You're probably aware of the evolving situation in Myanmar which is taking a turn for the worse since its inception on February the first. We’ve needed to put the safety of our staff members and the communities we work with first.
Using a wait and see approach, we’ve suspended the project activities for the Children’s Financial Literacy Program and Livelihoods Program. For the DigiCUD Program, we’ll continue to progress the development of the online banking platform which is carried out remotely using Internet. We expect there’ll be some time before we’re able to return to the classrooms and to the communities we work with in Myanmar. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.
For Wah, school is her favourite place, getting to see her friends and play games. School, however, isn’t all fun and games, as the lessons she learns in class set her up for life. Cufa’s Children’s Financial Literacy Program add to her current learning plan, giving her the skills she needs for her future. Along with her classmates, she learns about the ways in which just saving a small amount a day can give her big returns in the future. Thoughts of a bicycle or a new toy no doubt come to the mind of Wah when she learns about savings.
Cufa’s Children’s Financial Literacy Program have made an immediate impact on Wah and her classmates. “As soon as I attended the CFL Program, I realized that I should not waste my money on buying snacks anymore, as I have now learnt to save money and the benefits of long-term savings”
Wah, along her classmates, feel the commitment to pass on this knowledge to their communities. Among these, her father who Wah constantly encourages to save for their family’s future.
A Hooded Treepie chirping announces the start of a beautiful morning in Kyar Chaung. Khin, along with his wife Suu, they prepare for another productive day in their vegetable garden. Luckily, their home has been blessed with enough land to harvest vegetables in their own backyard. Despite his flourishing micro-business in selling vegetables of all kinds, Khin did not regularly budget and build his savings. It was after Cufa worked with his local community that he started to save more. A testimony to his nature is that what really peaked Khin’s interest in saving was that his savings could help his community.
“After getting some training delivered by Cufa, I made up my mind try to save money regularly because I understand my money can help to other villagers”
After finding out about Cufa’s DigiCud, Khin, along with members of his village, Khin started receiving training. Beyond the benefits of savings, Khin now feels an enormous sense of pride, as he knows his money in the savings bank will benefit the community.
Looking back over 2020 in Myanmar, Cufa has tackled the challenges of COVID-19, whilst laying the groundwork for our new DigiCUD program and continuing our transformational Child Financial Literacy and Credit Union Development Programs. As the time of writing, Myanmar's COVID-19 outbreak has reached over 100,000 confirmed cases, resulting in a lockdown in the country’s largest city of Yangon where the Cufa office is based. Cufa’s staff and partnering rural communities have worked together to ensure our programs could continue, despite the challenges of the pandemic.
As schools closed to prevent the spread of the virus, Cufa’s staff feared that many students would miss out on participating in the CFL Program. Determined to conduct the CFL Program, our staff did not give up and provided 2,939 students with the program's five lessons, usually conducted during school time, by conducting home visits. These visits involve our project officers visiting the homes of villages, delivering the lessons and advising the parents as well in ways they can help the child out as well.
Cufa, engaged by the United Nations Development Program, has created female-owned enterprises with a focus on agricultural and fishery sector-based business in Shan State and Mandalay Region. Through the Project, Cufa provided capacity building training to aspiring and established MSME entrepreneurs in areas including marketing skills, business plan, leadership, and financial management skills. In response to COVID-19 and at the request of UNDP, Cufa rapidly created and integrated training modules on digitising operations and digital marketing skills for participants. To ensure all entrepreneurs were able to receive their training amid the pandemic and the adaptation to virtual training, Cufa provided training aids and subsidies.
2021 marks Cufa’s 50th year of working to alleviate poverty in the Asia-Pacific Region. Cufa is looking forward to developing new and innovative programs to ensure that we can continue to empower marginalised people and communities with the tools to lift themselves out of intergenerational poverty.
[gallery columns="1" size="large" ids="17136"]
Ohn San, UNDP Project participant.
The workshop is filled slowly, as the trainees discuss the weekend, the weather and the lockdown measures currently affecting Myanmar’s Yangon District. The workshop, the first day of what is set up to be a groundbreaking project, will see these participants become competent in the operation and maintenance of Cufa’s new DigiCUD program. They are Cufa’s Myanmar staff members, with prior experience in our Credit Union Development Program.
We mentioned in the last newsletter about how Thura, one of Cufa’s existing CUD members interacts with his local credit union, now we are progressing to project implementation, with training commencing designed to take our staff through everything on the BanQin mobile application. This sophisticated and secure application was designed in house by BanQin, a sister company to Bank-Genie, a South East Asia focused telecommunications company. Their expertise in the South East Asian area has meant that they are keenly aware of the context and conditions that are unique to the region. BanQin’s company mission is to improve the lives of the vulnerable and disadvantaged by enabling, through mobile banking initiatives, social mobility, poverty reduction and access to banking for those who do not already have their own bank accounts. In a recent interview with NextGen Core Banking Solutions, Dr Peter Mason, Cufa’s CEO, details how for several years, Cufa has been looking for a mobile banking solution, and it was not until now, that Cufa has been confident with a product.
