Lecture Must Die

GEW Myanmar 2016

Putting “Lecture” in the grave.

Every year in November, 160 countries participate in Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). This year marked the 5th year of GEW in Myanmar, and Opportunities NOWis thrilled that we’ve gotten to participate every year.  This year we were involved in 3 separate events to promote entrepreneurship in Myanmar.

One of the most memorable events was focused on influencing the industry to think of new ways of providing support for entrepreneurs.  Many people provide lectures, but lecturing about getting a bank account is not enough to truly help people make better financial and business decisions.   We knew that to teach this concept we obviously couldn’t use lecture, so we hosted a simulation to engage people in conversations.  For our simulation we met with 40 people who are leaders in the entrepreneurship and financial services sector.  We broke them into groups and tested our in-development financial literacy tool that is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style tool that uses local stories, with decision points that lead towards a business either succeeding or failing.   We were so thrilled when our respondents really got into the activity.  One tweeted:

Highly engaging event – better than any lecture or panel discussion!

We are so glad that we get to be part of the changing Myanmar ecosystem around entrepreneurship, and we are excited to see that our influence in the industry is growing.

Bago Launch Center Report

Nine Businesses Launch from First Cohort

Our Launch Center in Bago is active and thriving! The first STARTUP program produced nine new businesses, all owned by women entrepreneurs! These businesses ranged from groceries and restaurants, to textile businesses and school uniforms sales.

One of the most successful ideas came from Ma Khin Lay, who bought two washing machines and launched a laundry service for (mostly lazy) university students, and (very busy) school teachers. A laundry machine is not a common appliance found in a home, and her machines stay busy daily, with a growing loyal customer base. She sorts whites from colors, knows how to handle delicates and large loads, and she even delivers the clean laundry to the home. She’s found a way to solve a felt need in her community, and was willing to take the risk to begin the business!

Join us in congratulating Ma Khin Lay, and the other eight entrepreneurs. The first graduates of the ONOW Bago City Launch Center!

Inspiring the Future

Every Sunday, Opportunities NOW hosts an entrepreneur training for young people who are looking for a way to change their lives. Most of our students are young women who work in the many factories within the city. They are already working 6 twelve-hour days, yet they are willing to spend their one weekly rest day being equipped with the knowledge and support needed to start their own business. During our lively 3-hour classes, their smiles and laughs do not reveal that the other 6 days of the week, these girls live and work in a state of constant stress and fear.

ONOW knows that one solution is to draw out the entrepreneurial spirit in these women and inspire a future where, through a small enterprise, they are in control of their secure financial future. It does not take a large or extremely successful venture to generate profits exceeding what a factory job can provide. But it does take a giant, courageous leap of faith for a young woman to leave the stability of daily employment for the uncertainties of business startup.

Read Adam’s Article on Medium

Motorbike Pharmacist

In 2016 we have already given out 11 loans. One of those students is Ye Myint Aung.  Ye lives about an hour’s drive outside of Yangon in a small town. Ye does not have a regular income.  Through entrepreneurship he has found that he can support his wife, his three children as well as help people in his community. Many people in his rural area do not have access to medical care. Ye helps these people by traveling to their locations, providing physicals on-site, and teaching about healthy lifestyle, while also selling his pharmaceutical supplies.  At Opportunities NOW, we teach that a good business must understand consumer problems and provide real solutions.  Ye has done a good job of addressing a real need (medical care), and is providing a viable solution in his area. Opportunities NOW trained Ye in business startup, helped him refine his business plan, and then provided a startup loan to his business. We believe that businesses like Ye’s not only help him and his family with their monthly income, but also help the communities they are in by meeting real needs through the business. Ye’s story is especially important. It demonstrates an important value we have at ON – sustainable solutions! Ye came to us with his own business idea. It was not our solution. It was Ye’s. Often in development work, we the outsiders are assumed to have all the answers. Unfortunately, this approach fails to take root in the long-term because it rarely has community buy-in. Or we may be offering the wrong solutions because we do not understand the context and needs of the area. Our help can even inflict harm! But Ye understood the needs of his community, and offered a sustainable solution to his neighbors that will have a lasting impact on their livelihoods and health. This is the ON approach to business startup. The Entrepreneurs create the idea, and we help them think it through and launch. It is sustainable entrepreneurship.

