Burma—Responsible Investment and Trade Activity

Client: U.S. Agency for International Development

Duration: 2020-2025

Region: Asia and the Pacific

Country: Burma

Solutions: Economic Growth

From 2011 through early 2021, Myanmar’s economic reform and foreign investment gradually aligned the country’s political economy with international institutions, investors, and trading partners—these stronger linkages to international markets made it more difficult for the government to ignore calls for reform. Despite these gains, Myanmar’s private sector had been invariably underdeveloped, while the benefits from Myanmar’s annual growth rate of 6 to 8 percent over the past decade had accrued mainly to the majority Burman community, to businesses in and around Yangon and Mandalay, to people connected to the armed forces, and to those with access to land and concessions. The COVID-19 pandemic and the military coup d’état in February 2021 have worsened Myanmar’s struggling private sector and economy, resulting in significant livelihood decline, widespread business disruptions, and increased investment and security risks. These challenges have disproportionately affected economically marginalized and conflict-affected communities that already have limited access to resources and have been experiencing unabated conflicts in non-urban ethnic areas. Gaps in infrastructure, business services, and energy access have left marginalized states at a particular disadvantage.

The Burma Responsible Investment and Trade Activity, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), works with a broad range of international and domestic private sector firms and civil society actors to promote civilian ownership of the Myanmar economy by increasing the share held by responsible, accountable, and transparent firms. The Activity supports micro and small enterprises, business service organizations, and community support organizations operating in or entering the market in Myanmar to improve corporate governance, business transparency, and competitiveness. It also promotes inclusive economic growth and economic integration, responsible investment, and trade for the benefit of economically marginalized and conflict-affected people in Myanmar and empowers women to participate in the economy more fully.

The Activity uses a facilitative ecosystem-strengthening approach, which fosters partnerships with business advisory services providers, civil societies, microfinance institutions, non-bank financial associations, incubators, accelerators, and other stakeholders to build capacity and catalyze change by facilitating locally driven, sustainable solutions. A $3.8 million Investment and Technical Assistance Facility allows the team to deploy a flexible, tailored mix of pay-for-results subcontracts, grants, and technical assistance to partner firms. This structure facilitates our private sector engagement strategy, avoids market distortion, and prioritizes sustainability by building local capacity within the business ecosystem.

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Sample Activities

  • Enhance electricity access in underserved areas through the installation of solar energy systems for business service and civil society organizations and deliver technical assistance to solar energy developers, focusing on solar best practices and project management in solar energy implementation.
  • Build the capacity of microfinance institutions serving underserved communities and foster the growth of micro and small enterprises through financial and non-financial skills training.
  • Deliver vocational training programs for vulnerable individuals in remote and ethnic areas, ensuring their long-term sustainability.
  • Enhance the resilience and sustainability of non-urban micro and small enterprises through funding and business advisory services.
  • Improve access to finance for micro and small enterprises by providing bespoke technical assistance, such as working capital grants, to microfinance institutions and village savings and loan associations and expanding digital payment systems in non-urban and ethnic areas.
  • Support environmental conservation through facilitating connections between professionals and civil society groups and funding a business service organization that addresses mangrove deforestation and improves the livelihoods of local communities in a river delta region.
  • Unlock access to international high-end markets for conflict-affected and displaced weavers (primarily women and micro workshop owners) in non-urban ethnic regions through funding to a business service organization.
  • Integrate gender equality and social inclusion into every aspect of its work and tasks in a manner appropriate to Myanmar’s private sector.

Select Results

  • Awarded two grants to a business service organization to launch and expand a pilot project to address mangrove deforestation in a river delta region. The first grant enabled the organization to unlock two impact investments from a non-profit organization focused on global reforestation and an embassy for the pilot project. The project has resulted in an 83-percent increase in seasonal income for local workers and positively impacted the local economy with the growth of shellfish populations in the area.
  • Provided two grants to another business service organization to develop social standards and compliance criteria for ‘Made in Myanmar’ artisanal textile products. The first grant allowed the organization to develop and launch these standards and criteria from November 2021 to August 2022.
  • Funded a seed producer and distributor between June 2022 and April 2023 to purchase and install a biomass-fired seed dryer, which helps overcome post-harvest losses and increase production. The recipient’s seed-drying capacity has doubled, benefiting at-risk farmers who cannot reserve seed stock due to escalating conflicts.
  • Awarded two grants to an avocado producer and exporter in Shan State (South). The first grant allowed it to become the first Myanmar-based exporter of GLOBALG.A.P.-certified avocados between July 2021 and December 2022, involving 445 ethnic farmers in training on adhering to GLOBALG.A.P. standards. The second grant was to purchase and install a solar power system for its factory between August 2023 and January 2024. Combined support has resulted in more than 200 percent in sales.
  • Funded a gender-inclusive non-urban e-commerce and delivery service provider to purchase ten new three-wheel vehicles between February and September 2023. Altogether with the grantee’s co-invested ten new vehicles, it has offered affordable delivery service and diverse products to 2,430 additional rural micro-retail shops and 20 wholesalers in 10 new townships in the Bago Region (West). The service provider also offers credit services to these additional micro-retail shops, promoting financial inclusion in the informal business sector.
  • Developed and delivered the Women Directors Program for six current and aspiring Myanmar women directors during 2021–2023, involving international, experienced mentors. Three alumnae achieved outstanding career advancement.
  • Provided 10 training courses to 182 professionals, with 60 percent women, from business service organizations, investing firms, microfinance institutions, non-bank financial institutions, solar energy system providers, and small and medium enterprises, covering impact investing, business valuation, corporate governance, project management, and anti-financial crimes.
  • Sponsored the Myanmar Private Sector Pavilion comprising one association and nine agribusinesses to participate in Singapore’s Food & Hotel Asia trade show in April 2023. The Pavilion attracted an average of 700 visitors from Singapore and beyond daily.
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