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Teaching schools a business approach

In Myanmar they learn donations are not enough

Donations are the major source of money covering school expenses for underprivileged rural children in Myanmar. When these sources are not sufficient, schools must consider starting businesses and becoming more involved with companies to be able to continue providing education and a better future for these needy ones.

Social organisers from other countries recently made a site tour to three Buddhist monastery and nunnery schools in rural areas of Yangon. They came up with an idea on how to encourage local humanitarian agencies and nonprofit organisations to help schools generate income activities or businesses to earn higher income.

They pointed out that schools should produce their own products based on their capacity and skills, and sell them. Also, they were urged to produce items to be outsourced or subcontracted for production by other companies.

These groups of social organisers came from Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. They visited Wanawarti Monastic School (WMS), Sit See Taw School (SSTS) and Zabu Oak Shoung School (ZOSS) located on the outskirts of Yangon last week.

WMS has provided free education to around 120 students at primary education level, while SSTS has offered free education to 490 and ZOSS to 600 students in primary and lower secondary education levels. Also helped were a number of novice monks and nuns.

The schools serve rural students in poor families who cannot afford state education where their parents have to pay.

The assistance costs WMS about 700,000 kyats (around Bt26,000) and SSTS 2,000,000 kyats (around Bt74,000) per month to cover all expenses. ZOSS has a problem with its teachers' salaries as it has to hire 23 educators for its 600 students, an expense of around 900,000 kyats (more than Bt33,000) a month.

"The school funds a music concert once a year. Mostly, we have to wait for individual donors as the budget to cover all the expenses is not sufficient. So, we cannot provide enough stationery to all students. Moreover, when our students enter upper secondary schools at other state schools, we have to pay for their enrolments," said Pyin Nlyar Thenggyi, principal of WMS.

"When we run out of money, we must stop providing free lunches for the students," she said.

ZOSS has not been able to finish a new building that was started with assistance from the Civic Society Initiative (CSI) although the school has a company sponsor and regular donors.

So far, SSTS is the only school that has started up small businesses. However, the income from them is not enough, according to Bedanda Eain Daka, a monk who is principal of the school. "We must still rely on donations."

It has produced arms bowls for sale in Mandalay and provides a batteryrecharging service for local people. It has also produced charcoal bricks for cooking at the school.

ZOSS has grown some plants, including banana, mango and local trees and people use their leaves to pay respect at pagodas. It plans to sell its produce.

After its visit, the group from overseas brainstormed and presented recommendations to social agencies, nonprofit organisations and nongovernmental organisations during a workshop at the British Council in Myanmar last week.

The group recommended schools with the capability to make uniforms for their novice monks and nuns to sell to other monastery and nunnery schools. It suggested CSI seek people with business expertise to help the schools as well as find markets for their uniforms and other products.

The schools could also work as outsourcing or subcontracting agencies for companies for which they produce items for sale.

Also, they were urged to conduct more fund raising activities, seek inkind donations from companies and propose interesting corporate social responsibility projects.

This group of social entrepreneurs was among four from Asia and Europe looking at education, environment, public health, and tourism and heritage, and sharing recommendations as part of Skills for Social Entrepreneurs (SfSE).

SfSE is a global programme operated by the British Council and its partners that supports enterprises which employ business approaches to social and environmental needs and make a positive impact in their communities.

Alan Smart, Director of the British Council in Myanmar said: "Social enterprise has a great future. Myanmar is facing great changes in development and huge opportunities. So, people everywhere will be looking creatively to take advantage of this moment when people can invest in work ethically and with consideration of the rights of communities.

"There is a very active and powerful civil society in Myanmar and the British Council has been working with these people for a very long time. I'm convinced that harnessing the power of that active social enterprise and creating civil society around it should ensure a really good future for the movement here," he said

"This is the first exchange between Asia and Europe that we have organised. The main value of the workshop for Asia and Europe will be in the connections that have been made," Sol Iglesias, director of Intellectual Exchange of Asia-Europe Foundation said. This would lead to interregional dialogue and exchange of business opportunities, cooperation, capacity and learning how to develop policies to encourage and promote social enterprises.

The second workshop will be in Hanoi in Vietnam in June. It will focus more on impact - how to measure the influence of social enterprises and the targeting of more participants, including social investors and capacity builders like training and academic institutes that encourage social entrepreneurship, she said.






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