Seeing CSR as an enabler for business development, combined with a strong ability to execute, has resulted in Ooredoo in Myanmar supporting an impressive suite of development projects. By providing connectivity and digital content to libraries, schools, and mobile health clinics, Ooredoo is empowering youth and women in cities and rural areas.
During a November 2014 visit to Myanmar I met with Ooredoo Myanmar´s Head of Business Development, Partnerships, and CSR, Carson Wolfer. Although not an authorised spokesperson for the company, Carson was happy to share his experiences.
“CSR has been an enabler for us in Myanmar. CSR here is not just about giving back to local communities but also a mutual benefit for the company – and that´s huge”
Since launching their mobile services in Myanmar just three months ago, Ooredoo has already supported a mobile school for young boys, planned to make mobile health information services available through apps, connected libraries to the Internet, and started an English-language project in cooperation with Oxford University and Yangon University. More programs are in the pipeline, including mobile health clinics offering both health education and counselling, as well as a program that will train and employ 30 thousand women as mobile retail agents.
” In essence we´re educating their staff so that the tea boys get primary education as all kids should have – and that´s where we saw the sustainability”
Let´s take a closer look at two of the CSR projects that have already gained some momentum, revealing an innovative spirit and drive that inspires and empowers local communities:
The myME mobile education project is a mobile school for young boys who work in tea shops. Two busses serve as mobile classrooms, providing 200 children with basic education in a safe environment. The teaching is carried out by two instructors who divide the boys into two groups: one group receives instruction on the bus, while the other group is thaught in the tea shop. In order to create a safe learning environment myME put a lot of effort into the planning phase of the project., securing both consent and understanding from the shop owners to work with the boys. Because the aim of the project is to educate the boys so that they can move on from the tea shops if they want and to increase their employment opportunities, this meant that the owners would eventually have to find new staff. Securing their consent and understanding, along with giving the tea boys the opportunity to move on to more gainful employment was where Ooredoo saw the sustainability.
“We focus on the three things that people said were the most important to them personally – and that was health, education, and community development”
Ooredo´s license commitments include providing network connectivity in rural Myanmar as well as connecting public places as libraries. In the BeyondAccess initiative Ooredoo will provide good network infrastructure to 5000 libraries across Myanmar. Tablets in the libraries will have applications that allow the general public to access information about topics such as health, education, and agriculture – which fall under the three core Ooredoo CSR pillars. Many believe this is only the start of building a digital future in Myanmar.
CSR has been a business enabler for Ooredoo in Myanmar and community engagment is part of their corporate strategy. The business roll out consists of a cross-functional team that includes marketing, sales and distribution, network, and community engagement. In the license requirements there is a long-term committment to invest in CSR for the people of Myanmar. As the amount is not an insignificant one, Ooredoo´s management and board want to see the effects of their investments, such as the number of cases treated in their mobile health clinics. The combination of incorporating CSR as a part of the operational strategy and wanting to see immediate effects of their programs might be one reason why Ooredoo has been able to successfully set up such an impressive number of development programs in Myanmar in such a short period of time.
“Our community engagement is an integrated part of our business in that it is aligned with network roll-out and marketing”
Identifying good local partners and making sure the CSR programs are aligned with local needs have been important to Ooredoo´s entry into Myanmar. Because there is so much funding to various NGOs in the country it has been important to identify and partner with the NGOs that create real impact and focus where the need is greatest. One example of an NGO that Ooredoo has partnered up with is PACT. USAID is one of the larger donors to PACT, which ensures that the work done in the communities is tracked and evaluated for local impact on a regular basis.
“Because we´re spending a not insignificant amount on CSR our management would like to see the effects measured in for example number of people being treated in our mobile health clinics”
CSR and community engagemenet has eased the work required in rolling out a nation-wide network for mobile communications, while at the same time increasing Ooredoo´s understanding of local needs in communities. This strategic engagement at a alocal level creates trust and understanding for Ooredoo´s goals, which are to build mobile network capacity while remaining committed to CSR. The news has spread virally, providing a strong asset when putting up towers and rolling out infrastructure. Having this trust and acceptance within the local communities has been a great enabler for Ooredoo on a very fundamental level, as it shows that the company´s work is not just about giving back to local communities, but also about creating true shared value for Ooredoo and the local populace.
Prior to becoming head of CSR in Myanmar Carson Wolfer worked with investor relations. Going from investor relations to CSR might seem like a big leap but because there is an ever-increasing demand for ethical funds there are also an increasing number of investors interested in learning about what companies do with CSR across the company portfolio. Investors want this information before they invest in a company, something Carson was well aware of in terms of Ooredoo´s CSR programs. That said, for Carson Wolfer to go from ivestor relations to CSR was a paradigm shift from a personal point of view: The team he heads is a mix of people coming both from both industry and NGOs. It has also been important for Carson to have a good mix in terms of experiences and perspectives, so the team has local experts as well as some international expatriats like himself.
“The business enablement aspect of CSR and how that is not check writing but a benefit for the local communities and something that makes our business more succesful – I absolutely believe that we see that here”
Ooredoo was one of two mobile operators to win lisences to build nation-wide networks for mobile telecommunications in Myanmar. In August 2014 they launched their first service and have now been in operation for three months. Myanmar is one of the least-developed countries in south-east Asia and has caught the roving eye of foreign investors, mainly due to it´s friendly and capable population, as well as the country´s rich natural resources. Many will follow the digital transformation of Myanmar and hope for a properous and peaceful future for both the country and its people.
“Mobile telecommunications changes countries and will absolutely change Myanmar. It has already started and if we can write CSR as a part of that – that´s how we start to see that propagate”