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From Asean to Zaw


MANILA, Philippines — Speaking of Pinoy pride, it’s such a joy to find Filipino brands being sold, used and patronized overseas. I remember visiting Papua New Guinea for the first time in 2015 and what did I find in the supermarket? Jack and Jill potato chips and Chippy snacks from URC.

On my last visit to Saigon, there were Jollibee stores selling the same Chicken Joy in Vietnam’s foodie city. That says a lot about what we Filipinos eat and what we can share with our ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors.?And the list goes on – Oishi chips in groceries across China as well as in Vietnam and South Africa (and soon in Bangladesh), beauty and fashion brands in the malls and food like biscuits and cookies in supermarkets all over Asia.?Is this about ASEAN integration or more like Filipino brands becoming regional and soon global? We all take pride in Jollibee’s expansion in the US and Canada and now we can say it’s a global brand with Pinoy roots or origins.

In Yangon, we were invited to what is now the third store of Penshoppe in Myanmar at City Mall. This month they will open their fourth store in Myanmar Plaza, one of the biggest shopping malls there. Pride is what we felt while the Myanmar franchisees asked us to join the photo shoot for the store-opening event.

The same franchise company, the Earth Group of Companies, is also a partner of Asia’s biggest companies like Lion (Thailand) Co. Ltd. and Sappe Public Co. Ltd. for over 20 years. The company teamed up with another Filipino brand, Universal Robina Corp. (URC), in 2016.

Ma Khine Zaw, the firm’s woman founder and CEO, is involved in a wide range of businesses. Besides retail and distribution, she helps solve the shortage of electricity supply nationwide and creates green towns by generating renewable solar energy for rural electrification and off-grid rooftop solar systems for factories. This she started two decades ago within the limitation of the rules and regulations of the Myanmar government. Thus she was recognized by the ASEAN as the first Myanmar company to be awarded the ASEAN Energy Award in 2014.

Zaw also empowers thousands of women in the country by establishing the first export-oriented manufacturing facility for electric and electronic components 20 years ago. Partnering with the Japanese Tamura Corp., in 2014, she expanded the business and created more jobs for Myanmar women. Now, the manufacturing sector of Earth Group of Companies has over 1,500 women workers. Her business venture made her receive the first Myanmar ASEAN Priority Integration Business award.?Zaw also joint ventured with a leading Japanese engineering consulting firm to support Myanmar’s infrastructure development, health, resettlement and disaster management. Furthermore, under her management and guidance, Earth Group of Companies set up the logistic and forwarding business Earth Freight Forwarding Co. Ltd. in 2000.

Then in 2014, the Company partnered with K Line, the leading Japanese shipping and logistic company. One of the main objectives of the partnership is make the Myanmar border areas develop and to increase cross border trade between Myanmar and neighboring countries.

For her contribution to the development of both economy and community for Myanmar, Zaw was presented the ASEAN Outstanding Women Entrepreneurs Award by the First ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Forum in Vietnam. She was also selected and honored by the president of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. And again in 2016, Zaw received the Outstanding ASEAN Women Award by the National Council of Women of Thailand (NCWT) under the royal patronage of Her Majesty the Queen and the Ministry of Social Development & Human Security. The award was given on the auspicious occasion of the 70th anniversary celebration of His Majesty the King’s accession to the throne and the 84th birthday anniversary celebration of Her Majesty the Queen.

She received the award together with Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo.

Zaw is now serving as vice president of Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association and Myanmar Industrial Association and is an Executive Committee member of the Union of Myanmar Federation Chamber of Commerce and Industry.?Zaw is successful as a woman entrepreneur in what is usually regarded as male-dominated industries like renewable energy, electronics manufacturing and now also in more female-dominated fields like consumer goods and fashion brands. Her two daughters joined her to help sustain the success of her Earth Group of Companies.

Khine Cho Myint or NgeNge (twice awardee of ASEAN Young Entrepreneurs, Thailand Ministry of Trade and Commerce) is taking care of the retail (Penshoppe) and logistic sectors while Khine Zar Myint or TeeTee (who is also in the Myanmar Young Entrepreneurs Association) is overseeing the distribution business of consumer products and FMCG.

This is why I love visiting Myanmar. Zaw shows us the manufacturing and trading side while also having a soft side like supporting communities and textile weavers from up north in Mandalay to down south in Yangon.

A few months ago we conducted a product assessment for her women community leaders from various states – Karen, Chin, Shan – and tasted coffees from all over Burma. The result – the Myanmar women in coffee are now part of our global alliance called International Women’s Coffee Alliance and will soon reach markets beyond the ASEAN region.?She also accompanied me to a northeast Indian town called Guwahati, in the state of Assam (yes, where Assam tea comes from) to encourage women entrepreneurs to forge ahead and do business as women start-ups and to preserve their traditions in India’s now booming northeast area, Myanmar’s next door neighbor. After that visit in January, I recently found out that the doors between northeast India and Myanmar have already opened for trade and increased opportunities for women entrepreneurs like the indefatigable Ma Khine. That is truly something to look forward to for both Myanmar and Assam, and about six more states in India’s northeast region like Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura.

So how do we replicate women leaders like Ma Khine Zaw? She is an astute businesswoman who stays on top of her game and sees opportunity in any industry for a growing economy like Myanmar’s.

The secret is to build networks across the region and all over Asia. She did not have to go to India but she came to our event to meet people from different fields. She is now looking at going to Nepal to meet the South Asian women from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There is a South Asian meeting this month in Kathmandu, Nepal.Second is to be aware of international laws affecting business. She has good consultants and advisers on just about any business deal she has to make. And finally, she gives back.?Zaw is a mentor of the ASEAN Mentors (AMEN) group established during the Philippine hosting of ASEAN in 2017. She came back to speak at the Go Negosyo and AMEN mentoring events and keeps close communication with other mentors like Steve Cheah from Hong Kong and Joey Concepcion, the immediate past ASEAN Business Advisory Council chair.She also is active in the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs network (AWEN) where I met her in 2014 when AWEN was established. She often travels across the world and keeps offices in Singapore, Bangkok and soon maybe the Philippines.?Besides being good in business, she gives back to her women-led communities and maybe yet another Filipino brand – she may soon bring the Great Women platform to the Burmese people.

Source: Philstar

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