Meet Deborah

When Deborah and her husband started the Jehovah Jirah orphanage 20 years ago, there was little financial assurance, but there was a vision about the kind of life they wanted to lead. Their vision was to look after children.  They currently have 24 children from the ages of 4 to 22 who mostly have been brought to Yangon from the impoverished villages in the Chin Hills where the couple originate from.  Unlike other orphanages, they do not have personal sponsors for their children. Instead of searching for help, her husband went to Singapore to work in a shipyard, sending money home for the past 7 years.  There was no possibility they could sustain the orphanage with the salary coming from a local job. Looking for alternatives, Deborah came to Opportunities NOW with a business idea.  She participated in the SCALE Program to develop her plan for a grocery store.  She wanted to open one in her neighborhood, selling miscellaneous items from cold drinks to rice.  However, after completing the course she was hit with a unexpected tragedy.  Her husband was injured in an accident at work, putting him on a long path to recovery.  Her immediate financial need gave her an even stronger reason to start her business.   She received a loan of 1,200 dollars with special repayment terms due to the recent event.  On the grounds of her orphanage home, she started her business.  She loves how doing this has helped her to become more engaged with the local community where she was once an outsider.  Understandably, when asked what her biggest business challenge was, she responded that it was health.  Just recently one of her children fell ill and had to undergo an emergency surgery.  She had to take out money allocated for the purchase of more inventory.  As a result, sales went down.  However, she remains optimistic about the future.  She is slowly picking up from the incident. When we last visited her home, she was renovating her shop and orphanage with building materials donated by IMED.  She proudly displayed the impressive interior work done by her older boys whom she put through engineering school.    She explained her interest in also opening up a hair salon after her daughter had finished a hair and makeup course.  She feels it would be a great learning platform for her children whom she would employ in the salon like she had been doing with the grocery store.  Opening these businesses would not just be a path to sustainability for her orphanage but also for her children who would leave the orphanage with employable skills.

Meet Myat Shwe Sin

Your take on the world changes when you meet someone so isolated from the pillars of progress we take for granted, and yet offer you smiles of optimism and dreams. Poverty never seemed so graceful. Far into the barrenness of South Dagon, 19 yr old Myat Shwe Sin and her family are setup in their lane with what seems like enviable peace and quiet, humble comfort even. She has a couple of siblings and sells rice from her mother’s grocery shop outside her home. Myat is in the final year of her 3 yr Mathematics course which she attends 3 times a week after changing 2 buses and commuting 1.5 hours each side. She admits that her goal at this stage is a simple one – learn more and earn more. We asked her what her experience with ON was and she recollected that neither she or anyone her age knows of another school like this in Myanmar which is helping the underprivileged youth learn micro-entrepreneurship and become self-sustaining. She found the program very stimulating and particularly enjoyed the 4 day / wk internship she got for 4 weeks with a travel agency. She suggests we expose future batches in the program to more about Marketing, Customer Service and Accounting. As she has a soft corner for Accounting herself, she hopes to be able to take up the LCCI course in the future to build her proficiency. She sells rice by 3 measures – a cup, a pyi (flask like measure, equalling 7 cups), and a bag (24 pyi). Twice a month she buys 16 bags of rice from the wholesale dealer in the market in the range of 22,000 – 25,000 Kyat and sells it at 8-10% profit margin. Myat realizes that while she learns much about the basics of business and customers from her small rice selling efforts for now, she does want to take up a good corporate job to develop herself and eventually go on to start a full-fledged business of her own. Running the wholesale shop in the market is something she aspires for on the side. We asked her about her dreams for the future and weather she gets a chance to use the internet to expand her horizons, to which she said, “I don’t wish to leave my country like a lot of my friends. I want to learn and earn here. I have a gmail address which I use to email my friends but don’t really go beyond on the internet. The cafe is too far and no one guides you.” Myat’s response confirmed the fine balance we look to strike in the corners of the underdeveloped world – one between the earnest simplicity coming from a lack of means and providing those very means for socio-economic progress. She ends our chat by confessing that she loves watching the Korean drama series on TV and wants to be the big boss lady herself someday, just like in the shows.

Meet Pong Shar

A student from our Dec 2012 batch, 18 year old Pong Shar comes from a family of farmers in Putao, a city in northern part of Myanmar. 1 of 5 siblings, he studied in Putao till 5 Grade and then moved to Yangon to live with his aunt in 2007 and went on to finish his 10 Grade in the local school in Shwe Pyi Thar. In 2012 when he was going back to his family, his aunt asked him to join Opportunities NOW. He first wanted to start with a Tea Stall but that being expensive, he decided to serve his block by opening up a small grocery store. Pong Shar keeps his shop open from 6 am to 8:30 pm. He gets about 30 customers everyday and his best selling items are daily basics like eggs, salt, garlic and onions. Also, he is the only one selling a popular bone rejoining medicine, his most expensive product at 1500 Kyat, as his Aunt’s Dad makes this medicine in Putao. It was surprising to see one of our staff at Opportunities NOW being one of the models in the advertisement banner for this medicine, put up at the entry of the store! To manage his store finances, Pong Shar notes down his daily income from sales and buys his groceries every 3 days. He’s taken a loan of 480,000 Kyat (~USD 600) at 1% interest. He had the first 3 months to setup the shop and get running. He spent 180,000 Kyat on paying a 6 month rent for the shop to his aunt and doesn’t have to anymore. Putting up the shelves cost him around 40,000 Kyat and the Bamboo bridge outside the store to keep it afloat during heavy rains (which might last him for a year) cost him 50,000 Kyat. He’s paying 10,000 Kyat every month along with 4,800 Kyat interest making his monthly repayment to ON 15,000 Kyat a month. He’s expected to pay the loan off in 2 years and plans to increase sales to cover that in the coming months. Pong Shar shares that he is consciously saving from his profits to expand the store while paying off his rent and microfinance loan. He says he enjoys his daily routine at the store but finds it tough to sit at the store all day when the sun gets unbearable in the summer. We asked him to show us around his room at the back of the shop and noticed he had cut-outs of football players from the English Premier League! A guitar and pictures of him playing it at his local church confirmed that just like any other kid in the city, he harbours his interests close to himself and opportunity permitting –  enjoys them whole-heartedly.

100 Businesses for Financial Inclusion

Earlier this month, in a small community center in Yangon, Myanmar, ONOW staff were thrilled to award startup loans to these women, surpassing 100 enterprise loans in total since we began in 2012. In Hlaing Thar Yar township, the most populated, and poorest township in Yangon, most women work long hours, 6 days a week in dangerous factories nearby. Many of these women will use their loans to sell clothing or other items to their coworkers in the factories. With our help, we believe that each of them can expand their sales territory and reach an income level that allows them to leave the hardship and uncertainty of factory work to concentrate on their businesses and take control of their financial future. Of the 108 total loans awarded in nearly four years, 34 of these loans have been to youth and 53 have been to women. All of them lacked the necessary support and access to capital to launch a viable small enterprise. We are so proud of their dedication and hard work in order to complete our rigorous training. Over 250 people have entered our programs over the years, and nearly half, including these women, have graduated with a business launch.

Financial Inclusion, Financial Literacy, and Access to Finance

Moving into the future, financial inclusion will become more important to Myanmar’s successful advance. More women and youth can benefit from access to business development support than ever before. New enterprises change the financial landscape of their communities. The entrepreneurship and management training, creative skills development, financial literacy tools, and access to finance that Opportunities NOW provides are more essential than ever. Here’s to the next 100 Entrepreneurs!