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Asia is undergoing rapid and historic change. Economic growth is unprecedented — but the benefits of that growth are unequally distributed within and between countries.

Although economic growth has reduced poverty in much of Asia, rural and minority populations still endure hardship. The region also suffers from environmental degradation, gender-based violence and an economy increasingly based on informal employment. In addition, while maternal mortality has declined in the region overall, it remains high in low- and middle-income countries.

These pressures strain the infrastructure and fray human relations, ultimately hampering the region’s development.

Research focus

While governments need innovative policies based on solid research, the capability to provide these policies varies from country to country.

To improve people’s lives in local communities, we support researchers who are seeking innovative solutions for Asia’s agricultural, environmental, technological, social and economic challenges. We also promote knowledge sharing so that the evidence generated by our research partners goes further and accomplishes more by influencing development policies and informing solutions.

We recognize that the impacts of climate change and persistent inequalities pose significant barriers to the attainment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in the region and globally. IDRC’s 10-year blueprint for action, Strategy 2030, reflects our ambition to respond to those two issues while focusing on climate-resilient food systems, global health, education and science, democratic and inclusive governance, and sustainable inclusive economy.

Through our strategic investments and knowledge sharing, we are helping local actors play a more effective role in solving regional challenges, and thus contribute to building a more sustainable and inclusive world.

Regional office

Our regional office for Asia is located in New Delhi, India. It serves development researchers and institutions in 18 countries.

Afghanistan

Bangladesh

Bhutan

Cambodia

China

China

India

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Indonesia

Laos

Malaysia

Malaysia

Mongolia

Myanmar

Nepal

Pakistan

Philippines

Philippines

Philippines

Philippines

Philippines

Philippines

Philippines

Sri Lanka

Thailand

Viet Nam

Country Profile

We were among the first donors to establish contacts in Cambodia in the early 1990s, as the country moved toward peace. Since then, we’ve supported its rebuilding efforts in the wake of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and decades of regional conflict.

Connecting the nation

Post-war Cambodia faced many challenges — among them, isolation. In 1998 an IDRC grant helped establish Cambodia’s first Internet service provider. We have since funded Cambodian research to develop programs and web content in Khmer, the national language. This enables Cambodians to use computers, access the Internet, and generate content.

Local research teams for the projects included the Institute of Technology, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports, and the National Information Communications Technology Development Authority.

Community-managed resources

The unsustainable exploitation of primary resources, particularly forests and coastal areas, also pose a serious threat. We have long supported a community-based approach that actively involves local people in research, to help improve the sustainable use of resources.

For example, researchers and communities in the Ratanakiri province mapped traditional territories and resource demand, tested more efficient farming techniques, and acquired skills to manage the Yak Loam Lake ecotourism area. The research helped people improve their livelihoods, set limits on resource use, and secure land ownership.

In Koh Kong province, government officials and researchers collaborated to help community members agree on rules for coastal resource use and create a federation of communes to reduce conflict among communities. They planted mangrove trees, worked at halting illegal fishing, and adopted small-scale aquaculture to improve their incomes.

As a result of these and other successes, the Government of Cambodia has incorporated community participation into its laws. A national non-governmental organization called The Learning Institute, created with IDRC funding, further promotes community participation in sustainably managing natural resources through research and training.

Total IDRC Support

104 activities worth CAD $29.1 million since 1994

Farmer harvesting crops in Cambodia.
CIAT / N.PALMER

Our support helps

  • build research capacity and a research culture in Cambodia

  • upgrade skills and improve working conditions for young, low-skilled workers — mainly women and ethnic minorities 

  • improve nutrient-rich food, where over one-third of deaths under age 5 relate to under-nutrition 

  • produce more fish — a traditional food rich in iron, vitamin A, protein, and essential fatty acids

Projects

Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

Although economic growth and government strategies have reduced poverty in China, rural and minority populations still endure hardship. Our funding helps researchers find solutions — for economic growth, governance and justice issues, health concerns, and a changing climate.

As the country’s political influence in the world increases, we’ve supported the Chinese government’s interest in designing policies based on evidence and public input. For example, research on public participation in budgeting led a number of local governments to adopt more transparent and accountable budgetary processes.

Preventing HIV transmission

To reduce HIV transmission, IDRC-funded research is using mathematical modelling to influence local and national policies in China. This support helps prevent HIV-positive individuals in China from infecting others. The Ministry of Health and the Centre for Disease Control in China scaled up prevention treatments to reduce HIV transmission.

