2018 Asia Foundation Development Fellow’s Company ftcash Wins MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge

August 30, 2018 — The MIT Initiative on Digital Economy (IDE) named 2018 Asia Foundation Development Fellow Vaibhav Lodha‘s company ftcash the Asia Winner for Financial Inclusion in its Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC). The IIC is a flagship initiative that awards cash prizes each year to entrepreneurs who are using technology to reinvent the future of work and create greater prosperity for the global community. In its first two years, over 1,500 organizations have taken on the Inclusive Innovation Challenge and over 230 judges have reviewed and awarded $2 million to innovators who use technologies to improve people’s economic opportunities.

Lodha’s company, ftcash, aims to empower micro-merchants and small businesses in India through financial inclusion using digital payments and loans. Ftcash is recognized by Forbes as one of India’s fastest growing financial technology ventures and was a winner at the UK Trade and Investment Great Tech Initiative.

Asia Foundation’s Afghanistan Country Representative Discusses Upcoming Presidential Election

August 3, 2018 — Tolo News features The Asia Foundation’s Afghanistan Country Representative Abdullah Ahmadzai in a televised discussion about the Independent Election Commission’s July 31st announcement that the presidential elections are to be held on April 20, 2019. 

According to a statement issued by the President’s Office at the time, President Ashraf Ghani met with IEC members, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Tadamichi Yamamoto, and various ambassadors of countries supporting the election process. In this episode host Masoud Malik discusses the topic with the Abdullah Ahmadzai, the Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Afghanistan.

Asia Foundation Encourages Digital Transformation in Emerging Asian Economies and in the Organization

July 25, 2018 — Microsoft’s Asia News Center features a piece by Geoff Spencer highlighting the Foundation’s goal to encourage Asian economies toward digital transformation, establishing new industries and developing relevant skills for their labor force:

Employing cheap, low-skilled workers in relatively simple manufacturing or extractive industries has been a winning formula for many of Asia’s emerging economies. Over the decades it has created new wealth for their governments and peoples. And, it has positioned them within global trading networks and international supply chains.
But how much longer can it go on? One of the region’s leading development organizations, The Asia Foundation, says the model can only take them so far.
As a matter of priority, the Foundation is encouraging economies to embrace digital transformation, establish new industries and enterprises, and, most importantly, upskill their workers. Failure to act and move ahead with advances in technology, it argues, means inevitably falling into what economists decry as the “middle-income trap” – a place where a country’s competitive edge blunts and progress stalls.
“The economic model of using a low-skill, low-productivity workforce in low value-added industries got these countries to middle-income status. And, it has been a source of economic advantage. But it is not going to get them out of the middle-income range to advanced economy status,” says The Asia Foundation’s President David Arnold.
“It really is a question of moving from low-skill manufacturing to high-end technology as well as higher value-added and advanced services. The role that technology can play is enormous.”

But to effectively tap this tech-driven potential, Asia’s emerging economies must pursue new ways of educating and training present and future workers – including women and girls who too often languish at the bottom of the employment pool with few educational opportunities.
“Ultimately it is the matter of human capital and development relevant skills,” Arnold says. “That is currently a big constraint in many countries. So, we see this as an area of importance and priority.”
Breaking down and replacing long-held institutional and bureaucratic practices and barriers are high on the list of must-dos as well. It also happens to be a mantra that has been internalized by the Foundation, which has itself embraced technology to do its work better. Arnold sees the Foundation’s own internal digital transformation dividend as being a sort of microcosm of where the region should be heading.

The Asia Foundation’s Vice President and champion for digital transformation Ken Krug adds: 

We have created communities of practice where we use collaborative tools inside the softwares to do all sorts of work. 

United States and Thailand Commemorate 200 Years of Relations in Washington, D.C.

July 24, 2018 — From July 17-19, The Asia Foundation organized a dialogue to strengthen the relationship between Thailand and the United States, gathering Thai and U.S. leaders in Washington, D.C. over several days to support current efforts to strengthen bilateral relations. Veteran journalist Kavi Chongkittavorn writes about the meetings in the Bangkok Post

The 1.5 track dialogue between the Thai and US sides returned after a 16-year absence. Kudos must go to the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation, which worked so hard to get all the relevant officials, private sectors and scholars from both countries into one room to discuss all aspects of bilateral issues. 

Dawn: Election Mela aims to reduce rejected votes, increase turnout on polling day

July 18, 2018 — Dawn newspaper in Pakistan highlights The Asia Foundation’s participation in an Election Mela, an event designed to raise awareness about voting and political participation. The Asia Foundation, in collaboration with PODA (Potohar Organization for Development & Advocacy) and the Election Commission of Pakistan, held an “Election Mela” (Election Carnival) to promote voting in the upcoming general elections of Pakistan. The event was held at the National Institute of Folk & Traditional Heritage, (Lok Virsa), in Islamabad on July 17, 2018. This was a part of the Foundation’s “Vote First” election campaign. The well-attended event included the participation of community representatives from rural areas, civil society groups, political parties, and the international donor community. The day was marked by a host of immersive activities such as mock polling, quizzes and theater performances which encouraged people to vote. The Asia Foundation also set up a stall to guide people on the procedural mechanisms of voting.

