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.

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.

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.

Meet U Tin Win

U Tin Win is an entrepreneur with much insight into what it means to multitask.  Along with being a full time father and pastor, he is also running two separate businesses.  Before he joined batch 13A in the SCALE program, he was already familiar with the business field.  He traded rice.  

Looking to embark on another business endeavor, he was introduced to the program by the founders of a nearby school.  By the end of SCALE, his business ideas had narrowed to selling fish and recycling plastic.  He was able to start these two businesses out of the 875,000 Kyat loan (about 900 USD) he received from Opportunities NOW.  

These businesses are not interrelated. He found a way to actually manage the two businesses separately, supervising the employees and operations of each at once. At 2 am every morning, he goes to the fish suppliers, purchases the daily stock of fish and sells them in the local market until 8 am.  He then switches his focus to his plastic business. With employees under him who collect plastic throughout the day, his main task is to wash and sell to customers wanting to utilize recycled plastic.  

He explains that less sleep has been the primary problem with his busy entrepreneurial life.  He plans to part ways with the fish business and concentrate solely on expanding his plastic to other locations as well as where plastic recycling is not being implemented.   He has already repaid his loan to ONOW and has freed up more capital to reinvest into this expansion. When asked what his long term goal is, he says he hopes to open up a mini market.  U Tin Win is not afraid to try new business ideas and we will certainly see his businesses evolve over time as his experience in business management builds.

Meet Zaw Golden Chit

Golden Chit is a young agriculture entrepreneur from batch 14a of the STARTUP program.  Like any rural youngster, he spends his days working on his parents’ farm where they plant rice paddies.  He lives with his large family of 11 in a small village called Outsu where houses are distanced by vast fields, requiring a long journey on foot to see other families.   It was this environment he grew up in which inspired his recent business idea.   His parents were previously involved in a fish breeding business and with his experience looking after the fish farm; he looked to start one of his own.  

He says it’s not at all difficult to tend to the fish.  The chores mostly involve feeding them at night when they are most inclined to eat food.  Fortunately for him, there are ponds on his parents’ land, making it all the more convenient for him to run with this business idea.  

He hadn’t always thought about being an entrepreneur.  He attended a university and studied computer science for more than two years until he dropped out to instead tend to his parents’ fields.  His sister found Opportunities NOW on Facebook and recommended he consider taking the STARTUP course.  The notion of starting his own business excited him and he didn’t want to work for others either so he joined the program.  He said he really benefited from the courses and received invaluable experience during his internship where he interned at a fish farm in Twante, observing and discussing with its owner on how to run an effective fish farm.  

Though his fish are not fully grown yet and no income is being made, he believes his progress is going well so far and has many customers lining up for the first big sale in October.   Not many in Myanmar have the luxury of making important life decisions at such a young age.  At 23, Golden Chit is already getting his career started and choosing his life’s course.  He draws plans for the future and looks to also start a shrimp farm alongside his fish business.   He hopes that his business endeavors will eventually bring him and his family great relief and support.

Meet U Lar Yun

U Lar Yun, the youngest of 14 siblings, is the younger brother of U Lar Roi.  Following his brother’s footsteps, he made a big life decision by moving from Myitkyinar, Kachin State to Yangon.  He worked in a factory there for 11 years before packing his bags again to Bago where he worked in a wood carving factory.  

The father of five was fortunate to be able to put all his children into school, but he often struggled with the bills.  He had sold fried bean curd on the side to supplement his meager income from the factory before deciding that his skills could be best utilized in a lucrative business.  After hearing about the SCALE program from a close business friend, he came to ONOW to expand his wooden toys production.

He has technical expertise due to his years of experience carving wood in the factory, but lacked knowledge when it came to business management. He said the program helped prepare him well from the business side of the small wooden toy enterprise.  He learned suitable accounting practices and effective customer service policies.  

U La Yun described how he had been producing his wooden toys on his own before he came to Opportunities NOW.  He buys raw semi-refined wood from a factory in Hlaing Thar Yar and brings it to his workshop where he cuts pieces of wood, makes them smooth with sandpaper, paints the features, and packs the toys to be sold to suppliers. He barely needs to advertise his products as he always receives orders by phone from interested customers.  

At this point, he faces the obstacle of meeting customer demands and being able to meet their orders on time.  He wants to build a small factory for his business and hire workers to help produce in greater quantity. Therefore, he plans to use the loan from Opportunities NOW to go towards starting the factory he needs.  He is yet to open the factory, but he plans far ahead into the future as he shares with us that his future plan also entails eventually exporting his products overseas. From factory worker to factory owner, U Lar Yun’s life is bound for more remarkable changes as he expands his business.  

Meet U Lar Roi

U Lar Roi joined the SCALE program in the first batch of 2014 to develop his noodle business known by the rather lengthy name “Lucky Shan Noodle House & Foods Restaurant”.  Originally from Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State, he is not new to the art of starting businesses.  At one point in time, U Lar Roi started a grocery store in Myitkyina.  When that business failed, he moved to Phakant, one of the country’s mining hubs, and became involved in the precious stone trade before eventually getting married and moving to Yangon in 2001.  

He is indeed a long way from home.  He made his living previously as a taxi driver before giving into his entrepreneurial urges and opening up the noodle restaurant in 2011.  He came to Opportunities NOW seeking business management knowledge.   On a site visit, he explains the daily chores of running his noodle business.  From 5 am to 10 pm, he and his family labor to prepare meals for customers, both dining in and taking out orders.

He is a father of four children who are all in school, with the oldest attending a rather expensive medical school.  He uses the income from running the business to not only put food on the table, but to also pay for his children’s school fees. He says the income has been enough to provide for at least those imperative needs.  

U Lar Roi, however, does not plan to stay put.  He would like to see an expansion of his noodle restaurant to other spots.  The rental rate of his current location is increasing by the month and so, he is research other locations for his business. He plans to use the loan from Opportunities NOW to make the move to a more profitable area. He isn’t considering doing anything else except noodles.  A family man and a seasoned entrepreneur, U Lar Roi has every incentive to succeed in his noodle eatery venture.