Political and Economic Change in Myanmar

Election results in Myanmar point to new opportunities for the poor.

Five Talents is working to spark micro-enterprise development in what, until recently, has been one of the most closed societies in the world. This week's election results points to new reforms in Myanmar, with a broad victory for Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. The election is a milestone in Mynmar's transition from decades of military dictatorship. It is the country's first general election since a nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011. That was the same year that Five Talents began work in Myanmar, strengthening pre-existing savings groups and helping to expand their growth outward into impoverished communities.

More than a third of Myanmar's 51.4 million people live on about a dollar a day. Rural poverty is widespread and urban slums surround factories with low paying jobs and an absence of public services. In September, the minimum wage was raised to $2.80 per day. Workers hope for additional changes with the new leadership.

Meanwhile, Five Talents is eager to continue equipping entrepreneurs across Myanmar with access to savings groups, small business training and loans. Take a glimpse at some of the lives impacted and small businesses developed through Five Talents work in Myanmar:

PHOTO ESSAY: Making a Difference in Myanmar

Lives are being transformed in Myanmar. The world’s 14th poorest country, local community partners are reporting immense impact from the Irrawaddy River Delta Region to the outskirts of Yangon due to the savings and loan groups, as well as, financial and literacy training. On a recent visit to Myanmar, the program team saw first hand the effects of implementing savings and loan association groups, the thriving partnership with Mothers’ Union and receiving positive feedback from group leaders. Take a tour below of the agricultural community in Myanmar.


A woman carries construction wire as she shops at a Delta General Store in Myanmar. The Delta region of Myanamar comprises almost 20,000 square miles and is populated by 3.5 million people who are mainly farmers. The whole area is low lying (as low as 3 metres above sea level) and was devasted by Cyclone Nargis in 2008 when well over 100,000 people were lost.


Red chillies are laid out to dry in the sun, then ground in a mortar and pestle for use in preparing traditional Burmese noodle and vegetable dishes. Crops such as chillies, potatoes, various leaf vegetables combine with various fruit trees such as mango, papaya, banana, etc. provide families with food for themselves and also for sale in local markets of Pantanaw.


Women harvest Betal Palm leaves and bamboo in traditional Burmese shade houses in Dyung Daw Galey.
The proximity to Irrawady River banks and the inevitable floods each year prohibits growing rice or participation in rice banks.
Bamboo is cut, stacked and sold for the purposes of constructing the shade houses.


Savings and Loan group leaders gather for a photo before their annual meeting in Chaung Tha.
Five Talents and Mothers’ Union conduct training and interviews with the group leaders
discussing the value of the financial inclusion programs and their hopes and aspirations for the future.


Beside the banks of the Irrawaddy river is the village of Dyung Daw Galey.
The village is under constant threat from the river which, each year, erodes more of the village land into the river.
River floods in this region are a major challenge as they remove acres of land surrounding the village each year.
All of the houses in the village have been relocated as far as possible from the river bank as many houses and the village church have already been taken by the river.
The village itself, is under up to 5 feet of water for 5 months of the year due to the river breaking it’s banks
and flooding throughout the entire living area. Houses are built on poles to maintain a safe height for the occupants.


Fish are laid out to dry in a rural Myanmar village before being used to prepare traditional Burmese fish paste.
Fish comprises a large part of the dietary needs of the local people. Rice is the main staple.


Members of the Moses group in Dyung Daw Galey participate in the growing and harvest of their main crop of Betel Palm leaves,
for which there is a ready market in the nearest large town of Pantanaw.

The Palm Leaves are grown in specially constructed shade houses to enable ideal growing conditions.

Help us support more entrepreneurs in Myanmar. Make a donation to Five Talents today.

Why we Work in Myanmar

Have you ever wondered why Five Talents works where it does?

Since the organization's founding in 1998, Five Talents has focused on serving communities that are off the beaten path. They are often post-conflict, rural and far from the nearest bank.

These communities have under-served populations stuck in poverty. Starting a savings group, offering micro-business loans and organizing training workshops -- these are services that such communities need desperately if fathers and mothers, husbands and wives are going to see real transformation in their lives and in the lives of their children.

For an example of why we go where we go, look no further than our Myanmar program, which was launched in 2011.

This infographic highlights the need for financial inclusion in the country:


The figures come from a recent report by UNDP, CENFRI and Finmark Trust titled Making Access Possible (MAP) Myanmar.

"Access to an appropriate portfolio of financial services can improve the welfare of the underserved population by helping them conduct their financial lives more efficiently, increase income, manage risks and build up wealth over time," reads the report, which was based on surveys and interviews of people in over 5,000 households.

Five Talents is beginning to help meet this need through its partnership with Mothers' Union. The early stages of this partnership has focused on establishing savings and loan groups in the mostly rural and undeveloped Irrawaddy River Delta region, and in the hot and humid outskirts of Yangon.

Some of these groups are creating joint agricultural enterprises – an innovative approach that has proven to be remarkably effective.

Local community leaders in the country, the world's 14th poorest, see the program as transformative – not just at the individual level, but also at the church and community levels. While change is taking shape across Myanmar, Five Talents programs continue to expand reaching refugees, rural farmers, and other marginalized groups across the country.

Dollar by Dollar: Building Capital for Micro-Entrepreneurs

Decades under the repressive rule of a military junta have sapped many women and men in Myanmar, or Burma, of the skill-sets and savvy needed to pursue entrepreneurial, income-generating activities.

Furthermore, leaders in Myanmar's Anglican church, which Five Talents also partners with, had been -- until recently -- reluctant to encourage members to pursue "business" opportunities.

