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The Digital Youth will not succumb to Military Rule in Myanmar

Just as the fight against Covid Pandemic seemed to be almost over, a political crisis has drawn Myanmar’s economy close to collapse- but there is a capable, smart and ambitious young Generation willing to give everything to save it and they need our support.

When people in Myanmar woke up on the morning of February 1st, their life radically changed. Just days before, I had discussed with Myanmar friends and colleagues the likelihood of a military coup d’etat, as rumors were spreading of a hostile takeover before the newly elected Parliament took oath. At the same time, our industry, certainly bruised by the devastating effects of the pandemic was feeling optimistic with infection rates in clear decline for weeks and we were hopeful that the restrictions on travel and gatherings would be lifted very soon.

At that point, my colleagues and I concluded that a power grab by the military was unlikely, given that the military already wielded political and economic power in the country. According to the 2008 Constitution, they held a quarter of the seats in Parliament and the right to appoint 3 key Ministers. The military also controls large parts of the economy as they own huge business conglomerates that stretch from ICT, extractive industries, banks to consumer goods providing enormous wealth to senior army leaders. Seizing power, we felt, would have no point as it would clearly endanger the economic progress of the past decade initiated by liberalization and democratic reforms. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic had increased the number of households living under the UN poverty threshold by nearly 30% and about 75% of households had reduced income during the many months of lockdown.

Still, the Military took over and revived the nation’s collective trauma of 50 years of authoritarian and autarchic rule, resulting in widespread anger and a broad consensus: a return to military rule would no longer be accepted. At the forefront of the movement against dictatorship are the youth from Generation Z. They did not spend their adolescence under the military rule but still experienced its disastrous effects of bad education, low living standards and underdevelopment. They had the chance to taste freedom and democracy, growing up with relatively free media, access to internet, the freedom to travel within the country and abroad, career opportunities – and suddenly saw their dreams and future taken away from them overnight.

First flashmobs organized by Gen Z grew within days into thousands of people protesting nationwide and ignoring the newly implemented state of emergency that prohibits any assembly of groups. Like in Myanmar’s past, when students lead the uprising in 1988, it was the many young people who drew crowds to the streets, joined by their parents and grandparents who participated to fight for a better future for their children. Yet, this time the movement is different:  Six years ago, most Myanmar people had never been online as internet access was restricted, expensive and slow. These days, the protest movement quelled within a few days to every corner of the country driven by young adults who organized rallies via Facebook.

The pandemic has quasi helped the protest movement as people adopted a more digital lifestyle during the lockdown

Messages to boycott brands owned or in a JV with the military spread fast across social media. Apps that showed maps with increased police activity during protests circulated online along with guides on how to protect oneself on the street and from tear gas. Many of these guides were shared by young activists from other Asian countries who have come together under the Milk Tea Alliance, being united in their quest for democracy.

During the long stay-at-home orders people in Myanmar became even more tech-savvy, learning how to download streaming apps, had a go with online shopping and how to communicate via Zoom – preparing them to adopt fast to a new digital toolbox to brave the army in an unprecedented way.

Digital technology allowed people not just to organize activities quickly, but also to document the events and share the news with the world. While state-owned TV channels only showed pro-military propaganda, the peaceful protests- and later also the many human rights violations committed by the security forces- were filmed and shared by brave citizens simply using their smartphones. At the same time, Facebook helped to disseminate accurate information: posts of re-known independent media triggered nearly 15 million likes and up to 30,000 shares within hours. Hashtags such as #whatshappeninginmyanmar trended both on FB and Twitter.

In an attempt to dominate the narrative around the coup, the military soon blocked Facebook, Twitter and even Wikipedia.  The digitally literate youngsters quickly found ways to circumvent those restrictions by using VPNs and encrypted chat apps- easily outsmarting the old generation of army generals. The Military reacted by shutting down the mobile internet and public wifi for an indefinite time. Yet, youngsters found Bluetooth chat apps and other possibilities in the dark net to stay in touch and share with the world what is happening in Myanmar. Fiber connections at homes still work, though these are mainly owned by few affluent people in urban areas.

“You messed with the wrong Generation”

After months in lockdown, the initial protests had a carnival-feel to it. People were less scared about the virus than the prospect of returning to military rule. The objective of the protests was not just to show the disagreement with the military takeover but also to attract (international) media attention since many hoped for foreign help.