Research-generated mathematical modelling has also helped public health officials improve their evidence-based decision-making, to determine whether HIV infection rates are increasing or declining. Researchers developed models to better predict incident rates. Results pointed to higher annual HIV incidence than national estimates and led China’s Ministry of Health to re-evaluate their 2013 estimates.

Innovations in farming

Our research support over two decades has introduced innovative farming practices in China. For example, Canadian and Chinese researchers developed a mobile phone technology that supports applications to make valuable information, such as wholesale food prices, accessible to poor farmers. Researchers are also developing ways for farmers to adapt to water-related stresses, including drought and flooding.

Research throughout the previous decade has forged partnerships between state plant-breeders and farmers with knowledge of local corn and rice varieties. Together they have improved yields, incomes, and caloric intake in farming communities. Chinese authorities promoted these methods nation-wide.

Total IDRC Support

260 activities worth CAD $54.2 million since 1981

Children reading books in a classroom in China.
WORLD BANK / S.Harris

IDRC support is helping

  • increase local researchers’ economic analysis and applied research abilities 

  • build skills and knowledge to communicate research results and contribute to public debate 

  • develop effective water resource management in the Asian Highlands in response to climate change 

  • maximize the benefits and mitigate the negative impacts of Chinese investment in Laos and Cambodia 

Projects

Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

Indonesia is an important site for our research support in several ways. It’s a young democracy with a large pluralist society, and its environment has global significance.

Information and communication technologies, in particular, are important tools for development in the world’s largest island group. Our support enabled one of Asia’s most prominent distance learning universities to replace correspondence courses with digital learning technologies.

As a result, the number of adult learners who completed their courses increased, along with satisfaction levels. With an additional IDRC grant, the university replaced lost learning materials and established an Internet access point for students in its tsunami-devastated campus in Banda Aceh.

Community forest management

We have long supported research on the sustainable use of forests in Indonesia. For example, we helped two areas adopt our “model forest” approach for the Berau and Margowitan forests, where the community helps manage it. Developed in Canada and promoted internationally, model forests involve community members, businesses, and local authorities in research and planning for sustainable use of forest resources.

Decentralization of responsibilities from national to local governments in the late 1990s created the opportunity to involve communities in managing large state-owned teak plantations on the island of Java. With our support, there’s now a joint community-government forest management model in three districts. This allows farmers to have better access to forest resources.

The cost of environmental damage

The Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia — funded by IDRC and nine other donors — has also had significant results in Indonesia. For example, it helped identify the causes, impacts, and costs of the vast forest fires that ravaged the country and region in 1997.

The results prompted the region’s environment ministers to pursue alternatives to burning as a land-clearing method. The government uses our co-sponsored report, “Climate Matters: Vulnerability Map of Southeast Asia,” which highlights the risks from climate change effects. It helps policymakers and donors decide on a course of action to meet environmental challenges.

Total IDRC Support

218 activities worth CAD $30.8 million since 1972

Woman carrying a baby in Indonesia.
World Bank / C.Carnemark

Our support helps

  • reduce disease transmission risks from animals and birds to humans

  • strengthen ecohealth research and practice in Southeast Asia

  • reduce socio-economic and geographic disparities in health care delivery 

  • address impunity in post-conflict violence against women in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Burma

  • improve the responsible use of antibiotics to reduce resistant infections in China, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam

Projects

Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

We began funding research in Laos in the late 1980s. Following decades of conflict, the country faced widespread poverty, linguistic isolation, and the exodus of its most educated citizens.

Our support responded to these challenges. For example, community-led research on poverty enabled the government to target its poverty alleviation and development programs more effectively. We’ve also encouraged many communities to use natural resources more sustainably, and helped connect the country to the Internet.

Better research on forest and land use

With a rural population depending heavily on natural resources for its subsistence, Laos needed solutions to forest overexploitation and conflicting demands for land. From 1999 to 2007, we helped Canada’s York University and the National University of Laos collaborate to build local capabilities to generate solutions. The initiative developed research skills in writing, data collection and analysis, and offered small research grants.

As a result, local university researchers studied the effects of a new protected forest area on livelihoods in Savannakhet Province, and the Song River’s impact on health in two villages in Vientiane Province. The faculty’s teaching tools and methods also improved, as did the university’s administrative skills.