"Money is difficult because it might cause some problems in the church," said Ethel, who works with savings group members in Pyay, and whose husband, Clement, is a pastor. "It might cause people to separate or fight, so the church has [been slow] to recognize its value. I try to explain that God wants us to save money and do business [to provide for our families]. Finally, people in the church have begun to recognize the value."

Five Talents works with local partners across many different cultures and countries. Each under-served community is different and requires a nuanced, tailored approach to micro-enterprise development. Myanmar is no different.

The early stages of Five Talents' partnership with Mothers' Union in Myanmar has focused on establishing savings and loan groups, or "associations," in the mostly rural and under-developed Irrawaddy River Delta region.

Some of these groups are creating joint agricultural enterprises – an innovative approach that has proven to be remarkably effective, given the context.

Moreover, church leaders across the country are on-board and are encouraging members to participate. They see the program, which began in 2011, as transformative – not just at the individual level, but also at the church and community levels.

It all begins with business skills training workshops like this one – and with an emphasis among participants on building up savings.

"Sometimes it is hard to save even 1,000 kyat ($1.03) every month," said Ethel. "But I encourage them to find money for that amount – through a small business or a small chicken farm, or something."

Out of the groups' savings, members lend to one another. The 3% interest rate on the micro-business loans is returned to the group's collective savings, "liberating" the members, Ethel says, from having to borrow from local money-lenders, who often charge exorbitant interest rates.

Helen, one of the group members present during Sonia's budgeting workshop testified to the benefits of building up savings and taking out small loans to support new income-generating activities.

"My life has changed," she said. "I can produce more because I have more capital."

Starting a Business Has Helped Me Rely More on God


To the children swarming her tiny toy stand in Cileungsi, Indonesia, Melia (R) might as well have been Santa Claus.

The nearby school had let out for lunch, and before parents could corral their kids, some made a beeline Melia's treasure trove of Pokemon cards, Play-Doh packages, Winnie the Pooh books, and toy cars.

One girl settled on some stickers and turned to her mother to ask for money. Moments later, Mom was fishing a couple of bills out of her purse.

Melia is just one of many micro-entrepreneurs I met during my recent visit to our programs in Indonesia and Myanmar (Burma). During the trip, I was reminded of how God is using our micro-enterprise development programs – not only to improve the financial conditions of families, but to strengthen the faith of believers and to extend the work of the local church.

As we celebrate Christmas, the coming of Emmanuel – "God with us," it is my honor to explain how Five Talents is serving as Christ's hands and feet in some of the most downtrodden and impoverished communities in the world.

The slums of Jakarta. The Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar. The mountains of Peru. The post-conflict regions of South Sudan and Burundi. Five Talents has been called to places like these, and I'm humbled to report that, because of God's blessing, lives are being transformed.


It is easy to consider only the economic impact our beneficiaries feel when they launch a new micro-enterprise, or improve on an existing one. For example, a woman makes crackers out of cassava leaves to put a child through school. A water distribution business provides a community's first regular access to clean water.

Indeed, in each of our programs, parents are creating a steady, sustainable income and learning how to budget their finances. Children are going to school with new uniforms and the required textbooks. Women are making savings deposits and preparing their families for future expenses that might otherwise stall the growth of their micro-enterprise. Communities are growing more united.

But there's more. We've found that women and men, after joining our programs, become more hopeful. Many report that their spiritual lives are maturing, and that their faith is growing.

I remember one such example vividly. I'd just spent the good part of an afternoon running a budgeting workshop for women in the "Phoebe" savings group in Yangon, Myanmar (L).

Near the end of our time together, some of the women shared how their spiritual lives had begun to change since joining a savings group and launching a new micro-enterprise.

"Starting a business has helped me rely more on God," Jean, who sells cosmetics, told me.

Her testimony was echoed by other members in her group.

Investing in a micro-enterprise – or any business, for that matter – can be scary. These women shared how, by taking a risk and seeking to do more with the resources and talents God has given them, they were being blessed far beyond their financial situation. Their spiritual lives were enriched. Their relationship with God was strengthened.

Some of these woman also said they are now able to tithe more to the church and thus are extending its ministry throughout the local community.

Another woman in the group, Lydia, runs a small daycare center. With her savings she was able to buy new pillows and mats for the children under her care.

As we celebrate Christ's birth during this holiday season, I hope you will join with me in prayer for the women, men and children in Five Talents' programs. God is indeed with us.

Please also consider making a transformative gift that will enable our holistic approach – combining services targeting the financial, personal and spiritual – to deliver hope year-around in new communities in Indonesia, Myanmar, Peru, Burundi and beyond.

Workshop Sparks Ideas for Rural Income Generation

PATHEIN, Myanmar  -  City dwellers in Yangon, Mandalay and Pathein are feeling the impact of the government's ongoing political and economic reforms. Real estate prices are rising. Traffic is growing. Visitors from all over the world are pouring in. But folks in rural areas of Myanmar still have little to show for all of the historic changes that are making headlines around the world.

On Tuesday, women and men representing three Mothers' Union savings groups in the Irrawaddy Delta area of Myanmar shared about their lives and discussed how taking part in the joint Five Talents-Mothers' Union microsavings program has begun to benefit their families.

All of those present on Tuesday are involved in agriculture, growing either rice or betel plants. Some had seen their crops destroyed by recent flooding. Group members said the microsavings and business training program has given them more skills and capital, and they came on Tuesday eager to develop some ideas for new income generating activities.

After hearing stories about micro-entrepreneurs in other parts of the world, the women and men began to brainstorm ideas for new income-generating activities. Five Talents Executive Director Sonia Patterson, in Myanmar on a program visit, led the informal workshop.

Before the day ended, savings group members had also participated in a budgeting exercise that helped them evaluate their management of both family and business finances.