Interview with Ekayi Maw Koo
Chief Executive Officer of AustCham Myanmar

CEO of AustCham Myanmar
Please introduce about yourself and AustCham background.

When I returned to Myanmar, I was not keen to join a company or one entity. Since I have a Myanmar background, I wanted to do something that I felt would contribute to Myanmar’s development. I wanted to help not just one entity but many people or many organizations. And when this opportunity came up as CEO of AustCham Myanmar, I thought this is a great way to combine my Myanmar and Australian background with my business and finance background, in an area I feel quite comfortable in. It made perfect sense to take up this role as CEO in facilitating shared economic prosperity for both Australian and Myanmar companies, as well as advocating with the government, capacity building and networking.

How did you end up being CEO of AustCham Myanmar?

When I returned to Myanmar, I was not keen to join a company or one entity. Since I have a Myanmar background, I wanted to do something that I felt would contribute to Myanmar’s development. I wanted to help not just one entity but many people or many organizations. And when this opportunity came up as CEO of AustCham Myanmar, I thought this is a great way to combine my Myanmar and Australian background with my business and finance background, in an area I feel quite comfortable in. It made perfect sense to take up this role as CEO in facilitating shared economic prosperity for both Australian and Myanmar companies, as well as advocating with the government, capacity building and networking.

What are the objectives of the AustCham Myanamr ?

AustCham Myanmar is a not-for-profit organization and our main aim is to promote responsible bilateral trade , investment  and foster closer trade and economic ties between Australia and Myanmar.

What are your primary responsibilities in AustCham?

I have four main objectives at AustCham Myanmar. The first one is advocacy which is to support Australian companies when they come into Myanmar, serving as an effective vehicle to voice ideas, suggestions and feedback in terms of policies and regulatory proposals. The second one is networking to connect companies, individuals, strengthening collaborations and forging relationships. The third, is capacity building. Australia is very fortunate to have developed international best practices over many years. We wish to promote responsible investment and Australian best practice by sharing this and building capacity in Myanmar. This brings us to the fourth objective which is knowledge sharing. As AustCham Myanmar, we hold seminars, and events to facilitate knowledge sharing .

Who are the prominent members of AustCham?

We have a large number of Australian companies as well as Myanmar companies. Our premium corporate members include ANZ Bank, Woodside, AYA Bank, Kantar, Max Myanmar, Coffey and other companies. We also have many other large partners, premium sponsors and members in AustCham Myanmar.

What are the benefits of being a member in AustCham?

I think that there are lots of benefits of being a member of AustCham. If you want to do business and enter into Myanmar market, or if you are a Myanmar company wanting to expand and connect with Australia, AustCham can help facilitate to build these relationships.  I think it is not just foreign companies entering into Myanmar but it is also very valuable for Myanmar companies looking for opportunities to expand abroad by sourcing new input from Australia or reaching new markets. 

Our membership is varying. We have premium corporate members, regular corporates, SMEs (small-medium enterprises) and individuals. From the individual perspective, the value of being a member of the chamber may be the networking, knowledge sharing, seminars or news and information which we share with our member base. For corporate members, the benefit will be connecting with business, NGO’s, and government to build relationships. Myanmar is at a stage where there is so much change and opportunity occurring. So, now is the time to get involved in developing and shaping Myanmar’s business environment.  For companies to invest in Myanmar, it is crucial to have robust tax, legal, financials and employment systems etc. 

Could you please share the success that AustCham Myanmar has had so far?

AustCham Myanmar hosts many events throughout the year. But I would say two highlights are “The Responsible Investment Working Group and our Women in Business and Leadership Development Conference”. The Responsible Investment Working Group aims to address how the private sector can work with stakeholders to promote responsible investment, business activities that work for the long-term interest of Myanmar and its people.  It pulls together prominent Australian and Myanmar businesses, and non-governmental organizations to source best practice case studies and solutions that can provide guidance to policy makers and the wider business community. The other highlight is our annual “Women in Business and Leadership Development Conference”. This annual event aims to support, empower, and advocate for equal opportunities for Myanmar women, and to give them opportunities to participate in Myanmar’s economic growth.

Why does AustCham Myanmar mainly focus on women’s empowerment here?

I would definitely say that women’s empowerment is very important and Myanmar is in a very unique position as our economy and country open up. There is so much opportunity and so much potential in our country. And for us to reach that full potential, we need 50 percent that Myanmar women represent to fully participate. I also believe that Myanmar women are very good financial managers – often they’re involved in household finances, and small businesses.  They are the ones running the little tea shops or the variety goods shops on the streets. There is a natural entrepreneurism that Myanmar women have. And that’s good, not only for women but for men, for families and the wider community. When a woman succeeds, a lot of the money will be spent on the family. So, we see financial benefits and many social and environmental benefits when women are fully participating and succeeding in business.

How do you think of gender equality in Myanmar while creating a strong culture of women empowerment in here?

To be honest, gender equality is not just a Myanmar issue. It is a global issue because around the world, women play an important role and they contribute so much. In Myanmar, a lot needs to be done for gender equality and women empowerment. The wonderful thing is that we are aware of it and we have initiatives and events such as our Women in Business and Leadership Development conference. We are still in the early days of opening up which means that we are at the right time to talk about this issue and to start to put it into the agenda, to make sure that as economic development and incomes rise, it is equally shared by men and women. Gender equality is not about one over the other, but is about equality and inclusiveness, that economic benefits coming into the country benefits both men and women equally. 

Could you please share your opinion on what the current state of affairs in Myanmar?

In my personal view, I have come to Myanmar from Australia after having lived, studied and worked abroad. I’ve come from a market which is developed and very mature, whereas Myanmar is just opening up. It is very much in its infancy in terms of development. It is also in the midst of a lot of changes taking place because of my Myanmar background. Myanmar is much further than I would have ever expected. For me, to see the country opening up and to see the opportunities arising, it is really exciting and that’s why I want to be part of this journey as Myanmar develops and takes its place within Asia, where it once was. I’m very hopeful that we can achieve so much within our country.

How does the downturn in economy impacted AustCham members?

In every economy, there are always cycles. There will always ups and. Myanmar is currently at a point where economically things are more challenging. In terms of AustCham members, most of the bigger members see the investment in Myanmar as a long-term investment. For them, they are looking through the ups and downs of a cycle, and focusing upon the longer-term potential of Myanmar which continues to offer significant opportunities. They are committed to their long-term responsible investment in Myanmar.

What are the AustCham’s future plans?

I would say that we would continue growing our Women in Business Leadership and Development initiative, there is opportunity to impact and reach more Myanmar women. In terms of working groups, we continue to look at creating shared value for our members, Australian and Myanmar business, civil society organizations as well as government. 

Being relatively new to this role, I would like to see AustCham Myanmar really engage on the Myanmar side with the government, non-government organizations and the local Myanmar business community. I really want to tap into Myanmar members. I would like to see AustCham grow through promoting trade and investment between Myanmar and Australia so both countries can develop and mutually prosper together in this journey.

If you could suggest one change in government policy, what would it be?

In my perspective, it is very challenging to simplify put down to one thing, especially for Myanmar.  In economics, there will always be many moving pieces and so many factors that are required to reach a result. As CEO of AustCham Myanmar, I am in my capacity, in this role, helping to bring in more investment, more bilateral trade between Myanmar and other foreign countries. We have Myanmar people returning from abroad with their knowledge and experience and they bring back something that contributes and  people who have new opportunities are stepping up locally. So for me, it’s not one thing but a collaboration of many different factors coming together and all these individuals contributing to Myanmar and there is so much that we need to do and can do together.