There is a growing army of young entrepreneurs using smartphones and FinTech to provide services to tackle Myanmar’s issues. These issues range from high mortality rates to heavy traffic, and lots of things in between.
In September 2016, Htun Khaing Lynn (Zack) started up an online truck-pooling system called Kargo. The service connects businesses and individuals who need to move stuff around the congested streets of Yangon.
Zack is an engineering graduate and always intended to have a company of his own. At just 22 he decided to co-found Kargo, which now has a staff of seven. The company’s aim is to reduce the number of cars, vans and trucks on the roads to make commuting and travel easier for businesses and commuters. This is in response to the hugely increased traffic on Yangon’s gridlocked roads since import restrictions were swept away in 2010.
Growing mobile market in Myanmar
Zack is one of many embracing mobile phones to offer services. Two years ago, Myanmar was named as the fourth fastest growing market for mobile phones in the world.
Although it’s difficult to estimate precisely how many people in Myanmar are using a mobile phone, as many people have more than one SIM card, experts are certain that it has increased since foreign network operators broke the state monopoly in 2014.
Tech and innovation hub
Many of these start-ups and FinTech companies are based in the tech and innovation hub called Phandeeyar. Located at the top of a high-rise building in Yangon, this hub is a trendy open plan office providing business advice and seed funding to start-ups.
The director of Phandeeyar, Jes Kaliebe Peterson, says that these start-ups create economic growth, but are also vital to kickstart social change in Myanmar. He says: “They solve real problems, whether it’s facilitating payments because you don’t [have] a bank account, facilitating logistics and transportation, helping you to get access to information or a place to stay.”
Tackling healthcare and education services
Koe Koe Tech is a social enterprise that has used FinTech to develop an app that provides pregnant women with information. It also helps citizens in remote rural areas arrange medicine delivery and phone consultations. It has a specific aim to reduce birth mortality rates, which are highest in rural regions of Myanmar.
Despite all the efforts to modernise systems by start-ups, they still have to deal with many problems These include infrastructure voids like bad roads, a limited and inaccessible banking system (for many in remote areas) and dodgy power.
Just two years ago, only 30 per cent of Myanmar citizens had reliable electricity, according to figures from the World Bank. E-commerce platforms often struggle to reach people with the goods they’ve ordered, due to poor roads and heavy traffic.
Also difficult for start-ups is the low level of investment. Bureaucracy makes it tough for people to invest easily, and overseas investors appear to still be cautious due to Myanmar’s political instability. This has got worse recently as fighting has increased between the country’s military and ethnic armed forces.
External funding for start-ups
To tackle these real-world problems, many start-ups in Myanmar register in Singapore. They look towards angel funding in south east Asia for the initial money to launch the business.
Longer term, however, experts say that a new approach is needed from the government. Vikram Kumar, the International Money Fund’s country manager for Myanmar, says: “Momentum and investor interest is going down. The new government needs to watch out and focus more on economic policymaking.”