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Optimism and Hope in Myanmar

The National League for Democracy’s landslide victory in November, 2015, and the seemingly smooth democratic transition, is creating a buoyant mood among business leaders in Myanmar.

At last week’s Myanmar Summit organized by the Economist, we heard from a variety of business leaders, government officials, entrepreneurs, academics and economists – and despite a number of obvious challenges, the overwhelming mood in Myanmar is one of optimism.

Some of this optimism is showing up in growth projections. While the world economy is pegged to grow about 2.3 percent this year, and while the ASEAN region as a bloc is expected to grow at 5 percent this year, Myanmar is projected to be among the fastest growing markets in the world. The Economist shared projections for Myanmar of 8 percent growth in 2017, which will expand to more than 9 percent growth by 2020.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME OF OUR KEY TAKE-AWAYS FROM THE ECONOMIST SUMMIT.

  • Expectations are sky high for State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Htin Kyaw and the NLD team of ministers and officials. But, importantly, there is also deep recognition that Myanmar’s challenges, which were created over decades, will not be solved overnight. The common philosophy seems to be that the new government has earned the right for some time and space to perform, and that no judgements should come too quickly.
  • Demographics are in Myanmar’s favor. The nation, unlike many of its neighbors in APAC, is young. 47 percent of Myanmar’s population is under 24 years old.
  • Digitalization is happening fast and is making tremendous impact in a variety of sectors. Myanmar has the fastest growing internet penetration in the world. Mobile phone penetration is now 65 percent, and 80 percent of these are smart devices. Facebook penetration is 9.5 million people, with 6 million men and 3.5 million women making this Myanmar’s No. 1 social media platform.
  • Mobile banking and mobile money is a hot topic. With 90 percent of its population unbanked, Myanmar seems to be a textbook example of a country that is ready for the fin-tech revolution. Big banks are trying to adapt. But the mobile money competitors are growing fast.
  • Interestingly, Myanmar’s lack of tech and banking infrastructure seems to be an advantage. We heard Myanmar described as a “blank canvas” a number of times, and it does seem that a lack of legacy systems is allowing Myanmar to leapfrog the latest technology, just as the management consultants predicted in 2011 as the latest opening of the country occurred.
  • The U.S. government shares this optimistic mood. “Our goal is to help Myanmar succeed,” said US Ambassador Scot Marciel. “The government has an enormous mandate to move forward and strengthen democracy and build the economy and while this does not guarantee success, it does bode well for it.”

While some entrenched interests in Myanmar are less rosy about the future, and rightly worried about the many obstacles (i.e. ethnic conflict, corruption, rule of law) the overwhelming vibe at last week’s summit is absolutely positive. We’ve been in business in Myanmar for almost four years now, and we have never seen the country in a better position for success.

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