Again, the young generation showed creativity, boldness and humor in their costumes and banners all on display during the protests. Walking side to side with teachers, doctors, lawyers and other civil servants in their uniforms, we saw illustrious groups like pet lovers who came with their trimmed poodles, body builders, women in bridal dresses and even a person in a superman costume – a powerful way to create media attention.

The common goal to prevent military rule has united Myanmar society more than ever before. The different religious groups and ethnic people marched alongside with members from the LGBT community or punks. More recently, people have even publicly apologized to the Rohingya minority for not speaking out at the time when they were prosecuted by the military- breaking what was a big taboo in the country thus far. The coup further emboldened and encouraged individuals to show their ‘true’ identity, finding a voice and experiencing a feeling of togetherness in their common quest.

For several weeks now, the jolly happy atmosphere of the first protest weeks has turned into an endless nightmare. Security forces indiscriminately executed protestors by shooting them in the head and provoking widespread fear among the population through indiscriminate arrests, dragging people from their homes at night, beating them up, looting homes and shops and destroying any civilian property they find on their way.

When 19-year-old Kyal Sin, also called by her nickname Angel, left her home in Mandalay to join the protest one day she wore a black t-shirt with a front print reading ‘Everything will be OK’. That day she was shot in the head while taking cover from security forces who were firing live rounds on peaceful protesters. Her picture went viral globally. She epitomized this new generation, a brave young female who in the November 2020 elections had voted for the first time in her life, who dreamt of a better future and didn’t want to accept that her freedom could be taken away in a blink.

Many Myanmar people say they have nothing to lose as they are poor already and would rather die than to live again under military rule

 Most of us experience such uprisings as a 30-seconds-clip in the evening news. There are millions of courageous and determined people like Angel in Myanmar – and some of them also in our Industry. There are many young talents who are excited to do research, to discuss and monitor the social and economic changes happening in their country. Many (young) people are incredibly brave to risk their lives so they can go back to what this new Myanmar generation enjoyed so much –being safely with their friends and family, having freedom to say what they think and to express who they are, traveling, having fun, gaming, shopping, pursuing a career … you name it. Their future is at stake.

The objective of the Civil Disobedience Movement is to block the economy and make the country ungovernable to force the military out of politics. This is also affecting our industry as most research came to a halt due to security reasons. How long can agencies pay their staff’s salaries when they are no longer able to generate any incomes?

There is no fast solution to this crisis on the horizon. The World Food Program has already pointed to alarming effects on food security. The Research Industry that was built during the last decade is at the edge of a dangerous cliff. When I moved to Myanmar 9 years ago marketing and research talent was hardly existing. Young people worked hard to acquire necessary skills and absorbed all the trainings given to them – incl by the ESOMAR Foundation. All of us, including our clients, should stay committed to them and show that they have a future economy to believe in, that we stand with them.  One important way to do so is to keep Myanmar researchers connected to the outside world.  Let’s share industry developments, let’s keep our networks, our community and our discussions alive- young people thrive with food for thought, this is something we can easily provide- perhaps they even surprise us back with creative ideas and opportunities.

Once the situation allows, I am certainly committed to be back to help continue where we left it, building on the young talent we grew. I hope that the ESOMAR family will join me in that and, in the meantime, stand with the many brave people in Myanmar who just want to live a peaceful and prosperous life in freedom and democracy.

Marita Schimpl, ESOMAR Representative Myanmar, Managing Director, Myanmar Survey Research, Marketing Research

This article was first published on Research World on 31 March 2021

First Training Programme in Myanmar

Within the education programme, the ESOMAR Foundation is organising a 5 day training alongside MMSA (Myanmar Marketing Services Association.) Free to the delegates, the idea behind this 5 day training bonanza is to share knowledge from all over the world with local researchers living and working in Myanmar. The programme will run from 13 – 15 August 2014 and focuses on:

Introduction to Market Research and Proposal Writing

  • The different types of MR (desk research, audits, panels, ad hoc, qual, quant etc)
  • The future of the MR Industry
  • Ethics and professionalism
  • Proposal writing, understanding and challenging the brief.

Quantitative Research

  • The different data collection approaches
  • Different types of Quant Research (Ad Testing, U&A, Customer Satisfaction etc)
  • Questionnaire design

Basic Statistics

  • Sampling and Weighting
  • Sample size, significance testing

Strategic Analysis, Turning Data into Insights, Adding Value

  • Strategic Analysis
  • Generating Inights
  • Presentations and Report Writing


The MMSA and ESOMAR Foundation would like to thank our trainer volunteers for giving their time and energy to help researchers in Myanmar. Your generosity is truly appreciated.

