Having visited Cambodia and Korea on this whirlwind tour of the region, I touched down in my third and last country—Myanmar.
What a place! It is rare to find such a combination of enchanting beauty, warm hospitality, and an unstoppable drive to succeed. Myanmar is undergoing a great awakening to the world and all that it has to offer. And it is engaging on multiple fronts. For example, it has recently taken over the chairmanship of ASEAN, and when I arrived I found the country in the midst of hosting the South East Asian games.[caption id="attachment_6702" align="alignright" width="252"] International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde cheers on the water polo players as she watches Myanmar play Thailand during the 27th biennial SEA Games December 6, 2013 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. Lagarde is on a three country visit to Asia. IMF Photograph/Stephen Jaffe[/caption]
I was deeply impressed by the achievements Myanmar has realized in a really short space of time—reducing inflation, freeing up access to foreign exchange and imports and establishing a new central bank. For sure, Myanmar has a long road ahead. And on this journey a “no haste, no waste” strategy will be key; a strategy that shuns reforms simply for the sake of reform, and instead makes progress at a pace that allows the authorities to manage the related risks, all while taking maximum advantage of the available opportunities. I was encouraged by the dedication, determination and optimism of everyone I talked to—the authorities; women leaders; and professors and students at the prestigious Yangon Institute of Economics, where I gave a speech.
In that speech, I noted that the priorities for Myanmar at this stage are threefold. First, invest in the future—especially in health, education, and infrastructure. Second, include all people in development, including the poor and women—for inclusive growth is the only real form of lasting growth. Third, integrate further into the broader regional economy, taking advantage of Myanmar’s auspicious location in the heart of Asia.
I also stressed that the IMF would be a lasting partner on the road ahead, and would always stand with the people of Myanmar.[caption id="attachment_6704" align="alignright" width="270"] International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde is greeted by faculty members prior to speaking at the Yangon Institute of Economics at Yangon University December 7, 2013 in Yangon, Myanmar. Lagarde is on her final leg of a three country visit to Asia. IMF Photograph/Stephen Jaffe[/caption]
One of the highlights of my visit was the chance to participate in the Women’s Forum Myanmar. The dialogue at the Forum suggested that, as Myanmar opens up, it is committed to the right kind of development—the kind that incorporates the skills, talent, and leadership of women. At the Forum I talked about the economic potential of women—we know that if women do better, economies do better, and that empowering women is one of the best ways of reducing poverty. I came away most impressed by the creativity, commitment, and compassion of Myanmar’s women.[caption id="attachment_6703" align="alignright" width="270"] International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (L) meets with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (R) meet privately prior to a breakfast meeting at the Chatrium Hotel December 7, 2013 in Yangon, Myanmar. Lagarde is on a three country visit to Asia. IMF Photograph/Stephen Jaffe[/caption]
I also had the chance to engage with one of my personal heroes, Daw Aung Suu Kyi. This was an especially poignant moment for me, as it came right after the passing of another giant on the global stage and another of my heroes—Nelson Mandela.
I remain humbled by Daw Suu’s achievements, and heartened by the resolve she has to create a better future for all citizens of Myanmar. In a moving speech at the Forum, she talked about generosity and empathy as the hallmarks of a decent society—where everyone is valued equally, respected for their innate human dignity and worth, and allowed to contribute and realize their full potential.
I was sad to leave Myanmar, but I also left inspired and optimistic. I felt that I had I glimpsed the future unfolding right before my eyes.