First conducted in 2004, The Asia Foundation’s annual Survey of the Afghan People, the broadest and largest in the country, measures Afghan citizens’ public perceptions of security, development, the economy, government, corruption, and women’s issues. Among the latest poll’s highlights: 47 percent said the country is moving in the right direction, up from 42 percent in 2009 and 38 percent in 2008. However, 27 percent said the country is headed in the wrong direction—a slight decrease from 29 percent in 2009 and 32 percent in 2008. For both camps, personal security—whether from violence, terrorism, or crime—was their top concern. Reasons for optimism include: improving security and progress in the rebuilding and opening of schools for girls. Reasons for pessimism include: declining security, corruption, poor government, and unemployment. Support for gender equality, including education for women, remains high, although support for women working outside the home fell from a high of 71 percent in 2006 to 64 percent in 2010, its lowest level to date.
Strikingly, those having “no sympathy” for the insurgency rose to 55 percent in 2010, up from 36 percent in 2009, and 83 percent approve of the government’s negotiations with armed opponents, up significantly from 71 percent last year. Afghans want peace and stability, says The Asia Foundation’s co-author of the survey, Mohammad Osman Tariq in Kabul, and they are “willing to do almost anything to get it.” Download the full survey.
Since 2004, separatist violence in Thailand’s Yala, Narathiwas, and Pattani provinces has claimed over 4,000 lives, and shaken relations between the Malay-Muslim majority and the Buddhist minority. Our first survey of the population of southern Thailand, released December 16 in Bangkok, offers new insight into this conflict in a region that has been notoriously difficult to understand.
Administered in local dialects by specially trained surveyors, the Southern Survey captures the nuanced views of Malay-Muslim and Buddhist communities of the Deep South on national issues, the southern conflict, and prospects for peace. Download the full survey.
When I visited Vietnam as a young graduate student in 1989, the country had recently undergone the doi moi, or economic reform, but there were few signs yet of change. Hanoi was gray, preternaturally quiet, with bicycles the primary transportation, and electricity limited to a few hours in the evening.
When I returned to Vietnam as The Asia Foundation’s country representative in late 2005, it was a different country. Rapid growth had transformed Vietnam into one of the most successful economies in the developing world, helping it to achieve extraordinary reductions in poverty. Relations with the United States were steadily improving, and Vietnam had become a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Everywhere the drumbeat was “growth,” with people on the move and the streets filled with motorcycles and a growing numbers of cars. This past November, the Foundation marked 10 years in Vietnam. Our early programs focused on two crucial areas: private sector development and U.S.-Vietnam relations. But Vietnam’s rapid growth has created new challenges and exposed fundamental institutional weaknesses, from social inequality and inadequate public services to rising pollution. The new discourse on development is about sustainable growth, quality rather than quantity, and the need for innovations in education, business operations, and governance.
Today we are helping initiate constructive dialogues about effective governance, increasing public participation in policy discussions, supporting private sector development, and continuing the country’s regional and international integration. Highlights of our current programs include the work we do with the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development to improve key rural public services, and with the Ministry of Education and Training to develop an environmental curriculum for Vietnamese youth. We are also working with the National Assembly to increase public participation in the lawmaking process, and with key policy think tanks in the country to carry out policy research and provide recommendations to the government on critical issues impacting Vietnam’s sustainable development. Such a development process needs to take into account vulnerable communities: we work with the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs to establish standards of care for victims of human trafficking, collaborate with Vietnamese NGOs to provide legal counseling to migrant workers and the urban poor, and provide scholarships to disadvantaged young girls.
Vietnam’s biggest concern today is that it will be caught in the dreaded “middle income trap,” unable to make the leap to greater prosperity. It’s a concern that highlights the need for institutional and policy reforms. It underscores the potential and the ambition of this remarkable country of 89 million, and I am optimistic Vietnam will make the leap.
Kim N. B. Ninh is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Vietnam.
The Asia Foundation has managed the Luce Scholars Program in Asia since its inception. This year, as a new class of 18 Luce Scholars embarks on their year-long fellowships, we have renewed our partnership with another four-year commitment.
The heart of a Luce fellowship is the institutional placement arranged for each scholar by The Asia Foundation on the basis of that individual’s career interests and experience. Our long history in Asia has created an extraordinary network of relationships with institutions and organizations. Luce Scholars work and live in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Since 1974, nearly 600 Luce Scholars have completed their fellowships in Asia, including Paul A. Gigot, editorial-page editor of the Wall Street Journal; Terrence B. Adamson, Executive Vice President of the National Geographic Society; Dr. Diana Farmer, the world’s first female fetal surgeon; and the Honorable David D. Huebner, U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and the Independent State of Samoa. Many scholars choose to remain in Asia or return there.
The Luce Scholars Program is a living testament to the commitment of the Henry Luce Foundation and The Asia Foundation to building international understanding, and strengthening the relationship between the United States and Asia, one person at a time.
In a groundbreaking 1994 report The Asia Foundation identified some of the underlying causes of domestic violence in Cambodia: a culture of male dominance; police reluctance to intervene; pressure on women victims not to sully their families’ reputations; and, the Khmer ideal of a “perfect lady,” still taught in schools, which instructs wives never to say anything negative about their husbands.
