TECHNICAL REPORT

Grantee
Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation
Project Title Equal Access to Information Society
Amount Awarded USD 166,000
Dates covered by this report: 2021-12-22 to 2023-06-23
Economies where project was implemented Myanmar
Project leader name
Thant Thaw Kaung

Table of contents

Background and Justification

Myanmar's telecom transformation started in mid-2011 by leaping across the digital divide, due to the government’s liberalization of the telecommunications market. The mobile penetration rate climbed over 100% in 2020, from 14% in 2010 as each person was likely to hold more than one SIM card. The price of each SIM card had reduced from $200 to merely $1. Moreover, people had started using Smart phones instead of Keypad ones. 

After a decade of democracy in Myanmar, the military took control on 1st February 2021. The economy's president and De Facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested.  At present, the military is trying to open the universities and schools. However, students boycotted this initiative, and they did not attend the schools and universities offered by the military government. Another reason is that many of their teachers and university lecturers / professors were sacked due to Civil Disobedience Movement. Therefore, non-formal education like capacity building through our community centres has become extremely important.  

Myanmar has faced COVID-19 since March 2020 as first wave and second wave hit the country from August to December 2020. Starting from July 2021 onwards, the county faced the third wave of COVID. Therefore, online training has been extremely useful in this difficult time. MBAPF has been delivering online training on MIL since April 2020 with Facebook sponsorship and we have a lot of experienced trainers who are able to give interactive online training.  With this background, the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation (MBAPF) would like to outline the following four themes of the training under this project. 

1. In 2014, MBAPF together with Ooredoo Myanmar and IREX launched the Beyond Access Myanmar project by providing three things; free connectivity, digital devices (tablets) and training at 55 community libraries. Our main objective is to transform Myanmar's rich community libraries into community centres. By 2020, we were able to expand and grow to 210 community centres across the country. These centres became the local hubs for latest news, digital technology learning centres and job searching centres. This community centre approach is one of its kind in Myanmar and as of December 2020, 360,000 people have used digital devices and over 350,000 people have surfed the Internet for the first time in their lives. 

2. However, this explosion of connectivity and information does not mean that people have the appropriate knowledge and skills to take advantage of these changes. The general population lacks digital, information literacy, and critical thinking skills. There’s a huge deficit in people’s ability to find and evaluate the quality and credibility of information obtained online, create and share online information effectively, and participate safely and securely. There have been numerous reports of how postings on Facebook have spread rumors and inflamed racial and communal tensions, in part due to the complicity of major media and the susceptibility of ordinary citizens who have little history of questioning the authenticity of online information. Many people especially in rural are still thinking that Facebook means Internet. At present, 80% of people are still using their smart phones to surf the internet. Therefore, our Mobile Information Literacy (MIL) training which was originally developed with support from University of Washington (Seattle) is extremely popular among our people. 
Initially, we gave MIL training to communities but later the demand was so high that we had to give this important training to other sectors such as civil servants, universities and farmers. We are fortunate to partner with Microsoft, Google and Facebook as we are able to get some of their useful training content from them and we localized and customized according to our community needs. 


3. We also found that only 35% of the people benefiting from the Beyond Access programme were women and youth, indicating concerted effort is needed for these population groups. Given this context, it is imperative that efforts be undertaken to equip Myanmar’s citizenry, especially women, with the knowledge, skills, confidence, and other abilities to shape a democratic, trustworthy, and vibrant local information society.  Therefore, MBAPF and IREX launched Tech Age Girl Myanmar project since 2016. It is a 9-month course based at the community centres and we have been training 100 TAGs a year up until now. So far, we have trained over 500 TAGs who become active women community leaders. We have seen so many success stories of TAGs by transforming shy, timid rural girls into active, energetic, women leaders who are contributing back to their communities. 

