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A Burmese “Spring”

If you live in Yangon these days, then you know what it feels like inside a dynamo. Some have called this an awakening a Burmese spring. That’s almost accurate, but it’s more rapid than that; more powerful, less organic, & more mechanical. This entire country is like a tightly coiled spring. Decades of restrained energy, talent, and aspirations are just now being released. We feel that spring releasing. We see it. Yes, it’s a metaphor, but the energy is palpable. You can see it when you walk downtown, after the mists of the monsoon have subsided, and the street hawkers return to congested streets. What do they sell? Jasmine flowers, betel nut quibs… and copies of the 2012 Foreign Investment Law. That’s the spring uncoiling: commerce and trade. Internet access. Freedom and dreams. The energy of rapidly released dreams is a powerful machine. We see that energy in the faces and attitudes of the small business owners with whom we work. A thousand entrepreneurs, eager to seize the moment to create a future for themselves and their families.

One of our intrepid business matchmaking officers. We wore orange to keep us separate from the suits.

The World Economic Forum is currently taking place in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. International media have descended on the country in droves, and a legion of business-oriented and investment curious elites (also movie stars, a crown princess, an Olympian, and several other interesting personalities) are attending the event. One of the more dynamic groups included in the WEF are the Young Global Leaders – a diverse array of successful individuals under the age of 40 who constitute the WEF’s Forum of Young Global Leaders (YGLs). Our own CEO, Scott Gilmore, is privileged to be part of this group. We love connecting entrepreneurs and change-makers, so why not use this opportunity to connect some of the YGLs with the Myanmar entrepreneurs with whom we’ve been working?

According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report, Myanmar has the “potential to create 10 million non-agricultural jobs by 2030.” Some would say that shift is inevitable. When countries develop – when people have phones and internet access and a bit of pocket money – many individuals opt to try their luck in cities, rather than on small-holder farms. As this happens in Myanmar, it’s up to the entrepreneurs and business leaders of today to create and expand enterprises so that Myanmar’s growth can occur in a more equitable and measured manner. We enjoyed the chance to bring Myanmar entrepreneurs together with global leaders to provoke discussions of this sort and, hopefully, help generate solutions today for the problems of tomorrow.

YGLs and young Myanmar entrepreneurs discuss the investment climate in the country.

We were particularly pleased to welcome members of the Myanmar Young Entrepreneurs Association (MYEA) and the Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association to our event. As Aung Chit Khin of the MYEA pointed out during some short remarks, he has met individuals pursuing masters degrees in order to get a job in a hotel when they should be aiming to open their own hotel. That is the sort of innovative thinking we want to catalyze. We don’t want entrepreneurs to be held down by something so silly as misunderstanding a “bid for quotation” document or a potential buyer unaware of the capacity of their business. That’s why Building Markets offers training sessions in procurement as well as business verification and tender distribution services. We help accelerate the potential of small enterprises so they can expand and surf on the new wave of trade and investment that is powering through Myanmar.

Don’t ignore the demographics. Myanmar is in the heart of Asia – it is bordered by countries containing billions of people with young populations. This country shares a land border or a short ocean journey with 3 billion people. The trade repercussions and potential markets for Burmese products are immense. In the middle of the last century, Myanmar seemed to have the brightest future on the continent. It’s no wonder the world is excited about re-engaging a resource rich country at the confluence of Asia. It’s no wonder the World Economic Forum is being held here. Myanmar is springing back faster and with more vigor than anyone expected and Building Markets is here for the journey.

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