Aimee Lawrence links with David Madden, founder of Phandeeyar, to discover how his recently created community tech hub is accelerating change and development in Myanmar during the country’s connectivity revolution.
Myanmar is picking up speed in the race to connect, and it is the mobile apps, tools and content that holds the power to transform and improve the lives of its 54 million people.
The sights of an ever-changing finishing line are becoming clearer. Phandeeyar has entered the race by creating a space for different communities to come together to spark the innovation that will drive Myanmar forward.
David, a Harvard University graduate from Australia, spent twelve years in America during which time he honed his skills as a natural entrepreneur. His previous ventures included co-founding two highly successful online social ventures, and serving in senior management roles at several leading New York technology companies.
His wealth of experience put him in a strong position to seize a unique opportunity of growth for Myanmar and its people. “This is an exciting moment for Myanmar,” explained David, founder of Phandeeyar. “Myanmar had one of the lowest mobile and Internet penetration rates in the world. But, the technology landscape is changing fast and becoming more widely accessible, meaning Myanmar could potentially steam ahead of other country’s development paths.
“To really close the gap with developed nations, we need to help build working relationships between the tech community and civil society groups, social businesses, independent media and others to build the tools, platforms and content. This is what will make the difference and accelerate change and development in this country.”
The inspiration for Phandeeyar can be found in Code for Change Myanmar, an initiative of which David is also a founder. It is designed to help the technology community in Myanmar use their skills to help tackle some of the country’s pressing problems.
Code for Change Myanmar held the county’s first national ‘hackathon’ events, which saw talented young technology experts from across Myanmar solving technology problems submitted by small to medium businesses. The problems ranged from how to help women manage birth spacing, to how to make it easier for farmers to optimize irrigation. Both events were phenomenally successful; judges were astounded and inspired by the talent of Myanmar’s tech community.
and an idea was born.
“The hackathons were a real joy to organise with such an impressive flow of talent coming through. We saw that technology is a key player in being able to have a real social impact here. It was evident the technology community here has the talent to build innovative apps and digital services that will really improve people’s lives.
I pondered the idea of having a permanent space where the country’s problems could be solved regularly, where talented minds could come together to learn, teach, inspire each other and grow. The rest is history.”
Located in the heart of downtown Yangon, overlooking Mahabandoola Gardens, it offers over 6000 square foot of working space which can be rented for office space or used for others to come in and host events, workshops, seminars and meet-ups.
In the space of just three months, Phandeeyar has welcomed training workshops with experts from Silicon Valley, HP and the New York Times, as well as Google virtual app launches, and more recently a visit from Marguerite H. Sullivan – a globally influential journalist who has worked in the White House and is director of the Center for International Media Assistance.
Events have covered topics ranging from the importance of design, how to create engaging digital content, empowering rural population and women with technology, how ‘design thinking’ can solve complex problems in relation to the design of new products and cyber security.
This level of quick success for Phandeeyar can in part be attributed to Phandeeyar’s supporters, comprised of Internews, Silicon Valley founded company Baydin, Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundations and Schmidt Family Foundation.
Supporters aside, David is humble in respect to Phandeeyar’s success, and quick to attribute it to his staff – a dedicated,talented team of seven – a team which they are looking to expand.
Of the creatives behind Phandeeyar, I was also lucky to meet Aung Kham Kyaw, a graduate and avid teacher of all things digital. The 23-year-old Program Manager specialises in launching startups, and is a prolific blogger for three websites with his own personal blog boasting a monthly readership of 30,000.
“I’m really blessed to have Aung Kham Kyaw in the team. His enthusiasm and drive is infectious. He has a massive online audience not just in his own blog but also YoYarLay, which has a Facebook outreach of 3.3million. He’s in a position to be able to speak to millions who can either become a part of this connectivity revolution or be helped through his ideas.
Excitingly we’re looking to expand our team with various positions on offer. I’m excited to meet others and welcome them to the team. Let’s see how we can continue pushing this collective goal ahead and make a difference to Myanmar’s nation of 54 million,” says David.
Myanmar has been described as a technology backwater when it comes to wireless telecommunications services. However, the water is steadily becoming less murky and stagnant, with strong tides of innovation surging to connect Myanmar with itself and the rest of the world.
Phandeeyar: Myanmar Innovation Lab
11th Floor of MAC Tower, 561, Merchant Road, Merchant Rd, Yangon, Myanmar