Name : Jodi Weedon
Position : Chief Executive Officer
When did you first visit Myanmar and what was your impression back then?
I first arrived in Myanmar with my family in January this year. I immediately found myself fascinated by Yangon with all its charm, character and crumbling, colorful colonial facades. The traffic was chaotic though in comparison to my previous overseas homeJakarta- it seemed to move and there were no scooters in sight. The food was wonderful, if a little oily, and the people had the best smiles I had ever seen. Upon arriving in Yangon, my children commenced school at one of the international schools almost immediately which was another wonderful experience. A school community full of children is laughing, smiling expats all offering assistance to the new Australian family in town. The gold covered pagodas dotted all around the city were simply inspiring.
What do you think of Myanmar now?
My life in Myanmar is very different now to what it was upon our first arrival. I now admire the gold of the pagodas from the inside of a taxi en route to a meeting, dash in and out of the international school running late for an appointment- though I still hear the children laughing- and find myself eating my shan noodles faster than ever before.
While Yangon itself has not changed significantly in the year I have been here, my life has changed, as has the business environment in Myanmar as the country continues to open up to the rest of the world. Myanmar is steadily making progress in creating a business environment that will help the country sustain its strong pace of growth. The Government is pursuing business reforms which will help the country create a strong and varied private-sector which will eventually lead to more jobs and better income for the people of Myanmar. One of the things I would like to see as Myanmar continues to focus on regulatory reform is that those reforms benefit more people across all geographical areas, ethnic communities and income groups.
How did you end up as Chief Executive Officer at A-MCC?
I have been a corporate lawyer for around 15 years in various countries around the world- United Arab Emirates, China, Australia, and Indonesia. Whilst acknowledging the skills that training and working as a lawyer brought me I always felt like I would like to pursue an alternative career path- I just did not know which path. When we moved to Myanmar I decided to take a break from working in the law and use my time here as an opportunity to find an area of employment that I felt like I could really add value to Myanmar and indirectly then to the Myanmar people.
I attended the inaugural A-MCC Women in Business Leadership and Development Conference in May 2016 and was inspired by what I saw. At that event I met with several members and directors of the Chamber, and learned of the great work the Chamber was doing in promoting responsible bilateral trade and investment between Australia and Myanmar and assisting in capacity building in the private and public sectors in Myanmar. I saw a role I could play using the skill set I had gained from my background as a lawyer along with a chance to assist in capacity building the private sector in Myanmar. I was also drawn to the A-MCC after hearing more about the A-MCC Responsible Investment Working Group, and felt confident I could continue to assist the Chamber in promoting responsible investment in Myanmar by encouraging Australian businesses to share Australian best practice.
My timing was great as an opportunity came up for the role of Chief Executive Officer shortly after my attendance at the May 2016 Chamber event. I was offered the position and there started the journey.
What are your primary responsibilities?
My primary responsibilities as CEO of A-MCC are incredibly varied and include: formulation, planning and execution of events and initiatives both in Myanmar and in Australia, membership recruitment and retention, sponsorship of events and initiatives, fiscal responsibilities (budgets and financial sustainability,
Corporate Governance responsibilities including board meetings and annual general meetings as required in accordance with the company constitution and developing and maintaining a collaborative working relationship between the business, policy/governmental organizations, other regional chambers organizations to foster a strong business environment for the members.
Please explain to our readers about A-MCC.
The A-MCC is a not-for profit organization which aims to promote responsible bilateral trade and investment between Australia and Myanmar and promote closer economic ties between the two countries. The outcomes the Chamber aims to achieve are threefold: support Australian businesses seeking to enter or explore opportunities in Myanmar, promote responsible investment in Myanmar by sharing Australian best practice and assist in capacity building in the private and public sectors in Myanmar.
One of the key roles of the A-MCC is to assist Australian businesses interested in investing in Myanmar or businesses interesting in working more closely with Myanmar companies. Membership of the Chamber offers exclusive opportunity to build ties with key decision-makers across many different sectors in both Australia and Myanmar.
The Chamber aims to provide members with resources and access to networks that are needed to successfully navigate the business environment in Myanmar and gain insight into a rapidly changing market.
