In 2018, a group of women in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar, were looking for ways to generate income to support their families and help members of their community displaced by conflict. After the breakdown of a ceasefire in 2011, Kachin State has been locked in conflict between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations. The conflict has killed thousands and more than 100,000 people currently shelter in displacement sites in Kachin and Northern Shan states. From different Kachin ethnicities, the women met through a local Baptist church and decided to pool their resources under the name “Good Mom”.
To begin with, they started to make bags and hair clips but found it difficult to sell their products locally. They decided to change their approach and move into buying and selling “longyi” and “htamein”, the male and female sarongs worn widely in Myanmar, with traditional Kachin designs.
Their first challenge was to gather the capital they needed to bulk purchase the sarongs and enable them to make some profit when reselling through their networks. They looked into private loan options but this would mean accessing unregulated credit with interest rates that can exceed 20% per month. Many who enter into these agreements become trapped in a debt spiral from which it can be almost impossible to escape.
Through their networks they heard about Community Partners International’s Sut Jat (“Prosperous Jewel”) Project that provides training, seed investments and low-interest microloans to support the launch and scale-up of women-led businesses and social enterprises in Kachin State. They decided to apply for a microloan from CPI.
In October 2019, they received a non-repayable seed fund investment of 1,500,000 MMK and a loan of 3,500,000 MMK from CPI’s Sut Jat Project to help them launch the business. The loan is for 18 months and is subject to a 2% annual interest rate. However, these interest payments are handed back to the women to reinvest in their business.
Initially, they were worried about taking a loan and their ability to repay it. However, a few months in, they began to see how they could make it work, and thought that they could have taken a larger loan. With their capital enabling them to purchase in bulk, they can ask for specific designs and unique products from their producers to help set them apart from the competition.
Having received the loan in October, the Good Mom group were not fully prepared for the high season which takes place between November and February and are playing catch-up. They have started selling to friends and relatives in Myanmar and through contacts in Malaysia and are learning as they go.
It is early days for the Good Mom group, but they are hopeful that they can build a successful business. They have pledged to use 20% of their profits to support internally displaced families in their area. Once the business is established, they hope to offer employment and income generation opportunities to other women in their community.
The Sut Jat Project is made possible through support from Community Partners International's private donors.