Rainy-day bakery in Myanmar

In Myanmar, the five-month-long monsoon season approaches. It will bring tropical storms, flooding and the potential for dengue fever outbreaks. It’s a challenging time for the country — the cost of travel will increase and goods become more expensive. For a few small businesses, however, the changing consumer patterns that follow these weather changes will also bring a benefit.

When customers enter Khin Nwe Aye’s bakery, Shoon Shoon, they immediately take in the smell of fresh bread, cookies baking and smoky heat from the ovens. Khin bakes a selection of pastries that she delivers to companies in the townships around Bago, a city northeast of Yangon. Her business does reasonably well in the hot season, but the rainy season is when it really flourishes.

“Once upon a time I was a worker in a factory and had no house and no land. I needed some money,” said Khin. “My parents were living in the village, working in the forest collecting and cutting wood. They could not support me. Some of our relatives were rich, but they did not support me. Now I have 12 workers and also I have my own brand.”

When the heat rises above 100 degrees, in the last few months of the hot season, most people stop snacking — nobody wants to eat very much in such hot weather. Most people don’t buy large quantities of pastries because they expire a day or two later.

But in the rainy season, everything changes. People enjoy snacks between meals and pastries can be stored for longer periods. The end of the hot season and beginning of the rains also means the start of school holidays when Khin’s children can lend a helping hand.

Khin has been a BRAC microfinance member for two years and, in that time, she has expanded her business and increased her profits, staff and revenue. BRAC has worked in Myanmar since 2014, offering microfinance services designed specifically for the poor through a “microfinance plus” approach. Loans are made to poor women in both rural and urban areas. The average size of a loan is USD $196. As of May, nearly $8.4 million in loans has been disbursed, benefiting more than 25,000 borrowers.

A group of microfinance borrowers meet in village organizations to collect and repay loans and discuss business strategies.

Khin’s success exemplifies the benefits of microfinance and how it can help the poor — especially women — grow their businesses. But this is just one benefit of the program. Loans are distributed through village organizations, where borrowers also participate in discussion forums. These platforms help clients share their business experience and ideas with each other. This support system is invaluable. Khin attributes her own success to the support network established in her village organization.

“I would like to be remembered as a good woman, and a good business woman,” Khin said.

Khin’s friends tell her she is a hard working, successful businesswoman. One day, she wants Shoon Shoon to be well-known everywhere in Bago. But, right now, Khin is proud that she’s turned around her business. Khin still struggles at times but, with help from her family and support from BRAC, she knows she will expand her enterprise in the future.