In a city full of non-descript buildings, Shwe Waa is hard to miss. Its forest green exterior, gilded bamboo (its moniker means ‘Gold Bamboo’) and palm-fringed roof terrace make a bold statement amongst a row of grey and brown buildings. Whether this statement is intentional or not, it is hard to tell. But its founder, Wim Somers, has high hope that his latest venture will stand out in Mandalay’s business development sector.
Billed as a ‘Co-working Space, Arts Initiative, Lifestyle Lounge & Creative Hub’, Shwe Waa aims to be a gathering place for young entrepreneurs. A place buzzing with energy and open-minds. Instead of relying on Facebook for information and inspiration, Somers wants to encourage Mandalay’s younger generation to sit down and talk.
‘I am hoping Shwe Waa can serve as a small hub of change- outside of Yangon – where creativity can flourish and ideas can be generated and shared. Where a free-flow of ideas is encouraged and respected. Where those ideas are given an opportunity to be tested and challenged and to be built upon or where ideas lead to even more ideas and new ones,’ he states passionately.
How does that all translate when words become practice? It becomes a handful of much-needed things on the Mandalay scene.
To start with, Shwe Waa offers real co-working space and short term office rental. Rather than taking out a lease with the dreaded one-year-in-advance payment, business people visiting from Yangon or Nay Pyi Taw or even Mandalay-based SMEs can hire out a proper office space in Mandalay rather than relying on hotel lobbies and random cafes. And starting at 39,000 kyats/day for a private office or just 4,000 kyats/day for a co-working space, each with fast fiber-optic connections and generator back-up, this is certainly the city’s best bargain.
Shwe Waa feels that by giving SMEs a place to hold meetings or conduct training sessions they will be able to create opportunities for this often-ignored, yet important, sector of the business community. ‘When I moved to Myanmar, I was disappointed that all investment coming in were to huge companies and not SME’s. This despite an economy which is about 90% dependent on SME’s’, Somers remarked.
To that end, Shwe Waa also provides regular workshops focused on developing essential skills for creative entrepreneurs as well as helping recent graduates enter the workforce. Mandalay is seeing a rapid growth in international investment yet few job seekers know how to create a professional C.V. that showcases their ability. Somers, with years of experience in the marketing and sales industry, translates his personal experience into passionate, informative coaching sessions and has partnered up with work.com.mm on some of his workshops to further boost the impact.
Shwe Waa has a similar drive in promoting Mandalay’s cultural growth.
As an ‘Arts Initiative’, Shwe Waa is working with local artisans to bring their traditional art forms into the modern marketplace. The building is filled with woven rattan furniture and carved wooden décor that is distinctly Myanmar in design but with a strong nod to Western taste. Vividly-painted papier-mâché sculptures and woven tiffin boxes line the shelves, which are available for purchase starting around 10,000 kyats/piece. ‘Part of our philosophy is to (contribute to) improving people’s lives by using local skills and local culture and tweak it just a bit and in such a way that it becomes a more relevant and exportable product,’ says Somers.
And, as one would expect from such a project, Shwe Waa wants to also add a spark of fun into the community. The rooftop terrace is a multi-functional space that will be used for Friday night drinks, classic movie screenings and other social events. Shwe Waa is also pet-friendly and patrons are welcome to bring their furry friends along to work or for the evening gatherings. Somers’ own dog, Bo Phyu, is an office regular.
There is no doubt that the concept of Shwe Waa fills a gap in the marketplace. Yet concepts will only go so far if the local community will not ‘buy-in’ and support it. And Shwe Waa has been slow on the uptake Somers admits, but not without its lessons learned. And small improvements and progress are being made on a daily basis.
Somers and his team are realistic in what they are trying to achieve. As a small, independent investor without any ties to the big international funders, the team at Shwe Waa has had to build the entire project from the ground up without a huge financial backing. Combine that with the economic environment of Mandalay, where the majority of business owners are happy to maintain the status quo, and it may seem like an impossible task. But there are small successes happening all around them on a daily basis. ‘To be able to see the smiles on the faces of people like our carpenters or our painters when they see their work being valued and transformed into something they could never imagine and the pride in their eyes, it makes it all worth it.’, Somers says with a smile.
Let’s hope these small successes grow in to larger accomplishments for the city’s creative community, budding young entrepreneurs and Mandalay’s ever-growing marketplace.
FOR MORE INFO:
Address: 68th Street, between 40th & 41st St.Mandalay
Phone: 02 2832100 – 02 2832389