Entrepreneurs in Myanmar increasingly take a commercial approach to charity through small social enterprises that sidestep NGO and government bureaucracy and ensure that help reaches those in need directly.
Social Enterprises in Myanmar
Yangon alone is home to several businesses with a social focus. One example is FXB Myanmar, a company that provides vocational training and business opportunities to HIV positive workers and women that were rescued from the Thai sex industry.
Another company is Proximity Designs, a manufacturer of affordable foot pumps for irrigation. They have a well-developed network of distribution channels to upcountry farmers that NGOs and other government organisations cannot match and won the 2012 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
A third successful enterprise is BusinessKind-Myanmar. The company sells low-cost mosquito netting in malaria and dengue fever regions and half of its workforce is also HIV positive.
A last example is Myanmar Business Executives. This organisation provides low microcredit and networking outlets to needy organisations and individuals.
For-profit business models with social focus
All the above presented initiatives use for-profit business models. They produce a variety of products, have sales strategies, target markets and make a profit that is then mainly redirected to social causes. Some of them also receive grants by international NGOs or aid agencies but rarely in the form of donations. The grants mainly take the form of products that are low-cost necessities accompanied by community-based education.
Many of Myanmar’s social ventures were launched after the Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the biggest natural disaster the country has ever seen. Conventional government and NGO outlets were insufficient to support the hundreds of thousands affected, which motivated charitable individuals and organisations to come up with more innovative relief methods.
Such social initiatives are equally relevant in today’s Myanmar, which is taking rapid steps towards democracy and is experiencing an easing of sanctions by the US and Europe.