By Jack Towe
FOR NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The key to understanding Anne Ni and her business-training mission for Myanmar is first knowing that she is a fourth-generation Anglican. Her friend, the Archbishop of Myanmar, helped arrange her trips to Myanmar with Five Talents, an Anglican microbusiness organization. Secondly, while Ni, a longtime former accountant to two Seattle-based businesses, is a success in Seattle, she is also an example of Myanmar’s brain drain problem, one where high school and college graduates are leaving the country to work abroad.
Ni, a current Shoreline, Wash. resident, was born in Yangon and was raised in Mandalay. She married Ye Ni, a fellow student at the Yangon Institute of Economics, and came with her family to the United States in 1992.
By helping to develop micro-businesses in Myanmar, Ni’s mission is to help alleviate poverty in her homeland and provide more opportunities to its citizens.
“We have made two teaching trips to Myanmar. Last summer, we trained people how to set up and run their own businesses. This summer, we trained a dozen trainers,” said Ni. Ni and three others from Washington and Virginia nurtured business development in Yangon, Mandalay, Pyay, Taung-oo, and Hpa-an. “Last summer, we worked with a woman who [sold] sticky rice snacks from her home. We coached her on how to make her product different[ly] by adding new ingredients, and how to get new business by passing out free samples at festivals,” said Ni.
“These marketing techniques are routine in the United States. They were new ideas for her. This year, we returned for 17 days. We learned that she had used the techniques to double her customer base.”
This year, Ni took three people from Five Talents with her, including Stan Kriz from Fairfax, Va., who authored the curriculum. Also joining the mission were four from the local Anglican Diocese of Cascadia, including Bishop Kevin Allen, and two from Anglican Church in North America. The Five Talents team taught business principles in Yangon, Hpa-an, and Mandalay.
As the only Burmese in the group, Ni facilitated training without a need for a translator. She is cognizant of the reality that many Christians in Myanmar tend to have a negative view of business enterprises. With a lack of ethical business models, a common perception is that business owners scrounge and cheat. Ni and her colleagues aim to provide a different perspective to business models in Myanmar.
“It’s a two-day exercise,” explained Ni, “during which people choose their dream business and write their business plan. We review the plans and coach them on making improvements.”
The Five Talents curriculum, a biblically based business management instruction, covers four topics: What an entrepreneur is, market research and marketing, fi nancial record keeping, and writing a business plan.
One student, a Mandalay entrepreneur, worked to convert his hobby into a business by opening a motor repair shop. With more than a million people in the city, there are many repair shops for scooters and motorbikes.
After substantial market research, he concluded that there were no repair shops within a three-block radius, about 24 city blocks, of his home. In his report, he noted that his business has a low capital — needing only basic tools, space, and some standard parts — making him an ideal candidate for a Five Talents micro-business loan.
Another female entrepreneur wanted to open a roadside restaurant, comparable to a Western deli near a technical school to provide inexpensive and nourishing fast food for tech school students. While she was eligible for an Anglican capital microfinancing loan, she chose instead to form a partnership with her sister. Despite a rather smart business model, she, like her fellow local entrepreneurs, are often ignorant to the concept of loans and returns. At one point, she asked Ni, “When do I get my capital investment back?”
“You don’t,” said Ni, “as long as you run the business. But the capital and your work provide your income. If you take out the capital, you wreck the business. However, if the business succeeds, later you can reclaim your capital by selling the business. And by then, your capital may have grown significantly.”
With partner dioceses in 11 nations, Five Talents supplies training curriculum and micro-lending resources to launch new businesses. This fulfi lls the Five Talents’ objective of establishing self-sustaining, growing firms.
Ni adds, “We plan to return in the summer of 2013 to do follow-up, as well as doing training in two more regions in Myanmar.” (end)
Jack Towe can be reached at email@example.com.