View from the Field – Myanmar

Developing Myanmar and doing it right

The Shujog research team has been mapping social enterprises (SEs) across several South and Southeast Asian countries. We travelled to Myanmar on a British Council initiative to better understand the SE landscape in a country that is opening up to the world and about to undergo tremendous change. Accompanied by staff from the British Council and local research partner MMRD we spent 6 days in Yangon and Mandalay and interviewed more than 30 entrepreneurs, NGOs, academics, foundations and private sector actors in an effort to gain a comprehensive understanding of the space and its future trends.

Although the SE concept is still new to the country, Myanmar displays promising characteristics of a thriving SE space: deeply rooted culture of helping the poor and awareness that more entrepreneurial skills is needed and that financial sustainability is important. We met entrepreneurs that establish and incubate SEs in health and education whose entities create financially sustainable impact within two years of operation. We met monks who run a school for 6,000 children with a keen business sense and strategic vision for the future. We also met trade associations that are enhancing the livelihood of rice farmers and donor funded health clinics and surgeries.

Surrounding the SEs and other social initiatives, business schools are starting to organize SE challenges and their students are increasingly being exposed to new ideas on social entrepreneurship.

Overall, there is the characteristic atmosphere of a newly opened economy where everything is yet to be rebuilt, the laws rewritten and where challenges can be turned into opportunities to make positive impact. Some are holding their breath to see what is to become of this country after the New Government opened its doors to foreign donor funding and FDI. Others have quickly understood that as a late developer, Myanmar can seize the opportunity and benefit from lessons learned in other transition economies such as Cambodia and Indonesia.

There is an acute awareness that if Myanmar is to develop inclusively and sustainable, now is the moment to take the lead and act. And with this research, we hope that more actors will take part in this exciting journey and join organizations like the British Council to promote inclusive economic growth, investments that create skilled jobs and knowledge transfer, and businesses that have a sustainable, positive impact on Myanmar society.

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By Weina Li and Magnus Young, Shujog Research Team.