4. Because of the importance of the non-formal education at present time, many people (both youths and adults) are looking for new jobs and many are interested in launching startups. Many of the Beyond Access Libraries are run by youths who are starting their career as new business startups. A percentage of their income is invested in their library operations. Most of these business startups do not have the skill and knowledge of business operation, good business idea, marketing, calculation on costing and profit and loss and sustainability of the business.  MBAPF has a lot of experience in development of Business Startups Programmes as MBAPF's founders have a lot of experiences in business.  Moreover, some of the modules are already included in the Tech Age Girls programme such as project management, career development and networking. Digital marketing, financial literacy and entrepreneurship training are added and this will benefit rural business startups. MBAPF has many business associates who are willing to volunteer as business mentors to buildup rural startup businesses and to gain access to market and other resources. We are aiming for 40 new SME startups in this project which will effectively use digital tools and application.  These four themes under this project have already been contributing to this vision, but ongoing funding is needed to continue and build upon their initial achievements. 

Project Implementation Narrative

There are three constant challenges that  our community libraries face daily. They involve constraints around:
1. Free Internet (Data) 
2. Digital Devices 
3. Capacity Building (training) for good causes of communities that they represent 

Given the current situation in Myanmar, physical and digital security for our library users are urgently needed. 
Apart from these internal challenges, we faced another major challenge as the second disbursement fund transferred from the APNIC foundation to Myanmar was stopped due to sanctions by Australian banks on Myanmar-related activities.  This issue was resolved by negotiating with IREX to act as grant agent.  Finally, we received the funds only in April 2023.  Because of this delay, our project had to stop for about two months in July and August 2022. But, we then decided to continue the project with MBAPF's own finance as the demand was so intense and immediate help was urgently needed. The MBAPF started the discussion with IREX, MBAPF's longstanding partner,  in September 2022, and finally, we were able to reach our agreement with APNIC Foundation, IREX and MBAPF in January 2023.  IREX was able to make a sub-award to MBAPF in February 2023 and we had received the balance of the project fund in April 2023. 
Under this project, MBAPF carried out the following four programmes; 

1. Connectivity and Digital Devices 

Ooredoo Myanmar free data package were delivered to our additional 40 community libraries in 2022.  Beyond Access Library network had reached to 250 from 210. Location of all 250 library list is enclosed as a separate file called "BAM 250 Library List". 
At the same time, Ooredoo Myanmar also donated digital devices (laptops, tablets and mobile phones) valued over USD 100,000 so that the first two issues of internet and digital devices were resolved.  It is mandatory for our libraries to submit their library user status monthly via Microsoft Team form and we found out that library usage had increased by 80% in these 40 libraries.  Please see the file name, "40 Library Visitors 2023". 

2. Mobile Information Literacy Programme (MIL) 

As for the Mobile Information Literacy training, master trainings were conducted for 40 librarians from 20 libraries in February and March 2022.  Due to the current circumstances in Myanmar, we have to customized our training by adding Physical and Digital Security training modules as the demand for this topic were in very high demand.  Cascade trainings were conducted from late March 2022 to January 2023 for 10 months. MBAPF supported for first 5 months from March to July 2022 and the community supported them from August 2022 to January 2023.  Cascade training sessions were delivered to at least 20 library users per month for 10 months and hence reaching to 4,536 people in 29 townships in 8 different regions.  Details of the MIL data are enclosed as a separate file called MIL Report

3. Tech Age Girl Programme (TAG) 

Regarding the Tech Age Girl programme, it was launched in February 2022 as planned.  Phase 1 of the programme was launched in February 2022.  We are able to launch the project earlier than expected as participating libraries were ready to participate.  200 TAGs were selected from 40 libraries and were trained on leadership skills, project management skills and other soft skills. Phase 2, the Leadership Summit was held virtually in February 2023.  As Phase 3, the most outstanding 40 TAGs are carrying out the community projects.   We were able to partner with Ooredoo Myanmar to support the TAG project especially at the leadership summit in Yangon.  Moreover, Ooredoo highlighted the TAG project as a special feature on the International Women's Day in March 2023.   
Success stories of the TAG programme were mentioned in the TAG 2022 Success Stories file. 

4. Business Startup Programme 

As for the business startup programme, we were able to partner with another local NGO, Myanmar Business Executive (MBE) to deliver the training to our library users.  43 SMEs were selected from 84 applications in February 2022 based on their background and most of them were from rural and from vulnerable areas.  Trainings were conducted from April to September 2022 for 6 months followed by the mentorship programme until January 2023.  The following topics were covered. 

