A report from Mckinsey in 2013 outlined 4 areas of priorities to leapfrog Myanmar’s economic developments. These include 1. Transformation in digital infrastructure 2. Sectorial shift from agricultural to manufacturing, 3. Expansion of well-planned urbanization, and 4. a globally-connected economy. I am sure by now both public and policy makers in Myanmar are very much aware of these macro- economic factors.
And in my previous articles, I have emphasized the importance of these fundamentals. Again here I would like to deepen insights into a greater need for the use of information technology in leveling up a new digital economy in the country.
Given our current scenario and market potential of 53.4 million (CIA World Factbook 2014), I believe this sector is very much relevant to national developments such as in education, governance, health, and economy. This does not mean that political topics on national reconciliation, constitutional reforms, or our urgent efforts in building a federal state are unimportant. They are in fact all interrelated.
Myanmar’s Current Digital Scenario
In Myanmar the distribution of ICT in public and private sector is still lower than neighboring countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Every Burmese is well aware of this difference. A report from Internet World Stats in November 2015 has clearly indicated that Myanmar’s internet penetration is merely 13.1 % as compared to 31.8 % in Cambodia (our relevant metric indicator) with 28 internet service providers in the later. However this is a huge leap for this untapped and emerging South East Asian nation as compared to 3% internet penetration rate in 2011. That is a significant jump.
Myanmar currently is serviced by MPT, Ooredoo, and Telenor. A consortium of SingTel, KBZ, and M-Tel has already planned to construct mobile infrastructure to cover 95% of the population at the end of 2016. A nationwide rollout of 2G and 3G would complete in 2018 while introducing 4G service is already taking place. This development proves the country is orienting towards an open economy where public and private sectors would solely function on mobile and internet technology.
In downtown Yangon, the nation’s former capital, we already see a handful of Startups serving as platforms for solving social problems and creating business opportunities. According to Angel List (a platform for Startups) Yangon now hosts 34 Startups with seed funding coming from Singaporean and American angel investors. (Data as of March 2016)
Some of the Startups already have a strong foothold in the local market. Berlin based startups like house.com.mm and motors.com.mm were early pioneers to Myanmar in 2011. Today both are turning as multimillion worth companies playing and creating business opportunities for acquiring real estate and selling and buying of automobiles online. More Startups are also following similar pattern as both native and foreign trained Burmese IT talents are building the ecosystem. Name a few leading Startups like Myanmarbusticket or Oway, chances are that every visitor to the country would be familiar with these brands. They are all e-commerce portals and strongly rely on robust IT infrastructure. And these are glimpses of Myanmar embracing digital economy.
Digital Economy and Prospects for Growth
As Mckinsey further indicates a link between strong information technology in an economy and input for GDP, there indicates a gradual rise of income among middle class. The World Bank conducted a survey on middle income earners from 120 countries from 1980 to 2002. In a span of 22 years it discovered direct co-relation between a 10% increase in internet broadband and its impact on GDP growth from 2% -3% annually.
Based on these case studies, young entrepreneurs, digital marketers, traders, and the entire civil society in Myanmar could reflect and adopt innovative ways to operate their daily business effectively. The traditional offline marketing campaigns could now go online and the sales strategies could align more with delivering customer happiness through direction communication using different customer relationship management systems.
Today more than 6.5 million young Burmese are active every day on Facebook, surpassing other social media platforms like Youtube, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinteres. Survey from Statsmonkey shows Facebook as No.1 leading source of sharing information on politics from business to the latest trends in technology. Obviously it also served as a major campaign channel for NLD (national league for democratic) led government for its election in November, 2015. However there are still different online marketing strategies and tools for promoting one’s products and services. They are yet to be explored.
Digital Consumers to Content Producers
To enter actively into the digital workforce and contribute to the economy, the young Burmese could transform themselves from being merely passive consumers of media content to individuals who actively create them. To do so, the millennial already have necessary technical infrastructure, access to 3G-4G mobile network, and upcoming financial institutions such as investment banking and access to credit loan, and strong legislation for economic activities.
With groundwork already taken place such as nationwide fiber optic installation by Benchachinda Holding Company, chances are that more home grown businesses will also emerge. More visual mentoring and different online courses would appear using local language. It could be that a person on a remote area would learn to create something completely new by replicating from what is taught and shared on the internet.Currently very few young people have only used a greater functionality of personal blogs, websites, and other social media for their professional development.
Or say young entrepreneurs could learn to attract more seed funding from investors and organize regular Startup Meetups and introduce more business ideas. This would give a more vibrancy and energy among the youth. Startup founders could also exchange their innovative ideas among other like minded people and support the ecosystem community. Or they could even introduce and demonstrate available technical tools for operating their business efficiently. Any crash courses on AB testing tools, Salesforce, Excel for financial analysis would provide new learning curves for the young.
The sort of ecosystem events are taking place weekly in global startup hubs like Berlin, London, Paris, Singapore and Hongkong. Similarly founders, co-founders, or any young spirit from any Startups in Yangon could initiate and organize the weekly or monthly program. Engaging in these regular activities and networking would surely help support one another and in the long run create more social and economic impact in the market. It is time the young talent become the driving forces behind the digital economy.