Rebuilding Myanmar from the inside out

Heading out to inspect projects.

It was a visit to Yangon, Myanmar in 2012 that sparked Aye Chan Lwin’s business idea of starting a project management course for the locals there.

With 12 years of working in engineering and project management in the oil and gas, and water industry internationally, the Burmese-Australian engineer returned to her birth country for a family visit. As it was the year where Myanmar started to open for foreign investment she was surprised to see the number of projects and the lack of qualified professionals. She was aghast upon the pay gap between foreigners and skilled locals.

Overhearing a conversation between friends of their intentions to hire foreigners for a hefty salary, Aye Chan recalled her conversation with a foreign engineer who was a telecommunications manager in Myanmar during the flight back to Australia.

“Being an engineer myself, I asked him about the setup, how things work and the difficulties of the industry. To my surprise, he knew no less than a graduate or was genuinely interested in building the capacity of his team. When I heard of the privileges he was entitled, I decided that I would dedicate to show that there are skilled locals that can equally do the same type of work with more attributes and interests. The only weakness was their lack of exposure for international standards. With formal training, locals are equally talented, especially females in the engineering world. Talent should be based on meritocracy, not race or gender,” says Aye Chan, who is proud of her Burmese heritage.

Born in Yangon and growing up in various countries such as Vietnam, South Africa, Singapore and Australia, Aye Chan had an international exposure from a young age and an equally diverse childhood. She holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree, specialising in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Queensland University of Technology, a certified Project Management Professional from Project Management Insititute in United States, as well as a Diploma in Engineering (Electrical, Computer and Electronics) from the Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore. She speaks four languages (Mandarin, Burmese, French and English) fluently and recently won the Monash Vice Chancellor’s Diversity and Inclusion Award 2018.

In 2015 due to her husband’s work offer in Malaysia and the birth of their son, she decided to leave her corporate job as the Regional Head for BP Australia and the family moved to Malaysia. In 2017, Aye Chan decided to pursue her MBA in South Asian Studies in Monash University Malaysia as well as kickstart her “train the trainer” social enterprise.

Collaborating with a joint-venture partner, the Myanmar Certified Training Centre, Aye Chan designed the Project Management Fundamental (PMF) Course, a two-day training course that introduces project management tools and techniques.

The course equips participants to run small to medium-sized projects as a project manager, understand the purpose of documentations, communicate and implement live schedules and risk management.

With the support of funding under the World Bank, Aye Chan began running the PMF courses for the Myanmar government’s Department of Rural Development and International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGO) in September last year. Since then, she has conducted six classes involving 350 participants in the Yangon region, who have the potential to impact 500,000 villagers through regional centres.

As the Department of Rural Development heads community-drive development projects, the participants of the PMF course then train the local village leaders on how to apply project management basics into rural infrastructure projects in their villages.

Whether it is road construction, aerating their paddy fields or water supply infrastructure, the local villagers often undertake these projects themselves. However, with PMF training, the villagers were able to carry out projects in a more timely, specific and cost-efficient manner.

One such village was Nyaung Oo Village near Yangon, where a Community Driven Development road building project took place. Employing the project management principles, they learnt, all villagers above the age of 18 were able to vote for the project of their choice, regardless of gender, race or religion. A notice board detailing documentation of financial expenditure and project scheduling tools was put up for accountability purposes.

As a result, not only was the road completed to provide better accessibility to the village, but villagers themselves expressed greater ownership of the project, due to the transparency tools and procurement procedures employed in the project.

In another village in the Kyaukdan region, PMF principles also fostered greater project ownership among villagers, attributed to transparent accounting for supplies, codification of project progress and a broader involvement of women in decision-making roles.

“One might argue that without the PMF training and tools, the road will still be completed, albeit with more wastage and perhaps impaired efficiency. However, as evident by the sense of ownership and pride of the villages, the PMF brought more than just knowledge, efficiency and productivity gains, but also social gains while strengthening the community,” said Aye Chan, who evaluated the initial impact of the PMF during a site visit to Myanmar with two other MBA post-graduate students during a MBA Experiential Learning Project.

Moving forward, Aye Chan hopes to restructure the business, revamp the course structure to be more practical-focused, and expand the target market to include the private sector. She hopes to offer the course in Malaysia once she has perfected the business model and established new trainers who can succeed her, as she is currently the only one conducting the course in Myanmar.

“I find the people of Myanmar to be truly remarkable. We are smart and eager to learn. As in every developing country, the first tier would be on opportunities of knowledge wealth. Once we can capitalise on our skill sets and pair them up with the right knowledge areas, the opportunities are limitless. That is why I would like to help in terms of project management office implementation and the distribution of project management knowledge. Project Management is universal and everyone is involved in a project one way or another,” she says.

For more information on the postgraduate courses offered at the School of Business, Monash University Malaysia, please visit www.monash.edu.my/business.