This report presents the findings of the qualitative research project titled “Communication, Information and Knowledge Needs of Urban Poor Micro-entrepreneurs in Myanmar”. It is an outcome of a research collaboration between CKS Consulting Pvt. Ltd. (hereafter CKS), and LIRNEasia, with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada (www.idrc.ca) and UKaid from the Department for International Development, UK (www.dfid.uk).
The purpose of the project was to utilize ethnographic research tools to understand mobile phone user behavior of urban poor micro-entrepreneurs (hereafter MEs) in Myanmar. The study focussed particularly on the business-related use of mobile phones and other communication channels. We tried to identify opportunities for telecom service providers to aid MEs in enhancing their livelihoods.
Enterprise management: This portion of the study looked into the kind of enterprises Bottom of Pyramid (BoP) MEs engaged within Myanmar. It delved further into their reasons for doing a particular business, the interaction process with suppliers, behavior with customers and the various sources of information for their work. It came to light that the reasons for being MEs ranged from migration for better lives, family business and the opportunities for formal training for a particular kind of work. The study revealed the high level of dependence that MEs have on their social networks for monetary and emotional support.
Financial Landscape: Saving, spending and investing money are universal actions. However, how and why we make financial choices are influenced by individual needs and local factors such as government regulations, regional banking operations, and technologies. For this section, our team set out to explore how this influenced financial behaviour. The findings show that formal sources were not trusted for borrowing or saving. There was low awareness about microfinance institutions (MFIs) in this group. The chapter identifies vast opportunities for stimulating mobile financial services with the introduction of two new telecom operators (Telenor and Ooredoo) in 2014.
Telecom Landscape: This section looked into various modes of communication (mobile phones, shared phones or public phones) used by MEs to manage their businesses better, factors influencing mobile phone adoption and usage. The high cost of SIM cards was the main reason for many MEs not owning a phone. Responses indicated that emergency communication with family and friends was the primary reason for an ME to buy a mobile phone. Some MEs also found it useful for their businesses to manage their suppliers and customers better. Though not many MEs had a personal phone, those who did had complaints regarding high call rates and poor network connection.
Public Utilities: Since the establishment of any new business or expanding the old one needs some kind of support in terms of public utilities such as water, electricity and transport, we tried to understand the importance of these facilities for MEs in relation to their enterprise. We also looked into troubling issues for the MEs which could be addressed by future telecom operators while making new policies around telecom. Opportunities for new services, particularly for livelihood enhancement were identified. The chapter addresses various reasons for reliance on alternatives to government services ranging from costs, bad experiences, and infrastructure issues among others.
Even today, as Myanmar’s economy steadily opens up, many people still struggle to access the formal financial instruments and new age technology that many of us take for granted. This report aims to explain how Myanmar’s poorest of the poor MEs view mobile phone technology and the possibility of addressing their entrepreneurial challenges by using the same.