Myanmar Leadership Institute (MLI), Kamayut Township Yangon

Myanmar Leadership Institute (MLI), a long cherished dream of the Cardinal Bo and the Jesuits of Myanmar Mission, was realized at its formal opening in Yangon on 14 November 2018. The opening of MLI marks a new era of leadership formation in Myanmar both within the Church and on secular fronts. At MLI’s festive launch, His Eminence Charles Cardinal Maung Bo, Mark Raper SJ, Myanmar Jesuit Superior, and M.S. Jacob SJ, the first Executive Director of MLI, welcomed around seventy guests.

MLI is an arch-cathedral of learning, a pagoda of knowledge and a mosque of education, said Fr Jacob. It is a symbol of unity in ethnic diversity. Its education has an international flavour. MLI’s aim is to sharpen students’ minds, season their hearts and soil their hands with the hard realities of the lives of the people of Myanmar.

After an invocation led by Academic Dean Dr. Mark Labuntog and the first batch of MLI students, M.S. Jacob SJ, in welcoming the Cardinal and guests, explained that the leadership course commences with a first quarter in which students are expected to gain greater self-knowledge and identify their own strengths and weaknesses. In the second quarter they build on their interpersonal, relational and task management skills. In the third quarter they enlarge their entrepreneurial and organisational capacity, learn to set up and manage projects, and develop corporate social and environmental responsibility. Finally in the fourth quarter they learn to move in the social, ethnic, cultural and religious contexts of Myanmar and of our modern world. Nation building, ethical principles, social inclusion, restoration of peace and human rights are included in the curriculum along with discernment, strategic thinking and direction setting.

Fr Mark Raper unveiled the Logo of MLI and explained that Myanmar Leadership Institute’s logo and curriculum combine the values and insight of the Dharmachakra’s ‘Eightfold Path’, with foundational principles of Catholic Social Teaching. On the one hand: the eight spokes of the wheel represent right understanding, right thought, right speech, right conduct, right means of making a living, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. On the other hand, Catholic social teaching offers the principles and values of Respect for Human Dignity, for the Common Good, Solidarity, Subsidiarity, Human Rights & Responsibilities, the Stewardship of creation, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, and option for the poor. MLI blends schools of knowledge, values and skills developed over millennia. On top of that, MLI draws on the five hundred year Jesuit tradition of organisation and education. This tradition is represented in the “sunburst” which has been a part of the Jesuit monogram since the 16th Century.

Myanmar society is emerging from darkness into a promising yet uncertain civil future, Fr Mark remarked. Building stable organisations and reliable business on shifting sands is a treacherous endeavour, requiring leaders of integrity and discernment, flexible yet determined, sensitive yet free from fear, ready to lead to the light and above all, ready to serve. Hence our motto: “Learn to lead, lead to serve”.

Finally Mark Raper thanked the Cardinal Bo for entrusting the Jesuits with the responsibility of establishing and sustaining the institute and he thanked M.S. Jacob SJ, Dr Mark, Sr Sisca, Ma Assumpta Mun Pi and Irsan, as well as Fr Julio Giulietti for having given their expertise, energy and determination to reach this point.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo’s keynote speech appealed to all to “Speak with courage and frankness" because "only dialogue can help us grow." He said this was the message with which Pope Francis opened the Synod on Youth in Rome in October, at which Cardinal Bo was one of the moderators. Politics, said the Cardinal, quoting Pope Francis, is “one of the loftiest expressions of charity”. That type of leadership brings with it a concern for "the future of life and the planet, of the young and the least, in their thirst of fulfilment.” At MLI, these principles and values have been distilled into practical learning experiences. Good leaders who encourage consideration of others will help us all to move from “I” to “we”. Replace the “I” of ‘illness’ with “we” and it becomes ‘wellness’. MLI’s full time and evening classes prepare young people to speak convincingly, to dialogue, and to lead. After many decades of darkness, Myanmar needs good leaders who will lead us to the light, said Cardinal Bo. MLI exists to prepare leaders for civil society, business, religious bodies and education, as well as of course, for government roles. Indeed he wants MLI to be a training ground for persons who would go out and lead with courage and frankness in all spheres of community and public life and service. We need to listen to each other, but especially to young people. With these few words, Cardinal Bo declared Myanmar Leadership Institute open amidst strong applause. Mr. Saw Kapi of Thabyay Education Foundation and a member of MLI’s Governing Council, shared his impressions. This institution will not only teach the minds but also train the hearts of leaders-to-be in our country. It is the spirituality of kindness and compassion that will, in the long run, sustain a development achieved through our knowledge and skills. He believes that the solution to Myanmar’s political and economic problems could only be found through educating its citizens. Joseph Tun Khui Shing, a student, spoke of his experience at MLI and his impressions about the courses, curriculum, teaching methods and the deeper level of interactions with the staff and peers in less than a month. Finally the evening ended with vote of thanks proposed by Sr. Sisca FCJ.

M. S. Jacob SJ
Executive Director