Expanding business in Myanmar requires establishing a wide network of contacts in both government and industry and this is essential to doing business in Myanmar. Membership with the A-MCC provides businesses with access to networking opportunities and invaluable links to key industry and government players in Australia and Myanmar.
The Myanmar Government is opening up industries such as mining, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, infrastructure, education and services. It is lifting restrictions, pursuing privatizations and encouraging foreign investment. As such Myanmar private businesses are searching for capital and modern technical expertise. Members of the A-MCC will be able to gain valuable insight into Myanmar markets though the Chamber’s initiatives such as delegations and industry working groups and our close workings with other chambers within Myanmar and across the South East Asian region.
As Myanmar transitions to an open market economy after decades of isolation, there is great scope for the Australian private sector and institutions to play a constructive role in the development of Myanmar economy. The A-MCC focuses on building a platform for Australian companies and institutions to share their world-class expertise and international best practices with their counterparts in Myanmar. At this critical juncture in Myanmar’s history Australian companies in Myanmar are in a privileged position to positively contribute to inclusive economic growth that will shape the nation’s future. With a network of almost 100 members the Chamber can act as a facilitator of best practice standards, and serve as a voice for the business community to share their knowledge for the betterment of the country.
For more information relating to A-MCC please visit www.a-mcc.com or email us at email@example.com.
How can local companies increase their participation in A-MCC?
Local Myanmar companies are welcome to join A-MCC as members. In fact I think having Myanmar, Australian and other foreign companies all in one membership group improves the networking opportunities and the opportunities for each company and individual to build relationships and meaningful partnerships. We also actively seek out attendance at our events by local Myanmar companies both directly and through reaching out to organizations like UMFCCI and Myanmar Young Entrepreneurs Association. The A-MCC Women in Business Leadership Event held in May 2016 was largely co-organized by the Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs’ Association. These relationships and contacts benefit all of our members.
In which ways is working in Myanmar different from working in any other countries?
Working in Myanmar can be more challenging than working in other countries in the region. In many ways this is also what makes it more fulfilling when things go well. With such huge recent changes in the political landscape, current changes in the regulatory regime, and the opening up of the country to the rest of the world more generally it is a fascinating place to be doing business right now, and unlike anywhere else in the world. These changes bring with them more uncertainty, a lot of bureaucracy and red tape, though also a craving for knowledge and improving the current state of the economy and lives of the Myanmar people. The low level of highly educated work force in Myanmar also makes it difficult to engage and train local employees though the thirst for knowledge from the local staff is incredibly heartening.
What are your current and future projects for A-MCC?
The A-MCC will continue to deliver on its objectives and goals for its members and for the broader business community. We will continue the great work of the A-MCC Responsible Investment Working Group in 2017 and will be holding briefings and workshops to the Myanmar Government on the Position Paper “Incentivising Shared Value ” developed by the Responsible Investment Working Group; We will also further work with Myanmar government through the positive work our Mining Law Working Group has been engaged in to date. We will be rolling out our Women in Business Leadership agenda for 2017 which will involve events and workshops for Myanmar women throughout internal Women Week in March 2017 followed by our annual Women in Business Leadership Conference in May 2017. There will also be event and workshops aimed at promoting the great work women in Myanmar are doing and aim at capacity building in this space which will be held on a regular basis throughout 2017.
Other initiatives the A-MCC has planned for 2017 include: Working in partnership with the Australian Government on a business delegation,
Delivering a Good Corporate Governance Series of seminars providing members with the opportunity to cohost an event with the Chamber in their relevant industry with a focus on promoting anti-corruption and Transparency measures,
Hosting events in conjunction with The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) and Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI),
Delivering capacity building seminars providing opportunities for members to co-host an event with the Chamber, Opportunities to engage with senior government leaders to positively influence public policy,
Increased engagement with the Myanmar business community, Increased frequency of events across Australia providing members with the opportunity to showcase their Myanmar experience, Increased volume of strategic events and briefings in both Australia and Myanmar.
What is your view on Myanmar economy in the coming year?
