NAYPYITAW, Myanmar — Myanmar, a Southeastern Asian country roughly the size of Texas, houses almost 54 million people. In 2005, almost half of Myanmar’s population lived in poverty. However, a report released by the Central Statistical Organization (CSO) determined that Myanmar successfully increased its GDP and cut poverty to 24.8% by 2017. This demonstrates that innovation in Myanmar is a real possibility and will likely continue to develop in the future.
The CSO Poverty Report concluded that remaining poverty centers, especially around rural areas, correlate with low education, employment in agriculture and disability. Recently, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and companies in Myanmar have sought to address these multivariate factors through digital innovation. Using technology to diversify residents’ sources of income beyond the agricultural sector is one way to improve. Innovation also includes improvement for the economic potential of agricultural centers. Additionally, access to employment services has increased and educated the rising generation.
Hackathon: Improving Agricultural Income, Educating Youth
In 2018, a Myanmar digital service provider called Ooredoo partnered with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to create a digital innovation competition entitled “Hackathon.” The competition platformed youth to develop and share digital projects that addressed sustainable development goals like rural development, education and climate change. The winners presented their ideas to potential project funders.
Among the winners were an application “Sein Lae Myay” to connect agricultural sellers and pertinent product information with potential buyers. Another winner was an interactive chatbot application, “Dr. Kyet” that troubleshoots problems and answers questions for poultry farmers. These inventions will help farmers increase productivity and earn more money from their labor, resulting in less rural poverty.
The 2018 event was so successful that Ooredoo announced the launch of its “Innovation Hub” program to mentor future young entrepreneurs and held yet another Hackathon in 2019. The Hackathon 2019 received over 300 applications and selected almost 200 participants from 12 cities across Myanmar. Meanwhile, the ongoing Innovation Hub enables almost 80 developers at a time to launch innovative digital projects, diversifying Myanmar’s sources of income beyond its core rural economy.
Hitachi: Increasing Access to Urban Centers and Electronic Services
Hitachi is a Myanmar social innovation company devoted to using information and operational technology to jumpstart Myanmar’s economy. The organization is founded on the premise that Myanmar has a “greenfield advantage.” This means that the country is perfectly positioned to successfully enter and integrate new economies without needing to tear down old economic systems. Consequently, Myanmar’s economy can grow and modernize rapidly if provided the correct tools. Hitachi’s goal is to help Myanmar create 10 million non-agricultural jobs and quadruple its economy by 2030. It hopes to do so in the following ways:
- Repairing train rail systems that connect the rural areas to the city. Thus, reducing commutes into city centers by 40%. This will enable more people to work outside rural areas and thereby diversify their income.
- Improving the efficiency of ports by creating a digital “electronic data interchange system.” This system will log inbound and outbound ships and cargo, doubling the number of ships and quadrupling the number of inbound shipping containers to be processed. The entire process can occur in three to five days, rather than the current processing speed of 11 days.
- Delivering 5,400 electricity distribution transformers to Myanmar. This will enable Myanmar households to have electricity and internet access. Currently, only 37% of Myanmar households have access to electricity, but the demand for electric power is growing by 13% each year.
Impact Terra: Improving Agricultural Income
Impact Terra developed a digital services app, “Golden Paddy,” with the capacity to service more than 500,000 smallholding farmers. Golden Paddy targets six Sustainable Development Goals: no poverty, zero hunger, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities and climate growth. The app uses crop prediction models to send advisory alerts based on a farm’s location, planting cycle and crop variety. The app’s “early warning system” helps farms adjust to local climate and weather changes.
The app also connects farmers with microloan services and potential buyers. These features help smallholder farmers to have better harvests, increasing food supply and personal income and stimulates overall economic growth. Impact Terra is partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agricultural Development Program, which aims to increase farmer income by 50- 60%, increase farmer income per dollar invested up to 45 times and increase crop yields by 30-40%.
Yangon Innovation Center: Diversifying Income, Educating Youth
Yangon, a regional government of Myanmar, hired Seedsters in 2019 to set up a networking hub for youth entrepreneurs and start-up companies. The hub, called the Yangon Innovation Center, holds workshops and networking events to highlight new business ideas and inventions. Supporting Myanmar youth in digital endeavors will pave the way for the rising generation to find work in non-agricultural fields.
The CSO report found that remaining poverty in Myanmar highly correlates with agricultural labor and living in rural areas. Therefore, supporting youth in developing digital technology greatly increases their likelihood to escape poverty. Poverty in landless, only-agriculturally-employed households was 45.8% in 2017. In comparison, 33.4% of landless households with both agricultural and non-agricultural incomes suffer from poverty. Poverty rates in households with completely non-agricultural incomes dropped to 13.2%.
In the past few years, these four companies have actively contributed to creating a prosperous, digital future in Myanmar. The youth, in particular, has been instrumental in developing digital solutions to long-standing economic challenges in Myanmar’s rural sectors. Overall, innovations in Myanmar to streamline the supply-and-demand chain in agricultural sectors, improve access to digital services and diversify income by providing entrepreneurial networking opportunities to youth are helping Myanmar continue to fight poverty in the modern age.
– Elizabeth Broderick