Breaking the country’s isolation

For over a decade, we supported the country’s leapfrog into the information age. In the mid-1990s, local staff at the Science, Technology and Environment Agency received training to launch the country’s first email service. In 2002, they extended full Internet connectivity and training to provincial governments and the National University of Laos. A joint initiative also created a telecentre in the northern city of Luang Prabang, which introduced Internet services to rural people.
 

Total IDRC Support

61 activities worth CAD $9.9 million since 1987

Farmer harvesting crops in Laos.
CIAT / N.PALMER

Our support helps

  • Lao speakers access the Internet
  • migrant women protect their health
  • the Government of Laos improve trade negotiations
  • leaders develop sound transportation policies

Projects

Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

Malaysia was one of the first Southeast Asian countries we supported in 1971. Over the following two decades, we funded more than 100 activities. They contributed to better policies, technologies, and research capacity in sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, education, health, and science and technology.

Research results in the late 1980s shaped the Malaysian government’s national industrial strategy around science and technology. As Malaysia became an upper middle-income economy and the local government prioritized research in the 1990s, we scaled back our support. Our funding now bolsters Malaysian efforts to understand how the knowledge economy can benefit the poor. We also promote new technologies for local development.

Better livelihoods for homeworkers

We supported local research to document women’s access to information and communication technologies in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, and the strategies needed to support women’s use of these technologies in the home.

This research on women homeworkers and home-based entrepreneurs — who sell everything from telemarketing and editorial services to homemade crafts and cakes — raised the profile of women working at home and their need for recognition, training, and legal protection. The special needs of homeworkers with disabilities were also highlighted.

Global partnership for knowledge and development

Since 2001, Malaysia has been home to the Global Knowledge Partnership secretariat, supported by IDRC and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. This international network of public, private, and not-for-profit organizations promotes the innovative application of knowledge and technology to achieve development goals. It includes improving education and reducing poverty.

The network shares knowledge and builds partnerships through training, meetings, excellence awards, and project funding. Our most recent grant allowed the organization to assess its future directions.

Total IDRC Support

126 activities worth CAD $16.9 million since 1971

Women scientists in Malaysia.
World Bank / N.Motlaq

Our support helps

  • poor rural residents get an education
  • small-scale entrepreneurs find venture capital
  • farmers safeguard their export markets
  • migrant workers gain better protections​

Projects

Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

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 

Projects

Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

We’ve supported research in the Philippines since 1972. Today, research by local universities, research institutes, and civil societies has resulted in significant improvements in agriculture, forest management, and community engagement.

Some IDRC grantees have had a global impact. For example, the International Rice Research Centre has helped improve the well-being of rice farmers and consumers across the developing regions of the world.

Fighting poverty with facts

Research teams developed a poverty monitoring system now used in 14 countries. Piloted in the Philippines in 1994, community-based poverty monitoring provides municipal and provincial planners with information to design effective anti-poverty programs. Now in use throughout the country, it’s a low-cost way to collect and analyze household data with the community’s active participation.

The monitoring system also helps governments and organizations develop policies and programs to meet the people’s most pressing needs. For example, a community-administered survey of the 400,000 residents of Pasay City, a congested part of Metro Manila, identified high school drop-out rates and youth unemployment as major problems. As a result, job fairs, training programs, savings schemes, and other policies were introduced to target youth.

Forests and people prosper

The Philippines’ once-lush forest cover has shrunk to about 18% of the country’s total land area. With IDRC support, the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction promoted forestry management by local communities.  Researchers found ways to include local residents’ viewpoints in national-level discussions to help reform an overly complex forest management system. They promoted local people’s rights to manage, use, and sell forest resources.

As a result, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources used consultation information to draft new forestry guidelines. Working with communities, newly trained forestry officials help ease the pressure on remaining forests while allowing communities to use resources sustainably.

Total IDRC Support

295 activities worth CAD $43.1 million since 1972

Farmer in the Philippines harvesting rice.
WORLD BANK / D.Pinzon

Our support helps

  • prevent and manage type 2 diabetes in rural communities

  • adapt to climate change in the region

  • understand and promote entrepreneurship in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia

  • highlight the links between digital information networks and economic growth, democratic reform, and increased educational opportunities 

Projects

Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

IDRC support for research in Thailand began in 1971. It changed significantly as the country’s economy grew and Thailand became an upper-middle income country. We began to emphasize support for Thai institutions that can coordinate regional research.

