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University of Washington and Microsoft Corp. unite on major USAID initiative to strengthen higher education and sustain reform in Burma (Myanmar)

February 18, 2014

SEATTLE, Wash. – The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded $1.5 million to a University of Washington-led program to bring the power of new technologies to bear upon reform in higher education and policy-making in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

This USAID Higher Education Partnership grant, called Advancing Democracy and Promoting Transformations with Information Technology (ADAPT-IT), brings together University of Washington’s (UW) Jackson School of International Studies and the Information School with Burma-based public and private sector stakeholders, along with a close collaboration between Microsoft and the U.S. Government.

As Burma struggles with advancing reform and reducing the military’s role in national affairs, it is faced with ever-daunting challenges. The country is undergoing three major structural transformations – from authoritarian to democratic rule, from economic isolation and underdevelopment to an integrated market economy, and from armed conflict to peace. In light of this sea change in Burmese life, ADAPT-IT focuses on developing capacity and skills to manage and use information responsibly and effectively to facilitate these reform processes.

According to Dr. Mary Callahan, an associate professor in the Jackson School of International Studies and co-director of the USAID grant, “The fifty years of public disinvestment in Myanmar’s education system represents one of the greatest barriers to progress on any front. In the current environment, building the capacity of local universities and developing the leaders of tomorrow is necessary to sustain democratic and economic reform.”

ADAPT-IT will leverage UW’s considerable expertise on Burma and information sciences with a range of Burmese partners committed to bringing about a transformation in the information and education landscapes.

Microsoft will fully match the USAID grant and contribute both software and technical expertise to the UW and the ADAPT-IT project, with a focus on helping Burmese organizations gain the capacity to effectively generate and disseminate trustworthy information.

“At Microsoft, we believe in the power of technology to help connect people, drive greater economic growth and build a foundation for a successful society across all sectors,” said James Bernard, Global Director of Strategic Partnerships for Education.

Dr. Sara Curran, also a co-director of the grant and Director of UW’s Center for Global Studies in the Jackson School, expects the two-year program to fundamentally alter the education landscape in Burma and offer new models of collaboration between universities, governments and the private sector. Curran stated: “ADAPT-IT’s activities will strengthen individual abilities for democratic citizenship and institutional capacity to sustain the reforms, or at minimum, to raise the costs of significant political backsliding. The fully collaborative approach intends to ensure that these investments in development and democracy are productive and equitable.” Chris Coward, Director of the Information School’s Technology & Social Change Group, added: “Myanmar with its rapidly changing information and technology landscape is a fascinating country to work in and bring our extensive experience in advancing the role of new technologies in social, political and economic development.”

The program envisions a future distributive knowledge network of information hubs based in libraries, institutions of higher education, civil society organizations, as well as public and private sector institutions. To achieve this goal, ADAPT-IT combines Burma- and Seattle-based training, curricula development, partnership brokering and outreach to underserved communities to build knowledge, skills and critical information competencies among Burma’s next generation of leaders.