Jessica Pevner

On Tuesday, members of the New Haven and Yale communities gathered at the Asian American Cultural Center to discuss humanitarian development with Thynn Thynn Hlaing, a leader in the field.

Hlaing, a current Yale World Fellow, has worked in humanitarian and long-term development programs for over a decade, most recently serving as the Country Director of Oxfam International in Sierra Leone. The event was part of the Global Innovation Series, a new partnership between Yale’s Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program and the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale.

“[Hlaing is] so relatable and so real — we can often forget that we bring our whole selves and not just our qualifications to our work,” said moderator Baljeet Sandhu, a Tsai CITY Innovator in Residence and World Fellow herself last fall.

Hlaing began the conversation by describing her background, which she said led her to pursue her career in humanitarian work. Growing up in Myanmar — a nation that is comprised of more than 150 minority groups — Hlaing spent many weekends doing volunteer work. These experiences fueled her desire to make “meaningful contributions to [her] own society,” she said.

Much of the evening’s discussion focused on Hlaing’s leadership in Oxfam International, a coalition of 20 nonprofit organizations from across the world that collectively work to mitigate poverty. As a Country Director, Hlaing helped communities in the nation navigate the Ebola epidemic, which spread through Sierra Leone in 2014.

Attendees noted that a key feature in Hlaing’s approach was her focus on using Oxfam to support grassroots movements and community-based initiatives.

“She explained how Oxfam works within local culture to create solutions rather than imposing outside cultural values,” said Rabhya Mehrotra ’22, another event attendee.

Attendee Anna Aller ’22 added that the discussion focused on building bridges between communities and their local governments as well as holding political leaders accountable to the people they serve.

Hlaing also discussed her goal of empowering women through her humanitarian work.

“She really wanted to make it clear that women have to be educated in their basic human rights and not accept domestic abuse and all the inequalities they usually just accept,” Aller said. “It was inspiring to me, as an Asian female, to see another Asian female reach her height of conducting humanitarian work in Africa.”

On Nov. 8, Hlaing will speak on a panel titled “Lessons from Innovative Asian Leaders: Promoting Peace and Social Change” alongside ElsaMarie D’Silva, another Yale World Fellow.

Jessica Pevner | .