  • Entrepreneurship Foundations 
  • Marketing Management 
  • Smart Selling and Customer Service 
  • Financial Management 
  • Operation Management 
  • HR Management 
  • Leadership Skills 
  • Business Ethics 
  • Communication Skills 

The mentorship programme was highly appreciated by the participating business owners.   
Details of the Business Start-up Programme were mentioned in the the enclosed file, Business Start-Up Development Program (Training Report).  Challenges and Success Stories can be read in the report as well. 

Capacity Building Programme: We are very much appreciative of including capacity building of our own staffs under this project.  This programme was based on the sponsorship and arrangement of ISIF Asia, the mentoring program which was facilitated by JFDI.Asia in Singapore. 

Effective Online Training : due to COVID-19, many of our training sessions were shifted online and hence effective training was needed. 

2. Financial control programme: MBAPF lacked the computerized control of accounting and hence we were able to use MYSQL software and training on effective use of the software were added. 
Details were mentioned under Capacity Building Plan section of this report.

Project Review and Assessment

Most of the project activities were on track as we originally planned despite many challenges that we had faced.  We would like to share the following key project reviews and assessments.    


1. We had initially anticipated getting connectivity for 20 community libraries but Ooredoo Myanmar had sponsored 40 community libraries. This double in data contribution had made us more valuable reach out to more users and hence our objective of Internet Development contribution was fulfilled. 
At the same time, we received USD 100,000 worth of digital devices (laptops, tablets and smart phones) from Ooredoo Myanmar.  With the presence of connectivity, digital devices and trained librarians, library visitorship increased by almost 80% compared with the previous year. 

A chart showing the increase in visitors across 40 libraries.
A chart showing the increase in visitors across 40 libraries.


2. Mobile Information Literacy(MIL) training were able to conduct as planned.  We were able to reach to 4,500 trainees+ (10% more than we had planned).  We conducted pre and post training assessment via Microsoft Forms and found out that 76% of the respondents said that they would recommend our training to others (definitely Yes).  33% of respondent said that our trainings were extremely relevant and another 55% of the respondent said that "Very Relevant".   
At the time of post training assessment, we have asked our trainees approximately how many people they would share these training to others.  56% of our trainees said that they would share at least 5-10 persons and another 30% said that 10-15 persons.  Therefore, total of 86% would share at least 5 persons and above in next one year.  Therefore, we would confidently said that another 20,000 people would be getting these training (4,500 x 5 x 86%= 19,350).  Please see the MIL Report file for survey data. 
Now that the MIL track has being further developed through this project, we are planning to include around 200 visually impaired people in digital literacy training in the next three months.


3. As for the Tech Age Girl (TAG) Programme, we received so much valuable positive feedback not only from TAG but also from village influencers and our partner, Ooredoo Myanmar.  40 community projects were successfully conducted under this project.  Because of this success, Ooredoo Myanmar confirmed to support the TAG project for 2023-24 so that this programme has been implemented for 8 years consecutively.  Some examples are mentioned in the TAG Success Story file. 


4. Under the Business Startup Programme, MBAPF was able to secure a partnership with MBE and trainings were conducted smoothly.  We received 84 applicants for 40 SME enrolment.  Selections were made based on socio-economic background and diversity of businesses.  Finally, we selected 43 applicants and all of them graduated the programme.  
Needs assessments were conducted and we found out that  90% of participant MSMEs believe that they need to learn about Marketing and Financial Management while 80% agree they need to learn about Small Business Management and Human Resource Management. 
To ensure that the participants fully comprehended the topics covered in the training program, a recap session was conducted. During this session, the participants were taught how to develop a business plan based on the concepts they had learned. They were also given the opportunity to discuss any challenges they had encountered while implementing what they had learned. Trainers and mentors were present at the session to offer guidance and support.   
As a final assessment, all participants are required to write a business plan because the goal of the program is to improve the ability of participants by enhancing their skills in planning, coordinating, and managing their business operations.  
Course outline are mentioned in the MBE training details file. 
Challenges, success stories and recommendations are mentioned in Business Start-Up Development Program (Training Report).pdf 