Now, even though Cufa and Bank Genie share common goals, what does it actually mean for Thura, and more importantly the Rural Burmese who remain unable to access vital banking and financial services? What it delivers for our current and future credit union members is a complete mobile banking service, enabling them to complete transactions, with sophisticated security system, whilst also enabling features like credit scoring to enable further financial services. Each credit union offers their own financial loan and savings products, tailored to their community needs, all available on phones that can be purchased at an affordable price.
For the members of our credit unions in Myanmar, the ability to see their bank balance grow in their hands with the training that Cufa provides enables them to watch their savings grow in their hands, or request a loan application far away from their home.
A rhythmic hum of sowing machines permeates the small room, as Ohn San attempts to finish her most recent work. Ohn San, who lives in Pin Int Village in Myanmar, began her hand made goods business in 2015, focusing on gift making, and then branching out from there. When she heard that Cufa was running a program focused on business management, she quickly signed up, eager to grow her skills.
The program with support from UNDP, gave her the necessary understanding needed to grow her business. Ohn like many entrepreneurs understand the basics of ensuring your costs do not outweigh your profits, but don’t factor in how important things such as bookkeeping are to a business. Cufa’s training, conducted virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on Ohn’s outlook on her business. Ohn has been able to walk away from the lessons with a greater comprehension of the skills needed to grow her business.
Shwe, like Ohn, is an entrepreneur, but is new to being her own boss. Hearing the Cufa was offering a series of workshops to helping inspiring entrepreneurs, she joined up. Joining a separate start up focused pathway, which gave her more pertinent knowledge. Cufa was able to provide her a daily allowance to work around her daily work needs and ran virtual classes to ensure Covid-19 safety. After participating in the lessons, her belief in her future possibilities grew. “I came up with ideas by self-confident on how to do a business at the end of the training, so I will apply the lessons learned in the training in my fishery business” she states cheerfully. She hopes to go forward and share her skills with her community and attend future training sessions.
[gallery size="full" columns="1" ids="16993"]
We often are asked if we know where the food we eat comes from; but rarely do we ever inquire into the experiences of these farmers, like Daw (pictured above). Daw lives in a village in the Ayeyarwady Region of Myanmar and grows Guava in her family farm. She has been a proud Guava farmer for over 20 years, and it has been her main source of income. Growing Guava is quite advantageous, as they are a hardier crop, well suited to many soil types, and well suited to the warm and wet climate of the Ayeyarwady.
As we walk around her guava field, she shows us her guava trees, burdened by ripening guavas, now only weeks away from harvest. In the 20 years she has been growing, she hasn’t been able to see a significant growth in her profits or a growth in her savings. Three years ago, she heard about one of our village savings banks and decided to join up. Daw participated in workshops on saving, bookkeeping and interest rate management, becoming a regular in the meetings that Cufa Myanmar delivered. Working with her village savings bank, Daw took out loans to help grow her farm, buying new equipment to increase production. After paying back her loan, she quickly saw a return on investment.
Due to the pandemic, farming has become tougher. Laws designed to reduce the spread of Covid-19 by limiting social interactions have resulted in village markets, previously bustling with local buyers and wholesalers, unable to operate daily. Daw, unable to rely on her traditional income source, and needing to still support a family of six, turned to her village savings bank. Thanks to the savings she had accumulated and a loan from her village savings bank, she has been able to weather the worst of the pandemic. Daw’s experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged some of her neighbors to join the village savings bank as well.
There are good odds that you have checked your bank account on your phone in the last week, maybe even transferred money across or used your paywave to buy a coffee. According to a Mozo survey conducted in October 2019, 1 in 4 banking customers had considered or already switched to one of the new all mobile banks. and 3 in 4 Australians conduct the majority of their banking on a smartphone or a computer 1 . The Australian banking experience is well developed, with significant options for the consumer to choose from. Australians also get the latest technology, including the innovations of the neo banks; fully digital banks , without the traditional, physical branches. This wealth of options and continued innovations have made banking ubiquitous in Australia. However, this is not the case in Myanmar.
Thura lives in Shan State, located in the east side of Myanmar. Thura travels 20 mins to his local credit union on his motorbike, a difficult journey through the rugged mountains of the Shan state from his small farm. Thura is a part of the roughly 25 per cent of the rural population which has access to a bank account through Cufa. As he enters the main village, he passes vendors, lorry drivers and police officers all fixated on their phones, as unlike banks, smartphones are everywhere.
