Empowering people through cooperatives in Myanmar

54525372_2534895420070786_5231663830345449472_n

A tractor-hailing app, an app providing agricultural information on market, prices, weather and other important information and an app linking agri-producers to financial service providers are some of digital technologies featured in the forum Modernizing Myanmar’s Agriculture through Innovation. Organized by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the forum also featured non-digital technologies. Two case studies on enterprise development were presented including a community development activity – formation of a cooperative.

The cooperative formation project was implemented by the Phyu Sin Saydanar Action Group (PSSAG) in partnership with ACCESS Advisory in 30 villages in northern Hpa-an township, Kayin State. The initiative was supported by USAID and resulted in the formation of the Zwe Kabin Myae Coop with 600 members and an initial share capital of 5.1 million kyats (US$3,400.). Located in a post-conflict area, the cooperative which is undergoing registration process is poised to provide lending services that will energize the local economy.

Zwe Kabin Myae is not the first community-based cooperative formed in Hpa-an. In 2016, an European Union (EU) project facilitated the formation of the Bawa Yay Tauk Myint Coop in Hlaing-bwe. The coop however was greatly affected by the 2018 floods and is facing organizational challenges. Another coop, the Pwint Pwint Lin Lin in Paing Kyone sub-township was formed as a result of the project implemented by the Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA). It has sustained its savings and lending operations with 11 million kyats capital. In its second general assembly meeting later this month, it has declared dividends pay-out to members from the 2.5 million net income it has generated from its operations.

The Karunas Mission Social Solidarity (KMSS), the development arm of the Catholic Church in Myanmar partnered with New Humanity, an Italian funding agency to pilot test formation of savings and credit unions in selected dioceses in 2017. It has successfully formed cooperatives in three areas.

One cooperative is in Shwe Bo Township under the Mandalay diocese, currently undergoing registration. It has generated 9.9 million kyats capital from its initial 172 members. Two other cooperatives were registered and have started providing savings and lending services in their respective areas. As of February, data showed an aggressive drive to extend services to its members. The first is in Nyaung Don, Yangon diocese where 10.2 million kyats share capital was mobilized and a total of 5 million kyats loans were already released benefiting 125 borrowing members. The second registered cooperative is in Tar Baung, Pathein diocese, where the cooperative was able to generate 74.5 million kyats share capital from 662 members. It has extended 55.2 million kyats volume of loans to 312 members.

The formation of self-reliant and sustainable cooperatives exhibited the fact that given the right methodologies, the people can be empowered to initiate development activities that addresses their needs. Help and support from outside of the community will be more relevant if these are matched with what is really needed and the people’ capacity to decide for their own future should not be set aside.

Advertisements

5 blunders in strategic planning

img_2081

Is strategic planning still relevant? For most development agencies I have engaged, strategic planning is merely an exercise to comply with the ‘requirements,’ a checking of the box so to speak. Some were even contented that they have a vision and mission statements as if those were the end-all in a long-term plan.

Strategic planning as a tool in organizational development  allow institutions to easily adjust to the changing environment and the shifting trends in the industry. It usually starts with a SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis, the basis for  strategic statements that determines the directions to take, and the key activities to be implemented.

As the blueprint for action, it should guide and enable the institution to pursue its growth targets and adjust when disruptive events happen. Despite having a strategic plan, there are institutions that are dislocated and finding it hard to cope when the environment changes. Being caught unaware when change happen is an indication that something is wrong with their plan. Five of the common blunders in strategic planning are discussed in this article.

1. Erroneous internal assessment. If the staffs are primarily responsible for evaluating the strength and weaknesses of the institution, partiality and personal biases usually cloud the results. Some staffs will tend to hide the weaknesses as it may reflect on them, or deflate the weaknesses in such a way that it will not reflect too bad on them. Strengths are also padded to offset the glaring weaknesses. In the end, you look at the mirror and be surprised when you cannot recognize the image reflected in it.

2. Misreading the external environment. A comprehensive picture of the environment, including future trends, is one of the vital elements in planning. Internal experts can provide their own reading of the environment, but it is also necessary to get opinions of external industry experts. It would also be helpful to get resource persons from other industries as their movements will also affect the industry you are in. Getting the most comprehensive briefing on the trends and the directions of things will enable the institution to steer its strategies in the right direction and anticipate responses to disruptive events.

3. Failure to make decisions. Strategies are big, bold moves aimed at ensuring the institution is abreast with the latest trends in the industry. Strategic planning is the point when leadership is expected to decide and steer the institution towards further growth or adjustments in response to anticipated disruptive events. However, some leaders would rather not ‘rock the boat’ and stay on course with what is familiar and routine. And when the expected changes happen, put the whole institution into panic mode.

4. Recycled activities. There may be jargons and the latest terminologies in the document, but the activities in essence remain the same with those in the previous plans. Same activities with end-results projected in five years and divided into annual activities. Disruptive events derail these standard activities and will require special team and effort to address.

5. Reactive rather than pro-active plan. A strategic plan that does not address issues of innovation and disruption is a poor plan. The wind of change will easily sweep away the institution without a pro-active plan.

There is a saying that goes, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ It is the same if you have a flawed plan.

Completing the Kayin Project

sticker-v2

Monday will be the culmination of a development project in Kayin State, Myanmar. A conference will showcase the results of the three-year project – a registered cooperative with savings and lending service as well as an e-money service, and an enterprise and agri-business enhancement component for the borrowing members.

In 2014, the project started six months late because of some administrative concerns as the government has to cope with the increase of development agencies flooding the country.  But the project team was able to catch up on the activities and reach the finish line on time.

The results of the project affirmed the tools and methods initially employed in other ASEAN countries and now used in Myanmar. These include savings mobilization techniques, cooperative formation, value chain analysis for agri-commodities and enterprise development.  The tools are now being marketed to other development agencies for replication.