More than Giving Money

There are more ways to help a developing country than just giving money. Often what is lacking in a poor workforce are skills and experience to succeed in business. At Opportunities NOW, we connect professionals from other countries, who have a desire to use their expertise to make an impact, with our local entrepreneurs to build successful businesses. Brittany, a financial auditor from the United States, googled “business service opportunities” and was connected to a group of coaches working with ON. Brittany spent a week with 3 women entrepreneurs with small businesses in the clothing industry. In addition to helping them work out their business and financial plans, Brittany saw the women collaborate and combine their specialties to design a traditional Myanmar outfit. Collaboration between entrepreneurs, coaches and translators, who share skills, cultural knowledge, and wisdom from several geographies helps build a rich and well-rounded plan. In three and a half years of operation, Opportunities NOW has helped launch more than 60 businesses in Myanmar. Each of these has a different business model, a different business plan, and a different financial plan. We walk step by step with each business owner to give them the best shot at success. Are you interested in offering your expertise to the entrepreneurs we work with at ON? If so, go to http://opportunitiesnow.org/share to add yourself to our database of professionals today. Your experience could launch a frontier market entrepreneur into a life-changing business success! [button-large color=”red” link=”http://opportunitiesnow.org/share/”]Share Your Expertise[/button-large]

Finding Work in Myanmar

Nwe Ni
Opportunities NOW was started because we felt for the economic and social needs of young people in Myanmar. Starting youth-owned businesses would develop youth skills and experience — reducing the likelihood that young people would be uprooted from their families to search for employment in other countries. The same logic holds true for our own company and operations. At ON, we employ young people and provide capacity development that will allow youth to stay in their own country. We now have a staff of 11 Myanmar and 7 expats! Nwe Ni works with the Opportunities NOW research staff. She had a difficult but common story for young people in Myanmar. After high school, Nwe Ni had to leave home and work mostly in a foreign country to support her family as quality employment was difficult to find in Myanmar. Over the years, she saved enough money to buy land and build a house in Myanmar. While having responsibility for her own education, she was also responsible for providing for the education of her niece. She plans to get an MBA in the near future. She has this to say about her experience: “If Opportunities NOW existed when I was young, then I wouldn’t have needed to go to Singapore.”

Catastrophic Flooding and Long-term Impact

In the month of August, most of Myanmar was hit by massive flooding that affected more than 1 million people and destroyed millions of acres of rice fields. Immediate needs were for food, water, shelter and sanitation. Get a look at our response in the video below. The recovery and rebuilding effort will be long and difficult, but Opportunities NOW will be working alongside the affected in Hakha and Kalaymyo, providing needed assistance to rebuild businesses, training in entrepreneurship, loans to get new businesses started, and mentoring services along the way.

Meet Moo Soe

Moo Hsoe is an enterprising 26-year old always working on a new business idea. He came to Opportunities NOW in 2014 and developed an idea for helping people learn English by following along with lyric books he created for popular songs. The books proved to be extremely popular and he turned his $500 loan into a strong business.
Moo Hsoe became the first entrepreneur to graduate the youth training program, launch a successful business, and come back to attend the adult program to start a new, bigger business. Moo Hsoe says entrepreneurs must see their idea not as an end, but as the means to start other businesses. He adds that it isn’t about how much money you start with — just find a niche in the market. Today Moo Hsoe is newly married and building a house from his business profits. True to his style, when we met with him he revealed his newest idea that he is pursuing in the cosmetics industry. We are proud of Moo Hsoe’s strong work ethic, creativity, and desire to help others.

Meet Saw Golden Chit

Saw Golden Chit is a 25 year old farmer who completed the Opportunities NOW program in early 2014. He lives with his parents and 8 brothers and sisters in rural Ayeyarwady Division in southern Myanmar. His family operated fish ponds until 2008 when Cyclone Nargis destroyed them. The family switched to rice farming at that time but Saw Golden Chit did not give up his idea of starting the fish ponds again. He went to university for two years before dropping out to go back and help on the farms. He noticed an advertisement for Opportunities NOW on Facebook and decided to work towards his goal of running his own fish ponds, starting with a pond full of eels! He did well in the training program and is very certain that it prepared him to successfully operate his small business. Saw Golden Chit is one of the first young Entrepreneurs to pay back his loan and has just become the only youth to receive a second loan for a business expansion. He researches effectively and understands every detail of his business plan. He sets goals and follows through on them. He represents the millions of youth in this country who can achieve great things when given the opportunity.

Meet Min Min

Pastor Min Min resides in North Dagon, Yangon, looking after his two little ones in his family.   He helped make ends meet previously by working on his family’s farm in Magway.  However, after one day seeing the poor in his community traveling “side-cars” (Myanmar’s version of trishaws), he settled on the idea of buying and leasing “side-cars” as a business.

He realized he would be able to generate income by renting them out to would-be side-car drivers, who would operate them as a business service.  He would also be able to give some of the poor in his community jobs by giving them the opportunity to be side-car drivers themselves.  While little investment was needed, he didn’t have the amount of money required to get this business initiated and so his business idea had to be put on the back burner.  

“This was how Opportunities NOW has helped me the most”, Min Min explained.  There would have been nowhere else he could turn to for the loan he needed to get the business going.  With the 1.6 million kyat (about 1650 USD) loan he received, he was able to buy five side-cars.   He rents the side-cars out to the side-car drivers maintains the side-cars.

While he says the major struggle in this business is dealing and communicating with his customers, the side-car drivers, he expressed his determination to continue leasing side-cars in the future as well as launching other business startups.  He explains he has also been coming up with an idea for a pharmacy shop recently.  As Min Min has had a taste of the business world, there is no doubt we will see him continuing to explore and develop more business ideas for the benefit of his community.