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.
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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.
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Before 2020, the small village that Mr Kim Yhen is from, much like the rest of Cambodia, seeing a modest increase in living standards. An increase in education and skills in the community had allowed for the growth of good jobs in the area. Kim was seeing that ambition and enthusiasm in the classes he was teaching, with children who were excited to learn. Now the school yard, once filled with kids of all ages playing ball games or tag, lies empty, a common story for schools in Australia only a few months ago. For Mr. Kim, a schoolteacher, that meant he was out of work. Mr. Kim would traditionally rely on his second form of income, cashew farming, but as this article in the Khmer Times points out, prices have plummeted recently, brought on by border restrictions and reduction in global demand.
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Without any form of income, the situation became dire for Kim. Mr. Po Sophea, a Cufa Staff member who is on the project staff involved in Cufa’s FLIP 19 soap making workshops, was looking for members to join the social enterprises. Kim, not one to pass on a golden opportunity, decided to join one of the social enterprises, named the House Wife Production Group. Kim, as a teacher, knew the importance of learning and so participated actively in all the workshops the Cufa conducted, including the soap making, general business management and accounting skills training programs.
He has been participating as part of his social enterprise, which has seen a profit of USD $ 315.25 total, with the most recent profit reported being $128.75, the second highest out of the 5 community enterprises that Cufa is working with for that month. Kim and his community enterprise are currently continuing to search the market to grow their income, confident that the growing awareness and demand for sanitary products caused by Covid-19 will bring greater income.
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.
As we struggle with the effects of Covid 19 in Australia, and how it has ffected Australian businesses, big and small, it is important to remember that it's also affecting places around the world in different, and more difficult ways. Prior to the effects of Covid 19, the Cambodian economy was experiencing a boom, thanks to a growth in the garment industry and Cambodians going abroad and sending remittances back home. Though conditions were difficult, it did provide steadily growing incomes. This continued growth relied on a global consumer market and the ability to travel overseas. As you might be aware, as of September 2020, this is not the case. The effects of Covid 19, which has forced millions of foreign workers to return home and factories to close their doors due to the fears of spreading Covid-19, has posed significant challenges to the lives of those in Cambodia. This has had repercussions across the country, impacting the prices of goods, causing shortages of food and fuel, and forcing people to return home jobless.
Nhem Sokhon, pictured above, is filling up jerry cans with soap that she and the community social enterprise that she is a part of, had just produced. Any other day, she would be in the local rubber plantation, but due to the effects of Covid-19, she has seen a significant decline in her income. Compounding that, outbreaks of Covid-19 have occurred in her area dissuading suppliers from entering her area, increasing the prices of most staple goods. Hearing that Cufa had begun conducting our soap workshops in the area, she decided to join up.
Our workshops allowed her to take part in an ongoing training program that taught her leadership skills, micro and small community enterprise skills, business management, bookkeeping and financial literacy. This allowed her, and villagers like her to diversify their income streams through the production of liquid soap, which they can sell individually or to on-sellers. This gives the participants, like Nhem the knowledge and opportunity to empower themselves.
As Nhem is helping load the soap into individual plastic bottles, onto the back of a scooter owned by another social enterprise worker. She tells us that she feels like it's brighter now that she has been able to join the social enterprise, feeling like she has been able to see change for herself.
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.