5. Another key element that we review and assess was the creation of ownership in every track of our project. On the Tech Age Girl track, we found out that up to 66% (2/3 of total) of the previous alumni TAGs are helping at their libraries as trainers or volunteers.  They felt that TAG project belong to them.  Moreover, we also found out that they became active women leader in their communities and participated in community based projects.  For example, MBAPF is conducting another project with UNICEF on "Bringing Back Learning" project and we found out that up to 60% of Alumni TAGs are participating in our project as volunteers.  To become an active women leader was our main objective in TAG project and hence we could say that TAGs got the ownership and applying those skills that they learned from TAG in other projects as well. 
On the MIL track, we have full community engagement and participation and hence MBAPF supported the first 5 months from March to July 2022 and the community supported it from August 2022 to January 2023.  We surveyed our participating libraries and found out that 80% of the participating libraries would be continuing these training as part of their regular library activity.  In other words, a sense of ownership was created and these libraries will carry out these training as part of the library activity even after the project period ends. 
On the Business start-up track, almost all the SME owners continue meeting with their mentors on regular basics.  At the same time, they are applying those training that they learned in the course and share with others at their respective libraries. 


6. Staff mentorship and coaching training to our organizational staff were also extremely successful.  They started to take the leadership role of the organization.  At the same time, they were convinced that our organization could provide benefit for thousands of beneficiaries across the country and they became proud of working with us.   
At the same time, we have started to use the accounting software which helped us in many efficient way.  It is extremely helpful not only in our current projects but also in our other projects with other partners such as UNICEF as using accounting software is mandatory in these projects. 
Photos of all three tracks of the project implementation can be seen at below link. 

Capacity Building

The following has been carried out as part of the capacity building plan. 
Staff Mentoring and Training 
The following capacity building training sessions were conducted. 
1. Business Idea Pitching Workshop, Leadership Skill Training, Effective Online Training, Research Methodology and Design Thinking Skills.

Even though MBAPF is structured as Not For Profit Non-Government Organization, we envision that we need to reform our vision into "Social Entrepreneurship" model for sustainability.  Therefore, all our staff not only at our management level but also junior staff are encouraged to get the following training with this project grant.  We conducted the following training for our organization staff. 

a. Business idea pitching workshop 
b. Leadership Skills (using Strengthening Innovative Library Leadership training slides and workbook) 
          1. Problem Solving  
          2. Planner  
          3. Innovation skill 
          4. Communication skill 
 c. Research Methodology  
d. Design Thinking Skills 

As Myanmar has been facing COVID-19, our mode of delivery of training had to change to online instead of face-to-face training.  Therefore, we have conducted teaching and re-teach training to become master trainers via online methods.  Fortunately, we have received "Effective Online Training" techniques when we conducted our Digital Literacy project with FaceBook and hence we were able to train our staff again.   

2. Financial Control Training 
MBAPF has been using Advanced Excel software for account control for nearly 10 years.  Now, we have reviewed all our accounting standards and found out that we need to use an accounting software hence we have installed SQL Financial Accounting PRO software. Training to use the software including other international accounting standards were conducted by Ms Thida Thaung Sein, a Certified Practicing Accountant and internal auditor of MBAPF  and she has over 15 years experience. 

We noticed that productivity of our financial controls increased almost 2-fold.  At the same time, we are able to reform many of our accounting standards and added in our Standard Operation Procedures (SOP).  We are enclosing our updated Financial Control and Accountability. 
Training package, photos of the training can be viewed here. 

We are extremely grateful for APNIC Foundation's support for capacity building of our staff.

Gender Equity and Inclusion

As mentioned in our proposal, community libraries are neutral ground so that there is no gender, race, religion or ethnicity divides at the libraries. According to our experience, parents are willing to send their daughters to the libraries than other places in rural setting.    
We also found out the following concrete commitment for diversity. 
1. At present, 60% of participating libraries are women led community based libraries. 
2. 200 Tech Age Girls had become active women leaders in their respective communities under the TAG Myanmar project.  The demand for this project was extremely high as this project gave opportunities for rural women to learn some many 21st century skills. 
3. Under the Business Start-up track, again 65% (32 organizations) are women led and 70% are from rural area.  