One example is the forward-looking initiative on avian influenza, led by the Asian Partnership on Emerging Infectious Diseases Research — one of at least 30 research institutions in six countries. Research topics include the risks of bird flu transmission from migratory birds and the impact of control measures on small poultry producers.

Understanding a changing economy

We’ve also supported research on economics, with a particular emphasis on globalization’s impact on poverty and women’s work. In 1994, we helped create the Asian Development Research Forum, based at the Thailand Research Fund in Bangkok.

Scholars in this policy research network led groundbreaking studies on such topics as pensions, health care, migration, and women’s role in family care. They played a significant part in placing previously under-appreciated issues, such as aging and long-term care, on the regional policy agenda.

In 2003, one of their studies in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam provided new knowledge to stimulate rural employment. Research teams assessed how off-farm and non-farm activities, such as wood processing, are becoming essential to rural economies.

Aquaculture development

During the 1990s, we supported several phases of research on aquatic biodiversity. Researchers from Canada, China, Indonesia, and Thailand applied tools of modern biotechnology, such as DNA fingerprinting, to conserve genetic biodiversity and breed better fish.

In Thailand, researchers worked with fish farmers to identify aquaculture needs and breed a variety of barb better adapted to local environmental conditions. The new breed generated higher yields for fish farmers. Thai researchers also identified strategies to restock watersheds and preserve fish biodiversity. 

Total IDRC Support

294 activities worth CAD $43.5 million since 1971

Farmer harvesting in Thailand.
CIAT / N.PALMER

IDRC support is helping

  • improve job equality for migrant women in border areas 

  • determine links between changing agricultural practices and human health

  • explore inland aquaculture and climate change adaptation strategies in northern Thailand

  • improve flood management planning to counteract climate change disasters, such as the 2011 flood with damages of US$46.5 billion  

Projects

Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

We began supporting research in Vietnam in the early 1990s, shortly after reforms launched the country’s transition to a market economy. As a generation of Vietnamese economists realized that their skills were ill-suited for the new market system, we responded with training in non-Marxist economic research.  Economic research on the poor Sustained support to economists laid the foundation for the Vietnam Economic Research Network. Supported by IDRC since its inception in 2002, members study international trade, competitiveness, employment, poverty, and inequality.

The Network quickly expanded to include researchers from across the country. Establishing strong, credible links to policymakers and development practitioners, their research findings inform trade policy and appear in the country’s Human Development Report. The Network helped prepare for Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2007.

Better use of resources

IDRC support has also fostered community involvement in research among key Vietnamese universities and science research institutions. Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry has become a leader in this approach. It has been working with communities in the Tam Giang Lagoon since the mid-1990s to help develop sustainable livelihoods, solve conflicts between aquaculturists and mobile fishers, reduce navigational hazards, and improve water quality. As a measure of its success, local fishery associations secured fishing management rights in 2009, a first in Vietnam.

Wired to learn

We were a key partner in establishing the country’s first connection to the Internet and first online education service. In 1994, a government service, Netnam, began offering Internet and e-mail. Netnam thrives to this day as a private company run by the original IDRC-supported team.

In the early 2000s, Vietnam’s Fisheries College No. 4 and Canada’s College of the North Atlantic created the country’s first Internet-based distance education service for rural learners. We continue to support online education through regional research to improve the quality of distance education.

Total IDRC Support

153 activities worth CAD $34.6 million since 1991

Women sorting out goods in a market of Vietnam.
CIAT / N.PALMER

Our support helps

  • build ecohealth leadership in Southeast Asia
  • reduce food insecurity and chronic malnutrition  
  • produce complementary and therapeutic foods for 15,000 malnourished children
  • improve small-scale food processing among smallholder farmers and women subsistence farmers 
  • build labour market knowledge and analytical capacity among policymakers and key institutions
  • assist policymakers with research to support alcohol control laws in Vietnam, where 60% of domestic violence cases are linked to alcohol

Projects

Explore research projects we support in this region.

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Assisting post-earthquake rehabilitation in Nepal

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Safer public spaces for women and girls

Regional office

New Delhi, India

208 Jor Bagh, New Delhi 110003, India
Phone: (+91-11) 2461-9411

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