are focused on strengthening institutions, building capacity and meeting the needs of the people in a way that is efficient and respectful of their own priorities. Our efforts in Burma reflect new approaches that USAID is bringing to development initiatives. As Dr. Shah remarked, “Today’s launch reflects the new emphasis across our entire agency on innovative high impact and local partnerships that bring new thinking and creative solutions to some of the most challenging development problems we face together.”

His Excellency Than Swe, Myanmar Ambassador to the United States, addresses Higher Education Partners. Photo Credit: Pat Adams, USAID.

The Higher Education Partnerships do just that, recognizing first and foremost the extraordinary resilience, determination and optimism of the Burmese people. As I saw during my trips to Burma in March and November, there is a great desire among the people of Burma to engage with the world, and among Burmese universities to collaborate with their counterparts here in the United States. As Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Yun stated during the event, “Now is the time to take risks and develop partnerships with Burma.”

The announcement of the Higher Education Partnerships APS came on the heels of President Obama’s historic visit to Burma on November 19, 2012, which elevated Burma as a key partner in Asia through the launch of the U.S.-Burma Partnership for Democracy, Peace and Prosperity, a joint U.S.-Burma framework to lay the groundwork for a peaceful and prosperous future for Burma.

The Partnerships are one of many ways that USAID—and U.S. development assistance more broadly—will support the path of development and reform that the people of Burma are undertaking. As President Obama stated during his visit, “The United States wants to be a partner in helping this country, which used to be the rice bowl of Asia, to reestablish its capacity to feed its people and to care for its sick, and educate its children, and build its democratic institutions as you continue down the path of reform.”

Information about the Partnerships and full application details for this funding opportunity are listed at USAID-BURMA-SOL-486-13-000012 on (search for keyword “Burma” under “Grant Search”). For more information about USAID’s efforts in Burma, please visit our website. A video of the December 12 session is also available online.

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