93 percent of Myanmar’s population has access to a smart phone, made accessible by the existence of smart phones as cheap as $20 USD. Thura approaches one of his credit union committee members to deposit some of his savings. The process is currently paper based, using traditional bookkeeping methods. This is about to change however, as soon Thura and his Credit Union committee member are about to be a part of an exciting new project, DigiCUD.
Our DigiCUD program, in Partnership with BankQin and PerformPlus, will involve digitising our current 23 credit unions in Myanmar using. This will allow our Credit Union members to facilitate loan originations, approvals, and disbursements, as well as facilitate deposits. This can all be done of the standard 2G Network (for Australian readers; Australia received the 2G network in 1993!). After digitizing our current credit unions, we hope to introduce an additional 90 villages to the power of credit unions, made easy thanks to the new app.
Our Pilot Program launches soon, and we hope to share our successes and insight with you as Cufa goes on the journey to deliver the power of banking into the hands of those who need it most.
If you would like to find out more about our current Credit Union Development Projects, click here
1Watson, T, 2019 ,MOZO, Top 9 Revealed : The Banking Apps that took out the 2019 MOZO Expert Choice Awards, https://mozo.com.au/fintech/top-9-revealed-the-banking-apps-that-took-out-2-19-mozo-expert-choice-awards , 22 February 2019.
Cufa has partnered with other Australian NGO’s to help End Covid For All. Led by ACFID, the group involves Australian NGO’s such as World Vision, TEAR, Fred Hollows and Habitat for Humanity, and over 90 other organisations from Australia.
In Australia we are still experiencing the effects of Covid-19, and there is significant work to be done in Australia to further reduce the spread. Though Australia has the capacity to prevent the spread, reduce the impact on families, many countries in the world are not so lucky.
In India cases continue to grow, at over 1.5 million cases; in our northern neighbour in Indonesia, cases have risen to over 100,000. Increasingly it is the poorest countries in the world that are feeling the strongest effects of Covid-19. End Covid- for- All aims to help the poorest countries through three simple steps.
Firstly, End Covid For All aims to combat Covid in the existing crisis areas, which have previously experienced other pandemics before, including malaria, Ebola and polio. By equitable funding and investment in global health programs, we can help prevent further disease outbreaks.
Additionally, a robust response to Covid-19 will require a provision of testing kits, PPE, information campaigns and medical equipment. Vulnerable and marginalized groups, who include women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities, are of particular concern, as the health response must be made inclusive and accessible to them. At the same time, we must continue to support existing programs, such as water projects, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health.
Finally, there will be the need to help kickstart the economy safely and sustainably in the Pacific. Safe resumption of regional economic ties between the Pacific and Australia, and the provision of low-cost loans for the Pacific to provide vital health infrastructure is key to kickstarting economic recovery.
As our roads begin to fill up with honking horns of a morning as people return to the office a monastery in Yet Chaung Village remains tranquil. Though Myanmar’s schools are closed, the monastery’s silence is broken occasionally by the sound of children flipping through their Mg Mg the Kyat book. Eager to begin to operate our workshops, Cufa Myanmar has begun to use the local monastery as a place to host our lessons in Financial Literacy and Credit Union Development.
The sound of the bells are interrupted by the children as they form a circle to play one of the program's educational games, a reprieve from the stress that Covid-19 has caused. In a country that is continuing to see its cases grow, a tension sits in the air about when the virus will come to their area. Our project officers are noticing that the children practice better hygiene practices than before the lockdown, something that will prove beneficial post the lockdown. As the children play a game about what they just learnt, the opportunity to learn and play, and for a brief moment forget about it with your friends, is the least that Cufa could do.
In the same monastery the next day, a group of young, entrepreneurial women listen attentively to a Cufa volunteer discussing the best practices for operating their business during Covid-19. Their children would have been in the same monastery the day before, and much like them, the women are eager to return to their lessons. These women are a part of the Cufa Credit Union Development Program, aimed at assisting communities to develop their own community banks. These women have been working with Cufa for sometime, and so we are delighted to share that these women have put into practice their training over the course of the lockdown. Spurred on by the difficult economic circumstances, many have begun to tighten their budgets and look to use their communities credit union to their advantage.
Cufa’s Credit Union Development and Children Financial Literacy Programs having been operating in Myanmar 2016 and 2018 respectively has seen significant positive responses. In Myanmar alone, we have been able to reach over 2,000 students across 22 schools through our CFL programs. Our CUD program continues to grow, with over 30 Credit Unions being maintained across over 2,250 members involved.
The monastery returns to the sound of bells and chimes as the women leave, the sounds of horns intermittently break the sounds of the nearby forest, heralding a slow return to normalcy.