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U.S. Delegation Visits Myanmar to Invest in Community-Based Businesses

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The US Department of State, in cooperation with the Richardson Center and the Aspen Institute, led a partnership delegation to Myanmar to invest in community-based businesses from April 28-May 3. During the trip, the delegation had discussions with government ministers, entrepreneurs, civil societies and farmers in Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw. In the discussions, they talked about politics and social and economic investment.

"Last year, many in the international community thought Myanmar was changing in very positive ways, but Myanmar is now at a precarious point in its democratic transition," said Mickey Bergman, the leader of the delegation and vice-chairman of the Richardson Center.

The delegation spoke with companies and professional economists about business, investments, agriculture, food security, telecommunication, education, power and water in Myanmar.

"We met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Vice President when we were here in 2012. The most interesting thing is that the opposition and ruling parties talked about the country's same two needs. The first was for training during the democratic transition, especially for MPs as they need to know how to manage the budget and to know how to serve their constituencies. The second was to invite people-friendly investment opportunities to Myanmar," said Bergman.

The delegation consisted of investors and social entrepreneurs working on various products that help communities. They have worked in other transitioning countries such as Mali, Haiti, Kenya, and India.

"Our people-friendly investment is different from other investments. We are looking for opportunities that can be useful for many people. We want to invest in long-term, beneficial products for the community," said Mr. Mouhsine Serra, founder of Prakti and cookstove inventor.

And he said that although community-based businesses are small investments, they can create job opportunities and reach the grassroots level practically. Moreover, community-based businesses can give security to a community without impacting the social environment.

Mr. Robin Weir said there is a question about how political stability can impact foreign investment and Myanmar needs to develop good economic policy for the future.

"Most investment companies are interested in Myanmar, but they are probably still waiting for the results of the coming election to invest," said Mr. Weir, an international lawyer based in Shanghai.

This delegation was led by Drew O'Brien, Special Representative for Global Partnerships at the US Department of State.

The progress that results from the delegation will be apparent quickly, Bergman told Myanmar Times. "The Richardson Center and the Aspen Institute are non-governmental organizations that are able to be flexible despite any changes in the government's attitude," Bergman said.