Relief International signs health-focused agreement with Myanmar

Children in Yangon, Myanmar. Relief International is set to expand its work in maternal and child health to reach towns outside the city of Yangon. Photo by: João Almeida / CC BY-NC-SA

Nongovernmental organization Relief International expects to significantly scale up its operations in Myanmar after signing a memorandum of understanding with the country’s first civilian government.

Through the memorandum, Relief International is set to expand its work in maternal and child health to reach towns outside the city of Yangon. The memorandum provides the group’s field office in the country legitimacy to reach out to these townships and includes government assistance with access and work visas, according to Joseph Mariampillai, senior program officer for Asia and policy coordinator for Relief International.

The memorandum means less time spent on visas and assistance with travel outside Yangon, Mariampillai said in an email to Devex. It also would also allow Relief International to engage with local government officials who, Mariampillai said, are “very reluctant to work without an MOU.”

Memorandums of understanding, among other similar framework agreements, are often a necessity for international organizations working in Myanmar, according to a study by Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations.

Not an easy process

Memorandums are not easy to secure, even with Myanmar’s first nominally civilian government. Mariampillai shared that despite changes and increased engagement at the ministerial level, the commitment and enthusiasm have yet to be “diffused” to the regional and township levels.

Relief International spent approximately four years to secure its memorandum of understanding, Mariampillai shared, adding that the process required working through various ministries. The biggest challenge, he said, is getting registration in Myanmar — a requirement before NGOs can transact with ministries.

Projects must be deliverable

When working to get a memorandum of understanding, it is important for NGOs to concretely outline their planned activities in Myanmar, Mariampillai stressed. It is also important to work with other groups present in the area, he added.

Mariampillai further emphasized the importance of fulfilling commitments made: “The MOU is based on specific projects, so it is a commitment by the NGO to deliver. NGOs need to make sure their project is realistic and deliverable.”

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.