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Our impact, their voice

Myanmar unleashes home-grown entrepreneurs

An ILO training programme makes the founding step to help new and existing small businesses join the dramatic economic and social change sweeping the country.

Feature | 25 April 2016
Left to Right: Aye Pearl Hlaing, M&E officer of the MSME project; Daw Nang Marlar Tun and Aye Aye Theint, AAT Trainer
YANGON, Myanmar (ILO News) – For Daw Nang Marlar Tun, some of the lessons she learned from the ILO programme, Start and Improve Your Business had a personal edge: “I did the homework exercises to note problems or issues I had been facing in my business. They were mostly staff related problems. When my trainer from AAT Business Park asked me how I felt about this exercise I realized that some staff problems came from me.”

She opened Dew Drops, a purified water business in Mandalay in 2012, and the enterprise grew strongly. But as it did, she began to feel pressured managing all the details that comes with expansion. “After the training, I could solve some staff problems by establishing an HR policy and job descriptions. The training helped me a lot to improve my staff management.”

An opening economy

While Start and Improve your Business (SIYB) is one of the ILO’s longest running development programmes it, like much international involvement, is a newcomer to Myanmar. In 2014 the ILO’s Entrepreneur and Micro-Small and Medium Enterprises support programme, financed by Norad and SECO was able to enter an economy that had been isolated for decades.

The Dew Drops entrepreneur is one of 3000 entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs that have benefitted from business training in Myanmar. If the roll out goes to plan, success stories like hers will become more common. In other developing countries SIYB beneficiaries number in the tens or hundreds of thousands. In China, it’s millions.

Pranati Mehtha, SIYB Technical Officer, explains some of the challenges in the introductory phase: “… when the project started we had to do everything from scratch … you had to develop the trainers and the Master Trainers and then you had to develop the materials, find partner institutions… so everything (was done) right from the beginning. Now, since that phase is over, we can devote more time and resources to train end beneficiaries. That interim step is already done so we can accelerate and hit bigger numbers.”

The SIYB programme is a business management-training programme with a focus on starting and improving small businesses. Initially developed in the 1980s, it has now been translated into more than 40 languages and introduced in more than 100 countries. By working with local partner organizations it aims to build a core of locally sourced trainers and, ultimately, “Master Trainers” – those who can train others on how to deliver the programme. The goal is to deliver the programme at prices reflecting local economic conditions, where trainees and client businesses are expected to pay at least part of the cost.

Value for money

Merten Sievers, the SME units Value Chain Development and Entrepreneurship Coordinator, is encouraged by the reception in Myanmar: “People in the programme have been able to build a brand name and a buzz around SIYB so to be able to get small entrepreneurs, whose money sits tight in their pockets for good reasons, to pay and contribute to the cost of the training – because that is the key to make this sustainable financially in the long term.”

One such entrepreneur is U Chan Myae Htun, Managing Director at Amazing Myanmar Scenery Travel and Tours. He took six modules of SIYB training with the Myanmar Hospitality Professionals Association. For him, lessons on record keeping helped him better understand the true costs and potential profit in running scenic tours:

“Costing is also very important for our company – we must calculate all costs in every travel package so that we can set our selling price reasonably. To know our net profit, we only deducted direct costs from our revenue. Before training we would call this our net profit, but it is not. After the SIYB costing module I can calculate the real net profit of a tourist package including for example our own overhead and office costs.”

Finding the right on the ground partners to deliver and take full advantage of SIYB training, was especially challenging in Myanmar.

Collaborating for growth

“There were almost no business service providers that deliver business management training on a regular basis,” explains Sievers. “This is partly because Myanmar was closed off for so long. You cannot compare what is on the ground there with any other developing country at a similar per head income.”

Using a team of international and national consultants, led by the Chief Technical Advisor, Michel Jamar, the SIYB programme discovered a number of local institutions have sprung up in recent years to cater for students looking to further their education overseas. Working within this field, SIYB consultants have schooled 9 Master Trainers and over 200 trainers.

One of these trainers is Mya Myo Chel from PS Business School in Yangon. She reports that her trainees have been enjoying their training, but that some of the ideas presented take selling: “My students did not want to do market research. Now they realize the benefits of doing market research before they set up their own business.”

Among her participants, Yu Lin, marketing manager at Aung Moe Khine Soft Shell Crab believes not only his business, but the country stands to benefit from SIYB training: “After finishing this class, our staff and I discussed our work and have improved, and are doing things differently than before. This kind of class we need a lot in our country, I think. It’s good for our Myanmar people.”

Michel Jamar agrees: “It is encouraging to see how SIYB can contribute to the new Myanmar. Trainers and entrepreneurs meet like-minded people, exchange ideas and build up trust and confidence. They can discuss their business challenges, and SIYB can offer some simple solutions. Things that were previously unavailable in Myanmar. SIYB came at the right time to the right place.”