Into the wild: Myanmar goes online – re-publica 2014 talk

As South-East Asia braces itself for a more unified and open market some of the former ‘closed’ states have to open up and allow international organizations and companies to set up work and businesses. While Singapore and Malaysia are quite westernized and Thailand tries to establish itself as central hub for South-East Asia, Myanmar is in the middle of a transition period. Just turned onto a path back to democracy after having been a military dictatorship for decades the country prepares itself for the arrival of high-end technology, social media and mobile internet. Along with that comes the fear of threats from the west, IT overkill and the fear of exploitation as a host of cheap outsourcing companies. Investments from the west vs. natural growth and how to find a decent common ground will be crucial over the next few months and years in order to define Myanmar’s way out of the wild.


While we all grew up with technology and, many of us, with the internet, we all had the chance to learn how to use it. Now, in a country that was set aside for decades, people have to handle an incredibly high technological impact. How does this impact look like? How could it be used? What are the dangers and possibilities that come along? This is not only important for the people in those areas but also for companies that are about to set up business in the region. What’s important to know? How should the local market be approached? What is likely to happen?

While having not only worked with educational institutions but also with internet start-ups (while running, NGOs and professional service providers it became clear that Myanmar as well as investors are facing an incredible difficult challenge in order to not fall into a wild west ‘shoot first, ask later’ manner when it comes to technology and its usage.

When talking about Asia most people automatically think about China. Or Japan. When talking about technology in Asia most people automatically think about China. Or Japan. However there is, of course, more. Asia is more and in between China and India there is a region that deserves more attention than it gets. South-East Asia is on the verge. The verge towards complete modernization, cultural change or, another possible outcome, chaos.

With the Asean Economic Community coming close to becoming reality Southeast Asia has a lot of work to do and the all member states try to get into a good starting position for the most important change in recent, economical, history. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will introduce the AEC treaty in 2015 which will enable citizens of ASEAN countries to work freely within AEC members. Furthermore foreign investments will become easier and more welcome. With those news many western companies are waiting to expand to Southeast Asia and into such emerging markets. In order to be ready for an expected economical boost due to investments from the west ASEAN member states change policies, introduce new laws, try to increase English proficiency among their citizens and open their culture and countries towards the west.

Until not long ago (2010) Myanmar used to be a very closed and distant country. Lead by a military government without open elections and free access to international communication or news.

To this day Myanmar is home for the so called ‘most prosecuted people on earth’, the Rohingya, is in the news regarding its fight between ethnical and religious minorities and it’s strict Electronic Transation Act which basically allows the government to check on every internet user and to punish them for inappropriate behavior.

Thankfully change is happening. Global media picks up more and more on Myanmar and with international companies seeing the potential that lies in ‘The Golden Land’ the government is forced to show more transparency.

This talk will focus on Myanmar’s current state and answer questions like how did online business, culture and environment change, how are things being done right now and what can we expect from the future now that multi-million dollar deals have been made. The founder of Myanmar’s first local social network once said: “It’s amazing to see what is happening here right now. 60 Million new internet users out of nothing”.  With that in mind and the news that In March 2014 a global telecommunications provider established Myanmar’s first independent international Internet connection it is obvious that change is happening very fast and it will be crucial to understand how to leverage this change in the right way and how to be an active and important part of it.

Here’s the link to the official re:publica announcement.

Audio talk:

Informational & feedback resources – Thank you to:

Further Readings / Resources

Half of the largest Myanmar companies do not have a website yet, MCRB, April 2014,

Web Presence a key indicator of corporate transparency in Myanmar, DVB, April 2014,

How is Southeast Asia performing in internet speed – Tech In Asia, April 2014,

Internet Freedom in Myanmar. Chance or Curse. AlJazeera, April 2014,

Reaching Myanmar’s 60 Million People, Tech In Asia, March 2014,

Aung San Suu Kyi on Media Freedom and Responsibility, VIMEO [VIDEO], March 2014,

Entrepreneur’s Social Media Site tailor-made for Myanmar, Forbes, February 2014,

Burma: Freedom of expression in transition, July 2013,

Online and in danger in Burma, CPJ, June 2013,

Myanmar’s promising experiment with Internet, Forbes, May 2013 Freedom,

Until 2010 Burmese Newspapsers were not allowed to print the word censored, Colors Magazine, April 2013

Media freedom in Myanmar still Murky, Global Voices, February 2013

Literacy Rate Myanmar, Index Mundi, 2013

Burma abolishes media censorship, BBC, August 2012,

Burmese air venom towards Rohingya minorities, NY Times, June 2012

The Electronic Transactions Law (The State Peace and Development Council Law No. 5/2004), The Union of Myanmar, The State Peace and Development Council, The 12th Waxing of Kason 1366 M.E., 30th April, 2004,