Daw Amar Myint owns a small restaurant serving up traditional Myanmar cuisine in the Mingaladon Township of Yangon. When the pandemic hit, she was forced to close her doors. Without customers coming in, she couldn’t provide for her family, including her son, who lost his job because of the pandemic. Before the pandemic hit, Daw Amar’s restaurant was always busiest at lunchtime, so she decided to keep her kitchen open and start delivering lunch boxes to her customers who couldn’t come eat at the restaurant in person. She turned to social media to market her new delivery service and began selling on Facebook. As her online sales picked up, her income has rebounded — she was even able to give a job to her son. She’s now receiving monthly pre-orders, allowing her to estimate her future income and minimize waste when she orders ingredients.

Providing small businesses with financial support during the pandemic

Microentrepreneurs like Daw Amar can build stronger businesses, better manage their expenses, and earn reliable incomes to care for their families when they can access financial services like group and individual loans. Accion portfolio company DAWN Microfinance provides these services for low-income microbusinesses in Myanmar, and now they are helping these businesses make it through the pandemic and its economic effects. The dramatic spread of COVID-19 has disrupted lives, livelihoods, communities, and businesses in Myanmar. In response, DAWN quickly mobilized a COVID-19 response team to limit the disruption to clients’ businesses and to adapt their own business.

Micro and small business owners already face many struggles in Myanmar — where 1 in 4 people live in poverty, and most people still don’t have the financial services they need to manage their daily lives and grow their businesses. These entrepreneurs are experiencing additional challenges during the pandemic, like shortages of imported raw materials, declines in sales and revenue, forced closures of brick and mortar businesses, and the inability to cover day-to-day expenses. DAWN has implemented several changes to help their clients, including:

  1. Providing alternative repayment options: DAWN is encouraging clients to transfer repayments digitally through collaborations with banks and mobile money agents. For clients who aren’t comfortable making digital repayments through these third parties, especially group lending clients who normally make cash payments at collection points, staff are continuing field visits while following social distancing measures. Clients also have the option to visit DAWN’s branch locations where staff is practicing social distancing. DAWN is also reimbursing the transport cost to their customers who choose to visit in-person.
  2. Offering new products to help clients adapt: DAWN created a new “Emergency Top-Up Loan” product to support clients’ businesses that have been impacted negatively by coronavirus. This loan is being disbursed in parallel with the client’s existing loan.
  3. Rescheduling repayments and providing prepaid loans: DAWN is proactively contacting customers to reassess their repayment capacity and determine rescheduling options. In some cases, customers can request a prepaid loan and deduct a certain amount from it to offset the remaining balance of their existing loan.
  4. Setting up help desks in response to COVID-19: DAWN’s customer service representatives at their head office and branches are available to help clients in any way that they can.

Meeting customers’ evolving needs

DAWN’s new efforts allow them to help the people and businesses that are struggling most right now, and to support entrepreneurs that have found new opportunities to grow their businesses and serve their communities despite the circumstances. U Kaung Htike Kyaw, a DAWN customer located in Yangon, runs a small business that produces personal care products, including a wide range of soaps and hand sanitizers. When the pandemic arrived, he expanded his offerings and began producing different types and sizes of hand sanitizers to fill a need in the market. He was able to expand his market even further by selling his products online. By adjusting his business operations to suit his customers’ new and evolving needs, he’s keeping his business running and continuing to earn an income.

U Kaung Htike Kyaw expanded his personal care business’s line of hand sanitizers during the pandemic.

We’ve seen how digital financial tools can open up opportunities for people in Myanmar. Most adults in Myanmar have a cell phone and the vast majority of those phones are smartphones, giving a significant portion of the population access to the internet. The opportunity of digitization has never been more critical for entrepreneurs than it is now. Beyond creating new ways to access financial services, digitization allows small business owners like U Kaung to continue selling online so they can withstand this downturn. By finding ways to continue serving customers during the pandemic, DAWN is giving entrepreneurs the support they need to adapt to challenging times and build new capabilities that will help them continue to thrive in the future.

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