February 23, 2016 Print

In February, Atlas Network partners in Asia joined together for the 2016 Asia Liberty Forum, held this year at the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to strategize for even greater impact in the months to come.

Highlights included Speed Networking, designed to help attendees expand their contacts; training workshops to hone skills in marketing, social media, and entrepreneurship; a documentary screening of India Awakes; and the Elevator Pitch Competition, in which participants present their 60-second pitch with the chance to win a prize. The Elevator Pitch Competition winner, Yohannan Nair from IDEAS (Malaysia), received $500. Second place went to Sarwagya Raj Pandey from Bikalpa, an Alternative (Nepal), and third place to Manogya Sharma from Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation (Nepal). The second- and third-place winners each received $250. The winner of the Asia Liberty Award was also announced at the conference: Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation, won for its Econ-ity project.

More than 250 people attended the conference, representing 28 countries: Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Tajikistan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Singapore, the United States, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Japan, South Korea, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sweden, Somalia, and Portugal.

“Property rights are the best way to protect the assets, particularly of the poor, who have nothing but the law to protect themselves,” said Barun Mitra, managing trustee of India-based Liberty Institute. “Without secure property rights, the poor are particularly vulnerable to injustice and exploitation, and fall prey to a system of patronage.”

Basanta Adhikari, founding chairperson of Bikalpa, an Alternative, shared his story of how he learned about the freedom movement. At the 2013 Asia Liberty Forum, he saw Parth J. Shah’s book, Why is India Poor?, and decided this was a good question to ask in Nepal, as well.

“Why is it difficult for a common Nepalese to afford a glass of milk, a bottle of Coke, and a piece of egg in our daily life?” Adhikari asked. “Why do these products seem like luxuries to us? Why can’t we afford it easily as people from developed countries? The answer is clear: because we are poor, and we lack purchasing capacity. Now another question arises. Why are we poor? The answer is clear again: We are poor because we do not have an environment for investment; we lack responsible and accountable government; we lack rule of law that guarantee peoples, life, liberty, and property; and we don’t have sound economic policy that allows growing an entrepreneur.”

Rishi Kochar, founder and coordinator for the Amristar Policy Group, spoke about the faces of freedom in Asia. “We know that young people are our future and they are shaping our tomorrow, but at the same time we strongly believe that young people are not just shaping our tomorrow but they are positively bringing a change in our present. We can very well see this by looking at young faces of freedom in this hall at Asia Liberty Forum 2016.”

Ali Salman, founder and executive director of Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (PRIME) in Pakistan, spoke about post-Islamism in his country.

“Pakistan is emerging as a stable democracy as a result of largely competition amongst political elites representing diverging economic, ethnic and regional interests,” Salman said. “While a more liberal and inclusive version of a democratic order will take time, the procedural evolution is on the right track. It will eventually create an environment where civil institutions will get strengthened generating more respect for rule of law. Pakistan’s failings are largely function of a weaker state, unable to meet the demands of a strong, frustrated and thriving society.”

Cindy Cerquitella (Atlas Leadership Academy director) and Stephanie Giovanetti Lips (Atlas Network director of outreach) visit a school in Indonesia with friends from the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies before Asia Liberty Forum began in Malaysia.

Asia Liberty Forum was the second of several regional forums that Atlas Network has planned for 2016, and the event continued the momentum of energy growing around the globe in this battle for freedom. By combining training, structured networking, and competitive awards, each event furthers Atlas Network’s “Coach, Compete, Celebrate!” model of inspiring and supporting excellence in the movement.

“It is a testament to the growth and maturity of the global freedom movement that we are able to support such significant events on five continents this year,” said Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips.

Kuala Lumpur served as an ideal location for this year’s event, and the entire teams from the Centre for Civil Society and IDEAS deserve tremendous credit for the event’s success.