Match making between international corporations, and local small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), is the way Country Director Emmanuel Maillard describes Building Markets.

“We came with a program to help local suppliers integrate into supply chains of international organisations, such as CARE and Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, trying to understand what international organisations need in terms of procurement and flexibility to source locally. Their key challenge: finding suppliers, and how to engage with suppliers because of gaps that exist.”  

Even though Building Markets is classified as a non-profit (NPO) social enterprise, Emmanuel says it feels more like an enterprise that charges for capacity building programs.

These focused business training programs fill knowledge gaps in areas such as procurement (both how to set up a system and how to be attentive), financial management, sales and marketing, and the value corporate social responsibility (CSR) in company marketing. Coca Cola enrolled in an anti-corruption training program. Courses range from a one-day master class, to several one-hour classes over a one-month period, in Yangon, Mandalay, and Mawlamyine.

Green Pest Management (GPM), a pest control company that uses plant-derived agrochemicals to prevent and control pests, heard about Building Markets through an interviewee. The ownersm Kyaw Swa Tun and his wife Aye Mya Thu later sent their assistant Mya Mon Mon Aung to learn about HR management.

“We started as a family company,” says Aye Mya Thu. “I never had experience running my own company because I used to work in the US, so I was on a management team, not the owner. I had to learn everything as I went.”

Building Markets taught the young company the need for a dedicated HR person, and the importance of accurate record keeping, particularly with regard to their CSR work.

“Before, when somebody asked us for donations, we always helped them, but we didn’t have any records of how much we gave and to whom.”

GPM also recently signed the UN Global Compact after Building Markets held an information session on the initiative.

As Building Markets’ core activity is linking foreign companies with local SMEs, rather than with large and established local companies, training “is with the ambition to help them be more competitive and potentially gain some shares in their own markets.”

The impact has been significant. “We find businesses here. We have a database of 2500 SMEs in Myanmar. We profile them, give them access to international organisations, then we connect them, based on identified opportunities, like tenders or already existing demand. We’ve put in touch over 500 SMEs with potential clients, which has transformed into about 200 contracts signed with over $16m in value, since 2012.”

Recently, Building Markets worked with Heineken to find a catering contractor.  The NPO organized a factory visit for and discussion with Heineken for ten interested groups.  Four applied for the tender.

“A very large part of the evaluation was given to the social aspect: the contractor needed to recruit around the factory and provide training.  We prepared those documents, we found the companies considering the tender, and made sure they followed the timeline.  We didn’t participate in technical preparations but reminded them, ‘This is 40% of the evaluation’ and so on, and we passed the bids to Heineken.”

Typically, Building Markets seeks already established SMEs, but in this case they found an interesting individual who once lived on a boat as a cook for several years. Ultimately, Heineken chose him, and Building Markets helped him set up the business through proper government channels and recruit staff.  

Emmanuel Maillard, the Country Director of Building Markets. Photo: Hong Sar
Emmanuel Maillard, the Country Director of Building Markets. Photo: Hong Sar

“We also organised a delegation of 12 Turkish companies in the electrical and electronic industry.  We organized a full day with local distributors and manufacturers like speed dating.”  

Building Markets also plays an important role beyond match making as a “neutral point of contact” that strengthens the relationships by providing mediation and communication, particularly feedback loops. It is easy for SMEs to feel demotivated when they lose tenders, and Building Markets makes an effort to receive feedback on why companies were not chosen.

Building Markets is doing much of the legwork in terms of accelerating businesses by connecting them to lucrative contracts.  In each of the three cities Building Markets operates, the NPO connects government, civil society, business associations, large private companies, and local SMEs.  They have stimulated budding entrepreneurs with their annual SME forums and Global Entrepreneurship Week that host up to 200 people per session.  

Local SMEs, explained Emmanuel, have a “lower capacity to evolve and stick with market because they don’t have resources, tools, support, planning, capital, and capacity to do that. There is turbulence from international markets and the local R&D sector has difficulty with changes.”  

“The organisation empowers and helps local businesses sustain business flow and grow in a steady and sustainable way that will employ people and stabilize countries. The business reality with SMEs is a long term plan.”

Building Markets
26B, Yaw Min Gyi Street, Dagon Township, Yangon.
Phone: 01 252 252

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Mimi Wu
Mimi originally hails from the Washington, DC area. Having lived on four continents, she recently moved from Uganda to Myanmar to work as an entrepreneur, consultant, zumba instructor, education trainer, and editor. A dangerously excitable foodie, Mimi also loves dancing and has a debilitating weakness for (black) cats.


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