Phyllis Macfarlane

Phyllis Macfarlane is a life-long market researcher – starting her career as an assistant statistician, and culminating as Managing Director of GfK NOP, one of the UK’s largest market research companies. Her key interests as a researcher are international, B2B, market measurement and customer satisfaction studies. As a manager, it is people development. Phyllis is currently Project Manager for GfK’s CSR initiative ‘Training in Africa’ – where the GfK Verein is funding masters degrees and interviewer training to improve the quality of market research in Africa. This initiative will be rolled out to China and other emerging markets beginning in 2014.

Anna Thomas

Anna Thomas is MD and Director of Nunwood Australia. Anna has worked for nearly 20 years in strategic market research, is a trained coach and workshop facilitator and is highly experienced in using customer information – both qual and quant – to bring about business transformation. Since 2010, Anna has led the development and growth of Nunwood’s Asia Pacific business, which includes a team of consultants, researchers, analytics specialists and technical experts.  A Cambridge graduate, Anna is a member of ESOMAR, the British Psychological Society and the Market Research Society. She speaks French and Spanish, holds a postgraduate certificate in Law, and has spoken about applied strategic research and method innovation at conferences in Europe, UK, North America and Australia.

 Anagha Kanhere

Anagha has over 8 years of market research & statistical consultation experience across a variety of sectors including Banking, Insurance, FMCG, Education, Travel, Retail, Telecoms and Utilities. She has extensive experience of working with global brands, on market research studies including multi-sector Customer experience Management programs, U & A studies, New Product Development, ROI modelling and Segmentation. She holds postgraduate degrees in Social Statistics and International Marketing Management.

Silvina Neder

Argentinian born, Silvina’s market research career began in 1991 as a quantitative researcher in British American Tobacco (BAT). In 1997, she obtained her second postgraduate degree: Master in Business Administration. Her enthusiasm as an insights finder, lead her to move to the agency side: In 2005, she founded NEDER Statistics & Insights, an agency aimed at designing the best study for each client and at implementing it with the highest quality standards. Since then, Neder’s client portfolio includes the most renowned fast moving consumer goods and services companies such as Coca Cola, Bimbo, Master Card, Hewlett Packard, Movistar, Telefonica, Repsol, General Motors, Akzo Nobel, Lilly, Pfizer, amongst others. At the moment, she is based in Spain, helping organisations from different countries to research in Latin America.

awards capacity building grant to MMSA

Awarding capacity building grant to MMSA

ESOMAR Foundation announced today that it has awarded its first capacity building grant to the MMSA. The grant, worth a minimum of €3000, is being used to fund a 5 day training workshop alongside MMSA in Myanmar. The objective of the grant is to share market research knowledge from all over the world with researchers in Myanmar.

ESOMAR Foundation’s President Gunilla Broadbent commented, “We are very grateful to be able to help the Myanmar market, social and opinion research industry gain access to training and education. None of this would be possible without our volunteers from all over the world and the incredible dedication of the team at MMSA.”

ESOMAR Foundation, founded in 2013, is the Foundation of the market, social, and opinion research sector channeling the expertise and resources of the sector to achieve social good. Through its funding programmes, the ESOMAR Foundation supports researcher families facing emergency situations, access to education on market, social, and opinion research, charities, and the philanthropic sector.

photo-volunteers-Myanmar-trainingMMSA President Anna Khin Khin Kyawt commented “In my 23rd year of being an industry leader in Myanmar, I have seen many
firsts. I am so proud to be hosting this first ESOMAR Foundation training event  and to have brought this in partnership with the ESOMAR Foundation to our market. Our market researchers really need this training for the quality of the profession, I am delighted to support the initiative.”

Myanmar Marketing Services Association (MMSA) is the key industry grouping of local companies and agencies involved in the Myanmar marketing sector for decades. Its core aim is to build the main platform for local organizations to share knowledge, expertise and in-depth understanding of the Myanmar market and its consumers.

This aligns fully with the objectives of ESOMAR Foundation’s Education Programme, which supports innovative projects that break down barriers and give a chance to the current and future generations of market researchers coming from all walks of life.

mmsaBoth ESOMAR Foundation and the MMSA would like to thank the 4 volunteers who have given so generously of their time to make the training a reality – Anna Thomas, Silvina Neder, Anagha Kanhere and Phyllis Macfarlane.