The IMF’s world economic outlook published earlier this year projects GDP growth of 8.6% in Myanmar this year – the highest in the world. High levels of inflation are typical of fast growing economies like this one. I also think foreign investment is likely to increase following the full implementation of the Investment Law and Companies Act, bringing with it higher employment rates.
The Myanmar Government will need to spend a lot on important works related to health, education and infrastructure (amongst other critical initiatives) and as such I see that they will have to do a lot more raising revenue through increasing of taxes and other measures. MI: From a business standpoint, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing you and your team in next 1-3 years?
When the Chamber was first incorporated in early 2013 there were inherent difficulties with doing business in Myanmar: poor infrastructure (especially electricity), a lot of bureaucracy and red tape, and a lack of rule of law (ambiguous laws making the practical application of those laws unpredictable). Given the developing nature of the economy, the changing regulatory environment and the presence of state-owned enterprises and major conglomerates in the market, obtaining information on individual business and market conditions has been challenging.
Whilst these drawbacks to doing business in Myanmar in the past still, to a certain extent, exist, Myanmar’s recent political and economic reforms have led the nation towards transparent governance and sustainable economic development. The IMF recently reported Myanmar as the fastest-growing economy in the world in 2016. The economy is forecast to grow 8.4%, buoyed by a recovery in the agricultural sector and an increase in investment. Whilst foreign direct investment was forecast to double in 2016 this has not come to fruition. Despite this increased consumer and investor confidence, and rising exports, have boosted the economy significantly. The regulatory landscape is unfolding under the new government and the future looks promising. A number of laws and regulations, including Myanmar’s Foreign Investment Law have just been passed and the implementing regulations are currently being drafted in close collaboration with various sectors including the private sector. As such I think Australian businesses considering doing business in Myanmar should have increased confidence that, with the support of networks such as the A-MCC they are in a better position to face any obstacles that may arise.
What effect do you think that the sudden influx of foreign companies/nationals would have?
The presence of foreign investors will have important positive impacts on Myanmar’s economy. An influx of foreign companies will directly create jobs for a large number of laborers, and upgrade the capacity of production for both domestic consumption and export. This will generate economic growth.
The implementation of fundamental political and economic reforms, following years under economic embargo and severe shortages has left Myanmar in a state of much needed capital.
Foreign investment should constitute a good source of much-needed capital for economic development in Myanmar’s early stages however it must fit in Myanmar’s broad framework for economic reforms.
The potential benefits of a sudden influx of foreign investment may not be materialized effectively in the absence of supporting regulatory regime, labor skills, and infrastructure. A sudden influx of foreign investors also needs to be focused on the right sectors for Myanmar, rather than an inflow across a large range of sectors which may result in an inefficiency of resources thereby not achieving the full value/ potential of the foreign investment. This is why I see consultation with potential investors and other stakeholders to be of immense importance in the preparation of the implementing regulations. Finally, the policy and economic environment for private business operations requires stability, transparency, and predictability. Foreign investors with an established presence in Myanmar would prefer a stable environment to make good production and business decisions. Sudden and unexpected changes (sometimes reversals) of policies, including those related to foreign-invested industries, would be detrimental.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to invest in Myanmar?
Do your due diligence; be set to deal with poor infrastructure, power cuts, bureaucracy and red tape. Have realistic timing expectations when setting your business model- be in it for the long haul- it may take a while but it’ll be an interesting experience!
If you could make one major change to any government policy, what would it be?
Decentralization- I see huge benefits in the government divulging responsibility on budget to regional and then township level. I think this would allow local government to deliver responsive services to their local communities.
How are you enjoying your days in Myanmar?
When I am not working I like to walk around one of the beautiful lakes in Yangon, wander around the colorful, chaotic streets of downtown, eat the Myanmar food from local markets, attend my children’s soccer matches and enjoy the peace and quiet of my home in Golden Valley after all of this! My family and I also enjoy travelling around Myanmar having visited Malawmayaing, HpaAn, Myeik and islands, Bagan, Bago, Mandalay and Mogok and surrounds. It truly is a beautiful country.[/paypal]