It has been estimated by the United Nations University that about half a billion people could be trapped into poverty and the global development process might be back three decades, primarily in developing countries, as a consequence of COVID-19. Similarly, the World Bank also has predicted that the number of impoverished people, particularly those earning less than $1.90 a day, will grow about 70 – 100 million this year.
The impact of COVID-19 is no different in Myanmar where lives have been upended and economic activities disrupted since the spread of the virus has been ranked top 3 among ASEAN countries as of October 4. A cluster of social innovations has reported that they have faced challenges amid the pandemic, and this article will inform you some responses to the crisis by six selected Myanmar social innovations from different sectors in Health, Education, Traditional Clothing, Food & Beverage, Executive Learning & Consultancy and Digital Media.
Let’s lend our ears to Myanmar Social Innovators who just exposed to expensive, yet novel experiences.
Health and Fitness - Flexible Pass
Flexible Pass is Myanmar’s first-ever healthy lifestyle membership pass business that allows users access to more than 200 locations in Myanmar for 50+ different categories including Fitness, sports activities, fun activities, wellness, healthy food, supplements, exercise equipment and apparel.
During the interview, Ko Htet Aung Latt @Sully, the founder and CEO of Flexible Pass said
"The closure of our partner gyms has resulted in the suspension of almost 90% of our services”. However, it is so interesting that the company’s quick response to the crisis by adopting services such as partnering with hospitals to add in their online wellness consultation services, and healthy food providers, where Flexible Pass points can be used, has minimized the loss.
“In order to reach out to more potential users, plenty of food choices can be added, but we will only add a healthy menu to our services as we are committed to promoting the health and wellness of our people", Ko Htet Aung Latt @Sully continued. He is optimistic about the surge in the use of digital payment and online meeting, which became a thing as a result of the pandemic.
Education - MM Tutors
MMTutors has been standing as Myanmar’s first online tutoring platform by bridging local students with Myanmar tutors for school learning, language learning, and career consultation since 2017. Despite the company’s increasing popularity among students, the core operations have been temporarily stopped since the job nature of the company involves teaching kids at their home.
“It is a bit of luck that our app was fully developed just before the first wave of the pandemic in Myanmar, and thus, offering online classes has been our priority these days", said Ko Wai Phyo Aung, the founder of MMTutors.
“An emergency plan had to be carried out for the sake of our institution’s sustainability. There were some modifications to our organization’s goals and missions”, he continued.
Traditional Clothing - Cotton Bagan
With the motto, “the lead brand of ethical creations”, Cotton Bagan has penetrated its primary market into Bagan intending to attract visitors to purchase comfortable 100% Myanmar cotton-woven products with a fixed and fair price.
“Ethics is fundamental. We add the value “ethical manners” to our industry, and “being ethical” is our identity. When it comes to a business partnership, we do only work with those who share a similar value with us”, said Ko Saw Abel, the founder.
“I am not surprised by nose-dived sales as health is the most important nowadays. Instead, I try to take an advantage out of the crisis by training my staff to be more skillful in their work, and learning myself to be better so that we will be able to move faster with the upgraded skills in new normal.”, Ko Saw shared his experience.
Food & Beverage - The Plant House Café
The Idea of Plant House Café is to help people escape from the rat race in urban life and enjoy books, coffee, and foods at a cozy place with full of in-house plants. The house is located in San Chaung and has attracted people, especially youth not just from San Chaung township but also from other areas of Yangon.
“Delivery has become the only platform for our sales as both walk-ins and takeaways have to be suspended these days, and it has reduced almost three-quarters of our revenue. Some positions at our work have been terminated, so as to reduce the costs”, said Ko Si Thu Lin, the owner of the house.
“No investments should be made without proper consultations nowadays”, he suggested.
Executive Learning & Consultancy - The Door Institute
The Door Institute has turned its mission of upgrading management skills, knowledge and strategies of institutions by offering Small and Medium Enterprise Development Program, Business Consultation Program, Community Empowerment Program and the ICT and Cyber Security Program to local companies, international corporations, universities, NGOs, CSOs and associations since 2017.
Initially, organizations deemed training and consultation services as a key to the success of business and development, but other factors have appeared in their priority list just after the pandemic had started.
“Regardless of our willingness, this is the time to make changes, the right changes with deliberations, to our pre-COVID strategies”, said Ko Yan Naing Oo, the founder.
“Collaboration plays a critical aspect of the survivals of businesses. Many businesses are no longer possible to stand alone these days. Clients should be sought through a good collaboration”, he revealed his opinion regarding what SMEs should do amid the crisis.
Digital Media - PJW
With the contents that are reflective on authentic life lessons, Ko Win Ko Ko Aung, started creating digital contents on Facebook as PJW. Unlike other social influencers, he has gained a good reputation among Myanmar youth, especially from his targeted audience aged between 15 and 24, thanks to his contents that focus on thought-provoking and skills-enhancing for personal and career empowerment in the real world.
“Due to the pandemic, businesses tend not to spend the budget on marketing as usual, and therefore, many deals are postponed, but it is nonsense to sit down and blame the situation. What’s more, over 250,000 people have lost their employment in Myanmar due to COVID according to the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, and the job scarcity is just right around the corner. Therefore, we have partnered with the US embassy to deliver 21st Century Skills for New Normal Career Readiness entitled “Dreams into Actions (DiA)”. The program has been customized and designed through innovative approaches for advancing career with many local and international subject matters experts from the US, Israel and Myanmar”, said Ko Win Ko Ko Aung.Career-readiness also seems an urgent need for Myanmar youth as the findings of the International Labor Organization (ILO) has alarmed the world that nearly half of the global workforce is at the risk of losing livelihoods due to escalating job losses. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder also said, “as the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent”.
Rainy Day for Everyone
It can be concluded that this is the time for everyone to consider more than twice before their investment since most of the social innovations in Myanmar face severe constraints and are affected about 80% of their operations due to the crisis, and no one has an accurate answer when the crisis will be over. On the other hand, it is also important to see the current situation from the perspective of “time for reflections, adjustments and something new” by learning how social innovators around Myanmar cope with the challenges, and prepare for their new normal.