Is Repatriation the Answer to Myanmar’s Capacity Gap?

Sunset Cruise
Sunset cruise. In retrospect, we maybe should have stood in front of the tables.

Over the past three days, we’ve heard from three inspiring Burmese men—Htet Myet Oo, the co-founder of Rangoon Tea House; Phyo Phyu Noe, the director at Delta Capital Myanmar; and Godfrey Tan, the chairman and CEO of Frontiir. They all have one thing in common: they studied abroad and then repatriated to Myanmar.

On Wednesday, we had lunch at Rangoon Tea House and got to experience a twist on Burmese food. The restaurant was founded by a group of repatriated Burmese citizens who wanted Burmese food to be more recognizable and respected, both nationally and internationally. Like many other presenters we heard from, Htet Myet Oo emphasized that the biggest problem in Myanmar is access to capital, as interest rates are often prohibitive. Yet, despite all that, after living in London, he came back. While his English was great, he mentioned that one of his reasons for returning was that outside of Myanmar no one speaks Burmese, making it difficult. But he also spoke about how he thought of Myanmar as being one of the most innovative places in the world because there are so many problems and so much room for change and opportunity.

Rangoon Tea House
Htet Myet Oo, co-founder of Rangoon Tea House, spoke to us during lunch.

Today, we heard from Phyo Phyu Noe, who spent a significant amount of time in the United States—both undergraduate and graduate degrees—but always had the goal of coming back to Myanmar. Frontiir, run by Godfrey Tan, is one of his PE investments. Through proprietary technology, Frontiir provides affordable digital access and useful information services to people in Myanmar. In a country where power can go out intermittently, they provide unlimited internet access to more than 120,000 households—double what was available just a year ago. Additionally, they employ more than 1,300 Myanmar people—one-in-eight of which is repatriated, with the goal of repatriating even more.

Hearing from the three of them ended our short trip on a sense of hope for a country trying to make up for decades of lost time. I look forward to following developments on both the humanitarian front and the economic front over the coming months and years.

Indeed, we’ve learned a lot in Myanmar, but perhaps the most useful skill we gained was learning how to tie a lungyi.

Miriam Krule ’18

 

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