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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Kim Smouter at +31-20-589-7818 or email at info@esomarfoundation.net.

Mingalabar Myanmar!

Mingalabar Myanmar!

There are certain countries in the world where access to even the most basic research training can be extremely difficult. The ESOMAR Foundation is hoping to launch its first training programme in Myanmar to help deal with the lack of training opportunities in the country.

Read this article from Research World November/December 2013 o learn more about research in Myanmar

Mingalabar Myanmar!
By Marita Schimpl

What comes to mind when you think of Myanmar?

Nowadays, most people might say Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Foreign investors, many of whom are still not sure if the country is called Myanmar or Burma, may praise the huge untapped market potential since 55-60 million locals are hoping to finally improve their standard of living by owning a refrigerator or the latest digital gadget.

But how do you market a brand that is well known globally but often unknown to Myanmar’s consumers?

Experience Myanmar yourself!

Any visitor to Yangon, the country’s largest city (with a population of six million), can breathe in the optimism of change. Electronic shops burst with the latest home appliances or TVs. Local hipsters sit in modern-style coffee shops drinking iced lattes and showing off their latest smartphones or iPads. More and more young people have traded their longyis for skinny jeans. Urban women would rather use Western make-up when going out than decorate their faces with thanaka (a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark).

On the surface, Yangon may appear to be changing quickly. However, to understand the values, needs and traditions that are still determining local lives, one has to look behind the few familiar signs of global culture. We are quick to compare Myanmar with what we know: we may think or expect Myanmar to be like Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam.

In fact, there are 135 officially recognised ethnic groups in Myanmar; 70% are Burmese. That is why the country is called Myanmar – to include other ethnic groups as well. Those ethnic groups have their own distinct traditions and languages. Not all speak Burmese (the ‘official’ language).

Demand for local research is growing

Most people are surprised when they hear that Myanmar is not a white spot on the global research map. In fact, we have the Myanmar Research Association, which has the biggest local, privately owned research agencies under its belt. Global agencies have also recently set up shop.

One needs to remember that international companies operated in Myanmar until the late 90s/early 2000s. Therefore, market and social research is not a new discipline in a country that got off economic sanctions a year and a half ago.

In this picture taken on August 17, 2012 Myanmar farmers collect paddy seedlings from flooded fields to replant in Ayeyawaddy Division of Myanmar outside Yangon. Recent heavy rains have flooded thousands of acres of paddy fields as seasonal monsoon rains hit the Ayeyawaddy delta region.

What can I expect?

Conducting qualitative research in Myanmar is similar to the process in other Asian countries. Focus groups, home visits, shop-alongs, diaries, ethnographic approaches – they are all there. Make sure you recruit extraverted, creative respondents, and you will be amazed how openly they discuss most topics.

However, there are a few things you need to consider when running quantitative research, because infrastructure is a big issue:

  • Telephone and internet penetration is way too low to use online research tools or CATI for data collection. Those methods may be used for special urban target groups only. Due to very slow internet connections, it is almost impossible to upload or download videos or do data entry online.
  • All interviews are conducted face to face with PAPI, so studies may take six to 12 weeks, depending on the sample size; travel to remote areas can be slow due to bad roads; printing a few thousand questionnaires takes a few days; and fieldwork updates can’t be done daily, as interviewers may be in areas without any reliable telephone or internet connection. Be sure that there are no weddings or religious ceremonies going on when you want to do fieldwork in a village, as you won’t find anybody home. Everyone attends!
  • Depending on the topic of the research, one needs to get the permission of central and/or local authorities. If the fieldwork is conducted outside the urban centres of Yangon and Mandalay, it is a good idea to inform local authorities. Clients need to understand this and show flexibility.
  • The last national census was conducted in 1983, meaning there is no reliable data on population structures that could be used for weighting any sample. The next census will be conducted in 2014. Until then, we don’t even know the exact population size of the country with 100% certainty.

None of these points should put you off, as projects run smoothly in Myanmar.

Come out yourself, and you will experience very friendly locals who have not been influenced by global consumer culture on a big scale (yet). Try to learn at least one word and people will greet you with a big smile: Mingalabar (Hello).

AuthorMarita Schimpl is head of market research at Myanmar Survey Research and ESOMAR country representative for Myanmar