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Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity

James is a Burmese-American, born and raised in Myanmar, also known as Burma. James has 10 years of professional experience in collective endeavours addressing inequalities. James is a community mobiliser, able to engage different ethnic groups from Myanmar to come together around shared issues.

Together with Burmese immigrants and Americans, he co-founded Saydanar Community Development Center to support and empower refugees from Burma to become self-sufficient and to advocate for their needs within the US system. He set up community development programs including case management, educational opportunities, US Citizenship and English classes, and coordinated community-led fundraising events. James regularly advocated on behalf of the Saydanar community to service providers and policymakers; one of many results is that Massachusetts now provides the driving license test in Myanmar language across the state.

Committed to supporting his country of birth, James returned to Myanmar in 2017 and started work as the Operations Manager at Organic Roots Myanmar (ORM). ORM produces locally-made high-quality products, by supporting farmers through fair labour practice to return to organic cultivation. ORM aims to create an alternative market and a demand for organic goods from Myanmar, generating increased income for farmers and flexible work opportunities for women - ORM’s operational team is led by women.

James’s passion is in supporting locally-led community models for sustainable development, where grassroots communities work together to address shared needs, raise income for the community, and advocate for policy-level change. His plan is to develop and expand ORM into a social business that can demonstrate new approaches and lead the way in addressing inequality in Myanmar.

Due to his community work, when he graduated from the University of Massachusetts of Lowell in Economics (BA), with outstanding academic achievement, he received the Chancellor’s Medal for community services. In 2019, he was awarded, by the International Institute of New England as one of the "Lowell 100" honorees, for his social justice leadership and positive influence on Lowell's immigrant and refugee communities. 

It always inspires me when either individuals or a group of marginalized people come together to challenge issues of inequality that their communities are facing through advocacy. I strongly believe that change will be lasting and sustainable only if it comes from within the communities themselves.

James Aung


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