Since I used to work for a social enterprise, I do have a soft spot for products with a heart. Vegan shoes? Sure, this makes a good reason to buy another pair. Does not count, right? Fair trade coffee with a tiny bit heightened price tag. Okay. Seventh Generation. Burt’s Bee. Ten Thousand Villages stores. I have somehow successfully convinced myself that money spent on ethically sourced products counts as donation in my karma balance book, much to my mother’s dismay.
This is not Nairobi, but social enterprises are on the rise in Yangon.
Shwe Sa Bwe is an excellent restaurant that trains lower income Myanmar youths in culinary arts and hospitality. The space is professionally run and beautifully set up, without any donors absorbing the market risks. The owner alone bears them, which is quite remarkable. Shwe Sa Bwe is now looking to adapt its YGN model in second or third tier cities. This is by far my favorite Yangon restaurant. I never go there often enough.
Likewise, Yangon Bake House abides by similar principles although I have less knowledge of its funding model. This place is also run by an expatriate, like Shwe Sa Bwe. The credit is to Yangon Bake House for having opened its second outlet, even though they started without any prior culinary training.
Anywhere else in the world, “ethically” curated products maybe a bit higher in the price tag, but this is not true in price-sensitive Myanmar, where social enterprises have to be competitive. If I were going to splurge on a nice meal, why not do it at Shwe Sa Bwe? Going to these places makes me feel better about spending money than dining at, let’s say, any of the outlets run by 57 Below, whose owners do not seem to care or be too interested in Myanmar culture even if their bars serve the most delicious cocktails in town.
When it comes to products, Pomelo is probably the best in the city at sourcing and curating unique products from various local artisans. Among the many goods featured at Pomelo is Akhayar jewelry, founded by Ma Htar Htar as a cash-generating side project to fund Akhayar‘s main activity – working with Myanmar women for empowerment and sexual health workshops. Akhayar still receives grant funding but it is always good to diversify their funding portfolio.
Now, there is a new outlet in town for consumer social enterprises. Eden Ministry is now in Myanmar!
Eden Ministry is active in anti-human trafficking and works especially with women subjected to poor working conditions in red light districts across Asia. Prostitution has been the oldest trade globally (I totally respect it), but in the modern world, the industry is tainted with various forms of exploitations. With a motto to “restoring freedom for all held captive in the darkness of Asia’s red light districts,” Eden Ministry does outreach in these red light districts, creates education programs for prevention, founds shelters and community centers for those who come back from brothels, and runs programs targeted at helping women heel and re-adjust to the outside world through its jewelry company.
And boy! The jewelry company is SO. WELL. RUN. Annual catalogs look crisp and modern. Eden Ministry is present on all major platforms of social media. I bet the jewelry company side is managed by a social media pro with an impeccable taste. Because Eden Ministry has worked in China for some time, a few of the designs curiously combines modern minimalism with feminine curves, incorporating materials such as freshwater pearls, turquoise and jade. Some of the small touches remind me of Shanghai Tang, only with so much more character. Eden Ministry works with Myanmar girls along the country’s Northern border and has subsequently added Myanmar jade in their collections.
In short, I am a fan.
Eden Ministry’s fourth store is opening next week. It is located at the ground floor of Bayintnaung Tower in Yangon. Happy shopping!
Stories from Myanmar Collection
Drop Earrings from “My Beloved” Collection
Falling Rain Necklace