YANGON- As companies move to enter Myanmar following the country’s decades of isolation, there is a growing consensus about the benefits of leveraging Corporate Social Responsibility as a component of market entry.
The thinking is that entering Myanmar with a strong CSR campaign helps companies meet key local stakeholders in the public and private sectors, build infrastructure, and collect insights about the business environment and mind-set of the local people. Add to this the fact that Myanmar’s needs for support are huge, and the concept of CSR as a market entry tool makes good sense.
In Myanmar, CSR is not a mandate – as it is in India, where companies are required to set aside two percent of profits. But CSR in Myanmar does offer a unique opportunity to make a big impact.
“There is a good case to be made for leading with CSR to enter Myanmar,” said Abhijit Dutta, Head of Government Relations & Public Policy (ASEAN), and Singapore Community Relations (Asia HQ) at Procter & Gamble, noting that P&G has supported clean water projects in Myanmar far before sanctions ceased and the country re-opened for business. “In Myanmar, every contribution goes a long way. There is a pull from the government to do CSR. In any other market you would have to go through a deep process to find opportunity. But in Myanmar, there is a real request from the government to do more.”
Ooredoo, one of the two foreign telecom operators to set up business in Myanmar has coordinated a range of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities since the announcement of its bid win in June last year. The company views CSR as an important part of integrating into the local community. Ooredoo has put special emphasis around support for building capacity in technology and human resources. The company has also stepped in at times of crisis – such as offering support to regions impacted by flooding in the southern parts of Myanmar last year.
CSR is an important part of the Ooredoo culture and is evident across all of the markets in which we operate. Launching a company in Myanmar is a great opportunity and we are fortunate to be in a position to enrich people’s lives,” said Ooredoo Myanmar CEO Ross Cormack. “On the one hand we are working to develop a strong communications ecosystem, foster and incubate entrepreneurial talent and offer opportunities for local business. On the other, we are actively collaborating and developing initiatives in the areas of health and education that will make a sustainable difference.
Myanmar’s political leaders also publicly voice support for responsible business practices.
Myanmar President U Thein Sein has talked about his desire to see responsible business practices which can contribute to the country’s growth and sustainable development. He also said foreign investors must consider CSR strategies. P&G’s Dutta supports this notion, saying: “The current administration in Myanmar really wants to see corporate social responsibility as a priority. In conversations with officials, the first question investors usually receive is about investment levels. The second question is almost always about CSR investments. This is unique.”
At the very first EU-Myanmar Task Force held in Yangon last November, Chair of the National League for Democracy Daw Aung San SuuKyi was direct in her comments about responsible business practices. She said, “I want good, hard-headed businessmen who are intent on making a good profit for themselves, but in a responsible way so that we also may benefit from your presence. That means that when you talk about responsibility, it’s not just CSR, it’s not just social responsibility. It’s political responsibility, legal responsibility. It’s responsibility in a very broad sense of the word.”
CSR in Myanmar is not just about social responsibility
Myanmar already has a culture of established private and corporate philanthropy, which is strongly associated with the Buddhist culture of giving and attaining merit. All the business activities to be carried out in Myanmar should be made to sync with the basic social requirements and values of the local communities – and with a long-term mindset. For example, building a primary school as part of a CSR program might seem simple and direct to the foreign investors – but business decision makers should keep in mind that schools will surely require more support and further assistances in the future.
All in all, doing CSR programs in Myanmar, a country with many needy areas, is not difficult. But, what is important is implementing CSR activities so as to fulfill the real requirements of local communities without harming the social, cultural and religious values established by ancient ancestors.