Changing these attitudes would require a new national conversation about domestic violence. With our assistance, the Project Against Domestic Violence (PADV) opened its doors in Cambodia in 1995. By 2002, PADV had an ongoing series of discussion groups for men of all ages. Some of those men went on to form Men Stop Violence, a network of groups working to change traditional attitudes and support women survivors of violence in their communities.
Women’s beliefs have also been changing. Polled before a recent PADV workshop, 87 percent of the women participants said that, “domestic violence is a private issue, and if it occurs, people outside of the family should not intervene.” After the workshop, 96 percent said it was not.
Today, the government and other NGOs are following in PADV’s footsteps. The Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center offers workshops and trainings aimed at changing attitudes toward women and violence. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ strategic plan on gender equality and women’s empowerment is spreading the message that domestic violence is a crime.
That this infrastructure to address domestic violence now exists where there was virtually none just 15 years ago is a success in itself – one that is already helping to change attitudes.
The founder and CEO of Malaysia’s major independent online news site was this year’s Chang-Lin Tien Visiting Fellow. Mr. Premesh Chandran was honored for creating Malaysiakini as an alternative to the constraints of the mainstream media in Malaysia.
The fellowship brought Mr. Chandran to the U.S., where he attended the 2010 Annual Conference on Social Capital Markets in San Francisco and visited media on the west coast, including “hyperlocal” websites such as Oakland Local and the West Seattle Blog, and more established institutions, such as Mother Jones magazine, KQED News, Google, and Amazon.
The Chang-Lin Tien Fellowship honors the former U.C. Berkeley chancellor and late chair of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. It offers mid-career Asian professionals an opportunity for mutually beneficial intellectual exchange with counterparts in the U.S.
In November we launched an ambitious new environmental program, Engaging Stakeholders for Environmental Conservation (ESEC), a three-year project to mobilize government agencies and citizen groups to address the development of Mongolia’s mineral sector.
A landlocked country between Russia and China, Mongolia is historically the home of nomadic herders. But the country has huge deposits of metals and minerals coveted by its industrialized neighbors. Whether this national wealth leads to development or devastation depends on how Mongolia manages it.
Since 2006, we have been supporting national dialogue and civic engagement in resource-use decisions affecting the long-term prosperity of all Mongolians.
In December the Del Monte Foundation joined with Books for Asia to donate 12,600 new children’s books to nearly 250 public elementary schools in Bukidnon, in the Southern Philippines. Bukidnon is a largely rural province of Mindanao, an island plagued by endemic poverty and sectarian violence. Many there still follow a traditional lifestyle in the remote forests and low-lands, where educational resources are extremely scarce. “We are proud to work with committed organizations like Del Monte Foundation in strengthening educational opportunities in these communities and the rest of the Philippines,” said Asia Foundation Deputy Country Representative Ky Johnson.
“This is a perfect holiday gift for children and their teachers, many of whom do not have libraries or even a reading corner in their school,” said Bella Quimpo, executive director of the Del Monte Foundation. “Key to an organization’s success is to have productive and complementary linkages with other organizations. We look forward to continuing this partnership so that more and more communities may benefit from our synergy.” Mr. Johnson and Ms. Quimpo joined Efren Balajadia, director of Books for Asia in the Philippines, as he presented the donated texts to principals and school representatives in a ceremony in Malaybalay City (pictured above). “This is a very timely blessing to our pupils most especially to the remotest schools in our province,” said Dr. Florante M. Corpuz, Malaybalay City Schools Division superintendent.
Since 1954, Books for Asia has distributed 14 million books and journals to public and private institutions across the Philippines. The science, math, and English-language elementary school books and reference materials were generously provided by publishers, including Pearson Education and McGraw-Hill.
On January 1, The Asia Foundation welcomed David D. Arnold as its new president. A highly respected philanthropy and international development veteran, Arnold most recently led the American University in Cairo. He was previously a representative of the Ford Foundation, where he focused on South Asia, specifically India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
“David is an experienced leader, a respected educator, and an administrator with a wide-ranging background in development and governance practices in Asia,” said chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, Mike Armacost. “He has lived and worked for years in Asia and the Middle East, and understands local cultures, structures, and institutions.”
Mr. Arnold takes the helm from Douglas K. Bereuter, who presided over a six-year period of unprecedented growth and diversification in programming, funding, and staff at the Foundation. “I have known and admired the work of The Asia Foundation for many years, and am honored to lead this visionary organization,” said Mr. Arnold. “Sensitivity, knowledge, and agility have long been hallmarks of the Foundation’s programs and people, and the assistance it provides throughout Asia is critical to the future development of the region.”
“Mr. Arnold understands the myriad of challenges facing the region,” said Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of ASEAN, and a trustee of The Asia Foundation, “and he shares our belief that Asians themselves must contribute to, and participate in, Asian reforms and Asian agendas. I have full confidence in him as a leader, and I anticipate his presidency to be deft, robust, and inclusive.”