ISLAMABAD: A mock election exercise and short theatre plays were conducted as part of an Election Mela in order to reduce the number of rejected votes and to increase political participation, especially of women.
The event was organised on Tuesday by the Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy (Poda) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in collaboration with The Asia Foundation (TAF) and Lok Virsa.

The Asia Foundation’s City Life Survey Project Finds Optimism Among Myanmar’s Urban Residents

July 13, 2018 — Coconuts Yangon highlights The Asia Foundation’s City Life Survey project and reports on how urban residents of Myanmar say they feel about the direction the cities and countries are heading in.

Ever wonder what your fellow urbanites think about the city that they live in? A new survey by The Asia Foundation takes a first stab at figuring out what Myanmar’s cities are like as places to work in and live in.
In partnership with the Yangon School of Political Science, the City Life Survey Project surveyed 1,400 participants from five different religious groups and 23 ethnic groups in the urban wards of five townships in Yangon, Hpa-an and Taunggyi.
The survey asked participants about eight aspects of urban life: city livability, wellbeing, gender, work and economic opportunities, quality of government services, tax attitudes, identity and community, and their overall outlook on the direction of their country or city.

Social Media will be a Game Changer in 2019 Philippine Elections

July 11, 2018 — In a PTV News report, a Philippine digital strategy firm cites InAsia blog piece, “Social Media: A Game Changer in Philippines Elections,” written by former deputy country representative Maria Isabel T. Buenaobra. As the Philippine 2019 mid-term elections draw near, the analytics firm, David and Golyat, has advised social media users and the general public to be more vigilant and deciphering of the veracity of information shared over social media.

According to the Asia Foundation, social media was a game-changer in the2016 elections, noting that it sparked political discourse never before seen in the country’s election history.
Maribel Buenaobra, the Foundation’s then-deputy country representative to the Philippines, wrote in May 2016 that social media had helped highlight the issues that needed to be addressed by the candidates, propelling powerful online campaigns as a result. 
“While social media has changed the campaign strategies, it is not the only factor that will determine the election results. Surveys remain influential, particularly for the undecided voters who may rely on results of pre-election polls and succumb to the bandwagon effect,” she wrote.

Love Your City? The Asia Foundation’s James Owen Details how Myanmar Citizens Feel About Their Cities

July 9, 2018 — Southeast Asia Globe interviews James Owen about The Asia Foundation’s recent publication of City Life Survey: Myanmar 2017 Pilot Initiative.

With Myanmar still in the early stages of democratic transition, there remains a lack of reliable data on the needs of the public, making the management of its cities more difficult. James Owen, an economist with The Asia Foundation, spoke to Southeast Asia Globe about the organisation’s pilot City Life Survey in Myanmar, which aims to document how citizens feel about the cities they live in…

The Irrawaddy Highlights Asia Foundation Myanmar Report

July 2, 2018 — The Irrawaddy details Myanmar’s Companies Law which will take effect on August 1st. The law was instituted with the hopes of bringing in more foreign investment, transparency and regulations. This law comes at a time when Western investors are concerned about civil unrest in the country and the Myanmar government is hoping to diversify investors, who have mostly been Chinese. The Asia Foundation’s  Myanmar research is cited from its 2017 report, The Contested Areas of Myanmar: Subnational Conflict, Aid, and Development. The publication is the culmination of a year-long study which found that far from being a problem restricted to the periphery, Myanmar’s subnational conflicts are widespread and shape many of the country’s most pressing national challenges. Subnational conflicts directly affect up to one-quarter of the population. For more than half a century they have severely impacted the entire country’s political trajectory, economic growth, and human development.

In 2017 the Asia Foundation published research that said the civil war was inherently linked to economic development and that peace was essential to developing a national economy under a government pushing for more foreign investment.

Love Laos: Keep It Clean Campaign Highlighted in Brunei News Story on Plastic Crisis

June 26, 2018 — Brunei News cites The Asia Foundation’s InAsia blog post “Love Laos: Keep it Clean” in a piece reporting on how “Southeast Asian Nations Grapple with Worsening Plastic Trash Crisis.”

Traditionally, most people in Laos lived a subsistence lifestyle, and their waste was primarily organic and decayed quickly. However, urbanisation and the shift to consumer lifestyles in rural areas is leading to an increase in imported and manufactured products, which are typically comprised of plastics and other non-biodegradable materials. There are a limited number of sanitary landfills in the country… As a result, the majority of people must come up with their own solutions for waste disposal.

The blogpost highlights the importance of creating broader awareness of the negative impacts from improper waste disposal, including environmental issues caused by the leaching of hazardous substances into soils and water, and human health problems due to inhalation of the smoke given off by burning plastics and other hazardous materials. Recently The Asia Foundation launched a campaign targeting waste management called “Love Laos: Keep it Clean” to encourage people to stop littering and to start recycling and composting.