PISA Celebrates 30 Years of Capacity-Building in Asia

photo: PISA Director Linda Yarr
PISA Director Linda Yarr
April 07, 2014

The Elliott School’s Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia (PISA) program celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2014. Established in 1984 as the Committee on International Relations Studies with the People’s Republic of China (CIRSPRC), the program has grown and morphed over the last three decades to meet the changing needs of the Asia-Pacific region.

“CIRSPRC, PISA’s predecessor, was founded to help bring Chinese scholars of international relations out of the isolation imposed by past policies,” said PISA Director Linda Yarr. The committee provided fellowships for Chinese scholars to study or conduct research in the United States and other countries; many of today’s leading Chinese analysts of international affairs were recipients of CIRSPRC fellowships. The program grew to include in-country training and contributed to developing international-affairs-focused libraries in major Chinese institutions.

In 1993, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked CIRSPRC to offer a training program for scholars and officials in Vietnam. The committee changed its name to the Program for International Studies in Asia (PISA) to reflect its broader focus. Subsequently, it expanded its activities to Mongolia, Malaysia, Laos, and Cambodia.

PISA joined forces with the Asia Foundation in 2001 to train Timor Leste’s first cohort of diplomats.

photo: Professor James Foster speaks at a PISA eventProfessor James Foster speaks at a PISA event.

“It was an incredibly meaningful endeavor,” said Ms. Yarr, who has served as the director of PISA since 1995. “This country was about to become the 21st century’s first new sovereign state. PISA played a vital role in preparing their diplomats to engage with the rest of the world.”

PISA’s on-campus executive education initiatives include two-week programs for senior policymakers from Taiwan, as well as for senior diplomats from Indonesia. Administrative Officers from Hong Kong have, for the last four years, benefited from PISA’s eight-week Global City in World Affairs Program.

More recently, PISA has focused many of its activities on the challenges associated with climate change. It has organized leadership training institutes on the topic in Hanoi, Washington, DC, and Bangkok. In 2013, Myanmar’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Forestry invited PISA to help enhance its capacity for dealing with climate change.

“Because the country had been so cut-off, the government isn’t that up to speed on various UN climate change conventions and all the provisions in those conventions, and even regional frameworks for dealing with environmental issues,” said Elliott School Professor Christina Fink, who works with PISA on its Myanmar initiatives. To help bridge this knowledge gap, PISA collaborated with Myanmar’s leading environmental organization to offer education and training for 45 Burmese government officials from twelve different governmental ministries. In July 2014, PISA plans to offer the Myanmar Summer Institute on Climate Change at the Elliott School for 15 government and civil-society leaders.

Whether the focus is climate change or human rights, PISA is committed to a spirit of collaboration. This was reflected in a second name change in 2009, this time to “Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia.”

“We wanted our name to reflect who we are today,” said Ms. Yarr. “We don’t come into a project with our own agenda. PISA programs represent true partnerships between our U.S.-based staff and partner institutions in Asia. We have a 30-year history of mutual trust and respect in the region, and we are extraordinarily proud of the work we are doing there.”