12,000 Micro-Entrepreneurs

This month ONOW hosted 30 Microfinance (MFI) Loan officers for a 2 day event to train them how to best support their organization’s borrowers. We wanted to take what we’ve learned in supporting Base of the Pyramid entrepreneurs and share it with the wider financing community. Each of these loan officers supports on average 400 borrowers. The ability to make a tangible impact for many micro-entrepreneurs across Myanmar is exciting!

Read the whole story here.

Learn Financial Inclusion!

To engage with Financial Literacy needs at the Base of the Pyramid, an innovative tool should be emotionally engaging, contain simple and effective messaging, and nudge the user at timely intervals. Any digital tool being built today should take advantage of the capabilities readily available: it should leverage notifications, AI, interactive content, and include an intuitive UX. Anything else will fall shallow of the deep impact necessary to make progress on the issue of Financial Literacy.

Read the full post here.

Donate to ONOW’s Social Innovation Fund

Rise of the Bots

Have you ever had a conversation with a robot?  This month we have been experimenting with a new tool for entrepreneurs in Myanmar that allows them to talk to a friend about business.  Only this friend is not real, he is a Bot.  Maung Sa Yin Kaing (Mr. Finance), as he has been named, talks to young people interested in learning about business and finances, and he teaches them about loans, savings, budgets and more.

This month we had a chance to create the basic bot, as well as to test it out with a group of students from Singapore University of Technology and Design.  These students took Mr. Finance out in the real world and tested it with some of our entrepreneurs and a random sampling of people in the local markets.  We learned a lot through the experience and are excited to continue developing the tool.  It is exciting to take what we’ve learned over the last several years and turn it into tools that can scale in size.  This Bot can be accessed by anyone with Facebook, and allows them to learn even if they can’t leave a shop to come to a meeting or event. 

With the huge popularity of Facebook in Myanmar, we are hopeful that this new Bot can make a real difference.  Now we just have to make sure it doesn’t become self-aware and try to kill all humanity. (Kidding.)

Microfinance institutions care about financial education, but they can’t do much about it. MFIs rely on volume. They operate on a shoe-string budget. Margins are tight. This means anything they do needs to involve few staff with lots of customers. Their financial bottom line is key.

But entrepreneurship doesn’t really work that way. It requires critical thinking and the ability to respond to a multitude of potential problems. It cannot be reduced to a series of lectures. Financial Literacy involves abstract concepts, and is usually future-centric — not a problem that can be solved with a flip chart and one-way communication.

This approach simply will not work for Myanmar. Millions of people are coming online for the first time, having never seen a laptop or desktop computer in their lives. Mobile phones, and especially smart phones, are most often the first interaction Myanmar people are having with the Internet. And in most cases, Facebook is the Internet.

Maung Sa Yin Kaing can tell stories. He can nudge individual users with well-timed reminders. He can learn user behavior and prompt the user with suggestions for problems they are facing in their businesses. And he is on your phone!

Read more of Matt’s article on Mr. Finance here.

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.

Entrepreneurship Empowers Families

Myint Myint Moe and her family moved to Yangon, looking for better employment and a better life. They set up a home in Hlaingthayar, the largest and poorest township of Yangon, and a common landing point for the tens of thousands of people migrating to Yangon from the country-side every year. Her daughter began to attend school, and the additional annual school fees finally made it clear to Myint Myint Moe — if the family were to advance, she would need to find employment soon.
Myint Myint decided to open her own shoe shop. She applied for ONOW’s STARTUP program as soon as it launched in Hlaingthayar. She says, “I enjoyed the way ONOW teaches with activities and discussions. I’ve never taken a training like that before. Now I recommend to all of my friends to take the ONOW STARTUP course.”

Her market research during STARTUP showed her that customers wanted more shoe styles to choose from. She recently chose to invest in diversifying her selection of shoes, and is waiting to see the results. We hope her customers will love the new options!

Read the full story here.

Myint Myint Moe at her new shoe shop with ONOW support staff. She now has dozens of styles of shoes for sale.

Myint Myint Moe at her new shoe shop with ONOW support staff. She now has dozens of styles of shoes for sale

Watch this short video of Myint Myint Moe in her shop!

Youth Entrepreneurs catch a break with ONOW

19 year old Khaing Khaing Htay grew up in the Delta region. She dropped out of school in eighth grade to help her family by getting a job as a housekeeper at a hotel. After her mother died in 2013, Khaing Khaing came to Yangon and lived with her aunt while working at a garment factory for two years. She saved up a little money and started a small cosmetics shop at the 1-2-4 market. She had only a little investment capital, and couldn’t afford to buy much inventory for her shop.

She heard about Opportunities NOW from her friend and she knew right away that our program was for her. She applied as soon as she could and was thrilled when she was chosen to take the class. Khaing Khaing says, “I enjoyed the class very much and I wish the same training was available in my own village in the Delta. Then my friends and neighbors could learn what it takes to start their own businesses!

Khaing Khaing Htay gained an opportunity through our youth STARTUP program. We were able to work with her one-on-one to narrow her target customer, cut her overhead costs, and build her financial plan. And we were able to help her find the capital she needs to grow her business! ONOW is growing the STARTUP program to empower more young Entrepreneurs just like Khaing Khaing Htay!

Watch this video of a typical STARTUP class like the one Khaing Khaing Htay attended.

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

Where did My Money Go?

The first creation of the ONOW Lab is released!

The “kyat” is Myanmar’s currency. Our new mobile app, “Kyat Manager”, is the first Myanmar-language small business financial management app. It helps entrepreneurs record transactions and really understand their financial position. The data we collect and the innovative way we use it allows small businesses to make informed and proactive decisions for business success. They can respond to and avoid the shocks that can ruin a business and throw a family into poverty.
ONOW recently presented Kyat Manager at the “Harnessing the Data Revolution for Resilience” Summit. Experts on data collection and international development from around Southeast Asia discussed how collecting and analyzing data in the new age of connectivity can help build resilience in poor and vulnerable populations.

From 75 submissions, Kyat Manager was one of 10 finalists chosen in two categories. We didn’t win 🙁 but we were a Top 5 finalist in the Early Stage Innovations category! Besides a cool Finalist trophy, the real reward is seeing our work making a tangible impact on poverty through financial literacy.

Seeing the People in the Scenery

Ngapali Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world says: tripadvisor voters. This beach, the most expensive in Myanmar, is somewhat ironically located in Rakhine State, which is one of the poorest parts of the country. Not far from the beach, where foreigners rarely go, people live their entire lives unnoticed by the world outside. Seven kilometers up a narrow, dusty road that winds through quiet valleys planted with rice and rubber trees you will find the sleepy town of Thandwe. Thandwe is the location of Opportunities NOW’s newest branch office. Our branch manager and his wife have the distinction of being the only foreigners living in the town, and our school has the distinction of being one of the only trainings of any kind in the area. Other than a few computer shops offering occasional computer skills training, the people of Thandwe must bus 12 hours to Yangon to get quality further education. This is why we are excited about the location. Just because there is no training doesn’t mean people aren’t doing business, and just because youth can go to Yangon for jobs doesn’t mean they wouldn’t rather stay with their families and homes. Youth just like Thet Su Su Nyein, who a few weeks ago became the first youth business launch from the new Thandwe office. Thet Su Su Nyein used our training and loan to open a first of its kind fashion shop on the main road. She knows exactly who the customers are in the town who have been waiting for a shop like hers to open. We are thrilled by the opportunities this business will give her as she realizes potential that no one else has ever called out of her.

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.