UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) is a UK Government department working with businesses based in the United Kingdom to assist their success in international markets, and with overseas investors looking to the UK as an investment destination.
Lisa Weedon came to Yangon in January 2013 to open up UKTI within the British Embassy compound and build the team for the unit. Previously, the department was not represented in Myanmar.
Prior to this, Lisa was a private secretary to the Minister for Trade in the Headquarters of UKTI. It was her first overseas posting and she has been in Myanmar for three and half years.
When was the impression of the country when you first landed in Myanmar?
It has to be the people. I immediately felt the warm welcome from taxi drivers to people at the airport. I felt very comfortable, safe and welcome here. You cannot feel that like in many other countries.
You can also feel how quickly things are changing. People are optimistic with the hope that anything was possible; with opportunities abound in this beautiful land. There are still many things to be done, many mountains to climb that it can be overwhelming sometimes.
How did you end up in the current position?
Actually I applied for the vacancy. There was an open advertisement at the Department. I do not know much about Myanmar then. My boss, Lord Stephen Graham, actually had advised me to go to Asia.
What are your primary responsibilities in UKTI?
I actually run the UKTI in Myanmar, overseeing all of the British Embassy trade and trade promotions activities. We have a small team of eight staff. My first job was actually to set up the team. Once the team is in place,we started finding opportunities for British companies. Parallel to this is forming of British Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar in 2014 July. The Chamber has around 200 members at present.
Nowadays I spend more time on the setting the strategic direction for the unit. My usual tasks include day-to-day management, briefing for the British companies, reporting to Headquarter with the latest changes in the country, etc. Its actually networking and doing all the activities required to successfully network various parties.
What current projects your team has been working on?
Actually there are two ways through which we help businesses:
- We handle enquiries from British companies. This is our reactive work.
- We also go outward to look for opportunities for them, such as infrastructure works, restoration of heritage buildings, etc., where British companies have superior experience. This is our proactive work.
Of course, to enter into a market like Myanmar, the British company must have the correct risk appetite, emerging markets experience and the right cultural orientation.
Is there any success story of British businesses venturing together with local businesses or Myanmar government, because of UKTI?
We have many successful ventures, especially in Oil and Gas sector. Shell and British Gas have tie-ups with local businesses as well as the government. Unilever is building two factories here. There is also GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) providing vaccines for consumers and government in Myanmar. Even at SME level, a British company ‘Tudor’ is supplying photo paper to Myanmar businesses.
What is your opinion on current political transition?
The past three years have been the most amazing three years of my life. It has been a privilege to witness the history unfolding right before our eyes. The elections and the transition are carried out as well as it could have been. It was extraordinary. The country as well as the previous administration deserves enormous credit
Looking forward, people are incredibly hopeful and optimistic. The new government would need some time and support to get the right things done, to continue to build capacity and to direct appropriate policies. There is enormous amount of goodwill towards Myanmar from across the world.
Can you explain on the Profession Women Network that you are leading?
During my first year here, I kept meeting impressive and successful local women. Very successful Myanmar women are leading large enterprises such as Citimart, Chatrium hotel, etc. International businesswomen would like to network with them and vice verca. But they did not know each other. So, I connect with MWEA (Myanmar Women Entrepreneur Association) and Expat Network and with their support, founded the Professional Women Network (PWN). It was in 2014.
The first major event for PWN was held in March 2014, with more than 100 participants, with equal representation from local and international delegates. In addition to this once-a-year event, we usually gather informally once every two to three months. More than 400 people attended this year annual event, held on International Women Day.
The British Chamber will take over the responsibilities of PWN, after my contract with UKTI ends here.
How has your view on the role of women in Myanmar changed since you set up that network?
Before coming to Myanmar, I did not think much of the issues of women in here. Now I realize that there are many opportunities for women to succeed in Myanmar. I am now more impressed by Myanmar women, who shared their challenges and experiences through the PWN.
How can local businesses engage UKTI?
In fact, UKTI would like to encourage local businesses to engage more too. We have held events for local businesses. British businesses definitely need a good local partner here. We can be the business matchmakers. Local businesses can send in their contacts and profiles to be included in our database and distribution lists. I also would like to encourage them to join the British Chamber, as it held monthly events and talks to cater to both British and local businesses.
If you could suggest one policy change for the government, what would it be? It would be to have more certainty and consistency. Investment in Myanmar is for the long term. Investors need assurances that Laws will not be changed overnight that would make their million dollar investments not worthwhile.
We heard you are leaving Yangon. What are your future plans?
I will be heading back to London on May 6th to be the Chief of Staff for UKTI. I will definitely come back and visit Myanmar in the future.[/paypal]