The Best InAsia Podcasts and Posts of 2020
January 7, 2021
The year of the pandemic was a long, discontented winter that the glorious sun forgot. But it was also a year when we dug deep into the voices and ideas of our colleagues across Asia in our new InAsia Podcast.
Hopes at the dawn of 2020 were smothered by months of lockdown, suffering, illness, poverty, and disappointment. It was the year we learned that “essential” meant “expendable”—as in “essential workers”; a year in which tens of thousands of vulnerable labor migrants across Asia put down their tools, as Sagar Prasai reported from Nepal, and started walking home:
The government ordered a lockdown, beginning at 6:00 a.m. on March 24, essentially banning all movements of citizens.…That left more than 4 million daily-wage workers and their employers with a single day to plan their next move. In those 24 hours, close to 200,000 domestic migrant workers left Kathmandu and surrounding areas for their homes elsewhere in Nepal.
In “A Woman Attorney General for the Bangsamoro” we spoke with Sha Elija Dumama-Alba, the first woman attorney general of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, who is working to support the peace process in her homeland.
We sat down with consummate numbers-guy Ville Peltovuori in “How’s Business? We have a Benchmark for That” to talk about the Myanmar Business Environment Index, a smart statistical tool that serves as both a public perceptions survey and a powerful instrument to mobilize government and the private sector to push for change.
And we traveled with Go Digital ASEAN’s Arpaporn Winijkulchai into rural Thailand as she helped a small farmer conceive a plan to market her unique produce online—an essential skill in the new global economy—in “How to Sell an Avocado on Facebook.”
As Covid-19 upended our own work in 2020, we wrote, of course, about Covid-19. In June, Abdullah Ahmadzai described the bitter predicament of Afghanistan, where dwindling foreign aid and continuing armed conflict seemed to leave no option but to let the virus run its course. But he also spoke to the InAsia Podcast about the generosity and solidarity of his fellow Afghans as they rallied, with food banks, rent relief, and more, to ease the suffering of their countrymen.
Our writers found much to deplore as they surveyed the landscape of official missteps and failed responses to the pandemic, but they also found examples of success. Authors Tran Chung Chau, Michael DiGregorio, and Nicola Nixon explored how Vietnam, a country that struggles to get its citizens to obey the traffic laws, achieved early success in managing the pandemic. Thailand experienced an early recovery as lockdowns eased in May, but, as Thomas Parks reported, that nation faces an economic crisis that could far outlast the pandemic if tourism—its main industry—does not rebound. Kim DeRidder, in an excoriating critique, found what we might call an ironic reason for optimism: if we can put the world’s economies on hold to fight Covid-19, shouldn’t we be able to act just as boldly to confront an even deadlier global killer, climate change?
Pessimism, all in all, is not the natural mood of a development practitioner, and the stirrings of new programs kept peeking out of the locked-down landscape. As Cambodia closed its schools in early March, The Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read digital platform pivoted to create new and better ways to support reading at home. Sornnimul Khut and Chansomey Chheang gave us a chance to set gloom aside and behold children reading books they love from Let’s Read Cambodia.
In Nepal, which has as many as 200 distinct languages, authors Shreya Paudel, Ritica Lacoul, and Shameera Shrestha reminded us of Let’s Read Nepal’s growing online library of original storybooks for children in their mother tongues. And in a witty reappraisal of the “utopia” of working from home, Samiha Jamil in Bangladesh revealed that 85 percent of her colleagues really just wanted to come back to the office as soon as possible.
There were other fascinating stories this year. Reviewing a recent Asia Foundation study on violent conflict and social media, Benjamin Lokshin and Adam Burke explored how violent groups and their supporters are using increasingly sophisticated techniques to turn social media into a new front in Southeast Asia’s festering subnational conflicts, as online platforms and messaging services have reached into the most remote villages. And from Bangladesh, Sadat Shibli and Taherul Islam brought us up to date on developments in the leather tanning industry. As they also explained in their InAsia Podcast, a two-decade push to reform this key component of Bangladesh’s export economy was supposed to clean up pollution and end worker exploitation, but it hasn’t quite worked out as planned.
Thanks to you, our readers in 2020, for staying engaged during the winter of our discontent. Better days hover on the horizon in the year ahead. Please join us in two weeks as our 18 country representatives offer their predictions for what the new year in Asia will bring.
—John Rieger, managing editor, InAsia
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