Executive Director Zac Colborne joined ADC in January. In February he made his first visit to ZMF, our partner project in Myanmar, with Andrew Colgan.
After a couple of days of non-stop travel it was hard not to be tired when we finally arrived in Kalay, but I felt energised knowing that we would be spending the next 11 days at the centre of what ADC exists for.
The first thing I noticed when we landed was that it was hot. So hot! (Kalay routinely experiences highs above 30degC at this time of year, with lows not dipping below 20degC.)
Go Suan, ZMF’s CEO, met us at the airport with his trademark wide smile and big hugs. This is no ordinary business relationship - it is trust, understanding and friendship built over a long period.
The next day we met with the rest of the staff - they were equally warm and we had a great working relationship.
Clients can be a little different and the way they react and welcome you is different with each, depending on their personality. Trust is built over time, and you have to spend a little time with most of them for them to start opening up. This is why the ZMF staff try to build relationships with the clients, to build trust and understanding from both sides.
I am generally a pretty optimistic person, but even I didn't expect the trip to go as well as it did. It can be hard to build working relationships, even over the course of months or even years, so to get such a positive and warm welcome from day one was amazing.
I think I can sum it up in one word: soul.
There is something about ADC, its story and most importantly the people that have made it happen that make it pretty special. And this is certainly the case with the project in Myanmar.
What excited me most, aside from the clear opportunity to grow and have a significant impact, was the staff. They are so passionate about making a difference, and want to learn and grow as individuals and together to benefit people in their community.
This is exactly what ADC needs in a partner and it filled me with a whole lot of confidence.
Myanmar is changing rapidly. The country is opening up and that lends itself to significant development. There is a opportunity right now for ADC and our partner ZMF to take advantage of this and have a significant impact.
ZMF has one of only a few licenses to operate in the area that we do. With almost a decade of experience working in the area and developing a system that is working, ZMF is uniquely placed to expand and reach more people in need.
However, at the moment there is more demand than ZMF can meet.
Whilst this is a positive sign for the project - and I must stress that without the continued support of all of you, our donors and members, this would not be possible - it also means that unfortunately we are not having the maximum impact that could be possible.
The challenge for ADC as we grow is to maintain our soul. We have big goals - to transform thousands of lives. We need to build a community of supporters around our work that are delighted by what we are doing.
- Zac Colborne
It has now been more than seven months since torrential rains swept Myanmar, causing severe floods in 12 out of 14 states in July/August 2015.
The flooding destroyed the homes and businesses of thousands in Kalay Township, where ZMF’s microfinance operations are based. Because ZMF works with the poorest members of this community, many of its clients were among the worst affected.
Thanks to those who contributed to ADC’s emergency Givealittle appeal, ZMF staff were well-placed to respond to immediate needs once waters had receded. Care packages containing clothes, rice, cooking oil and other basic necessities were provided to 650 households.
In addition, cash grants were made to 76 families that had lost or suffered significant damage to their homes or businesses.
Andrew Colgan and Zac Colborne’s visit in February this year gave them an opportunity to observe the recovery to date and witness firsthand the remarkable optimism and determination of the people and communities with which ZMF works.
Visible “tide marks” on buildings, sometimes up to eight metres above their heads, provided an eerie indicator of the sheer volume of water that had engulfed the outlying areas of Kalaymyo, especially in Pyinta Village.
We met with a number of clients whose businesses were affected by the flooding, including Myint Za Ni Phu, who runs a home shop and roadside petrol stand together with her sister and parents.
Fortunately, as the floodwaters rose Phu and her family were able to hire a small boat to ferry the stock from their store and some of their valuables to higher ground. Although they lost their house and many of their belongings, they were still able to supply others in the area with essentials like food, candles, washing powder and petrol.
They have also been able to rebuild their home with salvaged materials and the assistance of a government grant scheme.
Phu is currently applying for a job as a public education clerk, and if she is successful she hopes to be able to put some of her income into further expansion of the family business.
The effects of the flooding are still being felt, but despite this, most clients have rebuilt their businesses and started making loan repayments once more. One hundred and eight loans remain “impaired” following the flooding, however staff are confident that a majority of these will ultimately be repaid once the business are back on their feet.
ZMF and their clients remain very grateful to the ADC community for its support at the time of the flooding and during the challenging aftermath.
Arlo Jewellery generously donated a custom-designed Myanmar necklace for ADC’s Gala Dinner this year. We love that ZMF’s clients are supported by a fellow entrepreneur - Arlo’s Designer/Director Annelies Powell. She answers a few questions about her approach to business.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and Arlo, how did it come to be?
A: I like to say Arlo began because I was always bad at sitting between the lines. That is to say, I didn't see romance or contrived love stories at the centre of jewellery. It was always about connecting to something raw and real. I hope the custom Myanmar necklace made for the ADC auction carries a unique story with it just like every piece designed.
Q: What is it like running your own business?
A: Running a business means you can be as purist as you like with your direction. You choose what matters and put 110 percent effort in. When I look back at how far Arlo has come (and it's only a small way, really) I get to be proud of the values behind it.
Q: What do you like about ADC?
A: ADC gives the little guy the hand up. I'm all about the underdog. They never fail to surprise.
Q: As you know, ADC works primarily with women. Have you faced any gender-based issues in starting and operating a business yourself?
A: I once read a quote from Marilyn Monroe. It went something like, "I don't mind being a woman in a man’s world." I take this as let people tell you what will hold you back, and then let that fuel your motivation to prove them wrong.
Q: What advice would you have for anyone wanting to start a business themselves?
A: My advice? If you KNOW what it is you want to do: throw yourself in the deep end, risk it all and don't look back. If you have no plan B, you'll make A count.
Q: What are your plans for Arlo?
A: The ultimate is to change the way people look at jewellery. Forget class, status, money. Let it be the little reminder around your neck or sitting at your fingertips of something truly valuable. Often I wear a little bear ring to remind myself to keep a wild side - freedom in a concrete jungle.
Q: Do you have any heroes or people who have inspired you?
A: In essence, surround yourself with soul, with that which inspires you.