Myanmar is on the brink of a long transformation as it re-enters the global economic system. Developing and reforming the energy sector will be paramount to a prosperous economic future for the country. This will require the government, business and other stakeholders to collaborate on solutions that benefit Myanmar and unlock the investments needed.

The energy sector in Myanmar is central to the country’s economy, with natural gas providing by far its most important source of income. However, almost three quarters of the population do not have access to electricity. Building on its abundant natural resources, Myanmar must find ways to bolster its domestic energy infrastructure to power development. Starting from a low base, the country has the opportunity to learn from international experience to find effective solutions that balance the affordability of energy with sustainability and broader access to it.

The task is daunting and calls for long-term commitment and planning. One of the biggest challenges faced by emerging economies, including Myanmar, is constructively engaging the diverse stakeholders who have a role to play in its transformation: government, private investors, multilateral institutions and civil society. Their interests in the development of the country’s energy sector range, from concern over an excessive focus on exporting energy at the expense of domestic development, to interests in benefiting from revenues generated by foreign companies, to anxiety about the lack of public participation in disruptive energy projects, to making sure that environmental and social impacts of energy projects are properly assessed.

In order to manage these, at times, competing interests successfully, a collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach has been adopted by the World Economic Forum, an approach that has yielded new insights summarized in a report on Myanmar’s New Energy Architecture. The Forum partnered with the Ministry of Energy of Myanmar to support the ongoing energy reform. In Myanmar, the Forum held workshops and interviews with government ministers and officials involved in the energy sector. It consulted academics, economists and industry leaders in public and private sectors. In this undertaking, the Forum partnered with the Asian Development Bank and Accenture. This multi-stakeholder approach – the first in its kind to take an integrated approach to improving Myanmar’s energy system – brought together a diverse range of opinions and illuminated new grounds for action and collaboration.

The report summarizing the insights from this process presents 17 concrete recommendations on three core dimensions: how Myanmar can create effective and transparent governance in the energy sector; investment frameworks to increase supply and manage demand; and strategies to generate long-term value. The report also includes examples, such as Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of Mercy Corps, elaborating on unconventional but high-impact options to expand rural energy solutions using micro-grids or more efficient cooking stoves.

Looking ahead, the Government of Myanmar must prioritize its energy reforms, harnessing the power of the various stakeholders. Ensuring public support in a sustained and sustainable development of its energy potential while attracting the financial and technical capability of investors will be important.

Public, private and civil society stakeholders must collaborate and partner in concrete initiatives. They can build on the momentum and the model applied by the World Economic Forum and its partners to establish industry councils, trade bodies or regular forums to address ongoing issues in the energy sector, an approach that reduces the costs of approaching individual stakeholders to gain visibility on issues and facilitate concerted action on a set of priority issues.

In a series of posts leading up to the World Economic Forum’s New Energy Architecture: Myanmar 2013 report, which launches on 6 June 2013, Roberto Bocca, Senior Energy Director at the World Economic Forum, explains how collaborative, multistakeholder dialogues have proved so successful in Myanmar, and provides a model for future development of the country’s energy sector as well in other emerging economies.

Author: Roberto Bocca is Senior Director, Head of Energy Industries at the World Economic Forum.

Image: The Shwedagon Pagoda, is illuminated at night REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang