Father Mark Raper SJ (middle) during the Yangon consultation workshop in August focusing on the curriculum of the Myanmar Leadership Institute. (Photo courtesy of the Myanmar Leadership Institute)
Jesuits in Myanmar have opened a youth leadership training institute with the enthusiastic encouragement of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, the nation's commercial hub.
The Myanmar Leadership Institute (MLI) aims to help develop a more just society for the poor with professional leaders inspired by a commitment to peace and human rights.
With the motto 'Learn to Lead, Lead to Serve', MLI will concentrate on the preparation of leaders in the fields of education, business and civil society.
Australian Jesuit Father Mark Raper, superior of Jesuits in Myanmar, said it would be a special privilege for young people entering the program to develop their potential.
"We want to provide solid education at great value and our expectation is that young people will contribute to society with their leadership skills and take part in a nation building," Father Raper told ucanews.com.
He added that the institute is open to all regardless of ethnicity or religion.
A Jesuit newsletter quoted Father Joseph Anthony Jacob, the first director of the MLI, as saying that leaders are essentially pilgrims, not people who had already achieved perfection.
"Leadership is nothing but a discovery channel and it is a new way of being evangelists and prophets to the poor and the neglected in every society," Father Jacob said.
The institute's curriculum has been developed in consultation with experts — in the fields of education, entrepreneurship and civil society — and with the University of Manila run by Jesuits in the Philippines.
Students will receive a graduate diploma in leadership from Ateneo de Manila University, also in the Philippines.
Cardinal Bo had been eager for several years to open a leadership institute.
"The MLI is one way to begin building a new Myanmar, to develop the values of democracy, to protect and promote human rights," Cardinal Bo told the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2016.
Cardinal Bo is an outspoken church leader who has repeatedly called for the return of more than 80 Catholic schools that were nationalized by the former military junta in 1965.
Cardinal Bo said the schools "were taken at gunpoint" and has campaigned with other Christian leaders on the issue.
During the 1950s, Myanmar was considered by many to be the best-educated nation in Southeast Asia due largely to the quality of education provided by Christian schools.
Under the military, the country's education system was mismanaged and grossly under-funded.
Despite some increases in the past decade, state spending remains under the 3.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) average spent by other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Education is a key sector that the Myanmar Catholic Church has committed to as part of its nation building program.
The program also includes integral human development (physical, spiritual, intellectual, political, financial and social), inter-religious dialogue, women's empowerment and environmental justice.
The program pledge from the church comes at a time when Myanmar is emerging from decades of military rule after Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won 2015 elections and took office in April 2016.