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Myanmar in the 1990s ranked among the most repressive and self-isolated countries in the world. Also known as Burma, Myanmar was not entirely new to IDRC. Despite the restrictive political climate over the past decades, we’ve supported limited projects since the 1980s. These were mostly managed by the International Rice Research Institute.

In 2014, the Government of Canada confirmed Myanmar as a country of focus for its international development efforts, and in 2015, a historic election heralded the return of democracy. As Myanmar emerges from decades of economic and political isolation from the west, it shows good potential for development.

Working with Canadian and international partners, our focus is to build capacity, support local research, and connect scientists of Myanmar to experts in the region. Over the last few years, we’ve been at the forefront of Canadian efforts to help strengthen democratic governance and sustainable economic development in Myanmar.

Addressing labour reform

In 2015, Myanmar implemented a new minimum wage (around US$3 a day). Evidence points to the fact that some workers benefit from minimum wage, but the most vulnerable, including women, are often left behind.

IDRC supports research to reform Myanmar's labour markets, coinciding with the country’s effort to implement a minimum wage. The project supports research on employer and employee needs in Myanmar, particularly in high-growth sectors such as the garment industry.

With the pressing need for more research and evidence to inform policymakers, researchers are analyzing productivity, social security, and wage determinants. The project also strengthens capacities of local researchers and government officials through workshops and training activities.

New digital technologies

Digital technologies are helping Myanmar transition to a more open, inclusive, and equitable society. An IDRC-funded survey of information and communication technology use showed dramatic changes just six months after its economic market opened up.

Of the almost 52 million people in Myanmar, more than a quarter live below the national poverty line, making it among the world’s poorest and least developed countries. Yet researchers revealed almost 60% of Myanmar's households have at least one mobile phone. Though computer usage is extremely low, two-thirds of mobile subscribers have a smartphone with Internet. Significantly, the majority of those intending to buy a mobile phone are young, poor, rural women. Their intentions are encouraging for their empowerment.

Researchers are developing applications to improve public services and entrepreneurship. They are partnering with mobile operators to provide digital skills to the poor, and strengthening the government’s ability to regulate telecommunications.

Total IDRC Support

67 activities worth CAD $20.1 million since 1985

Women selling vegetables in a market in Burma.
WORLD BANK / M.Kostner

Our support help

  • develop an efficient and equitable labour market in Myanmar to support a multi-party democracy and market economy
  • reform labour-related laws and regulations to increase fairness
  • increase Burmese researchers’ skills and knowledge through training 
  • improve digital literacy in Myanmar, where just 1% of people have Internet access 


Explore research projects we support in this region.