Project Management

Despite the COVID-19 and military coup in Myanmar, our project team was able to work relentlessly towards the goals of the project.  Despite the disruption of project activities in July and August 2022 and the delay in delivering the routers from Ooredoo, we were able to manage to get back on track of our project. During the COVID crisis, some of our training sessions had to be conducted online rather than face to face.   
Each project manager for each track is professional and knows the community needs.  Therefore, we had to customize them according to these needs in time.  For example, digital and physical security training were not involved in our earlier proposed training under MIL but we were able to include them as they are extremely important these days. 
The mindset of our librarians and our project team were so great that they were eager to reach to higher goals in terms of quantity and quality of the training.  That is why, we were able to reach to 10%-20% more in number in TAGs, MIL and Business Start-up programs.   
At the same time, we were able to strengthen the capacity of our finance team by using the Accounting Software.  We believed that this initiative has made our foundation stand out to meet international standards.  In other words, we are getting ready for future projects. 
We found out that flexibility, positive mindset, creating ownership and partnership are key in sustainability of the project.  These skills are currently applying in our other projects now. 
Finally, we would like to thank to APNIC Foundation and IREX for their patience, flexibility and trust on MBAPF.  Without their support, this project would not be completed.  

Project Sustainability

Because of the current political challenges in Myanmar, many funding agencies stay away from supporting the government directly.  Instead, they tried to support communities directly.  MBAPF strategically positioned itself by working with 250 community libraries and INGOs and UN organizations started to work with MBAPF.  We would like to highlight the following sustainable programmes to carry out even after the end of this grant. 

1. At present, MBAPF has been working as an implementing partner with UNICEF in the Reading Together project which refurbishes libraries and delivers training to librarians from 30 community libraries in the Rakhine State.  After UNICEF learned about our current project with ISIF Asia, we expanded our project activities to conduct Digital Literacy training to other partners of UNICEF. This project would benefit 4,500 children in the Rakhine State. Since it was very successful, we are now in discussions with UNICEF to expand the project to other regions in the Rakhine State. 

2. UNICEF had expanded to offer MBAPF to carry out the "Bringing Back Learning project" under which 40 community library hubs with 280 outreached hubs were create and reached to 35,000 children.  Again, our digital literacy training, leadership skills and project management skills has been incorporating into this project.  The project was launched in June 2022. 
From June 2023, this BBL project will be expended to 130 community centres across the country reaching to 140,000 children who are unable to go for formal schooling system due to armed conflict. 

3. Our longstanding partner, IREX, had introduced "Digital Security Training" to be conducted to 200 community people.  Results of this training is extremely impactful as there is a huge demand for the community under the military government.   

4.  Our another longstanding partner, Ooredoo Myanmar, had recently supported with various digital devices (routers, tablets and smart phones) which valued over USD 100,000.  At the same time, 40 additional libraries received the connectivity and devices.  Therefore, our Beyond Access library network has reached to 250 libraries from 210 libraries. 

5. Ooredoo Myanmar had confirmed to sponsor for Tech Age Girl Myanmar project for 2023-24 so that this will be 8 consecutive year that we have been implementing TAG project in Myanmar.

Project Communication

We would like to mention two ways of communication; internal and external. 
1. Internal Communication 
- We have constant internal communication with our participating libraries via our closed Facebook Group.  They can ask and give feedback to us anytime.  Moreover, one library can learn from another as this network become a discussion point to overcome any challenges they had faced. 
- Regular Peer Learning Meeting with participating libraries also give deep insight activities of each track of the project.   

2. External Communication 

2.a. Various channels are used to make the project aware to other partners and funders. The MBAPF website has posted about the project and news updates regularly. Please see at below links:

2.b. At the same time, participating libraries posted their activities on their own Facebook pages and there are thousands of followers following each page.  Below are a few examples:

2.c. We were able to present the project activities at the Global Digital Development Forum at the lightning talks session. 


2.d. Ooredoo Myanmar highlights the TAG project to celebrate the International women day on 28th March 2022

Project recommendations and use of findings

We learned so many lessons from this project.  Below are our findings which can benefit to future planning. 


1. Accessibility: Choosing community libraries as our beneficiaries again proved that this is the right strategic choice.  At the moment, because of the political situation in Myanmar, no international organizations nor UN would like to work with the military government. Our community libraries serve as neutral ground for basic community needs so that it is our right choice of partnership as MBAPF was able to channel all to the beneficiaries. 
For example, our MBAPF's another project with UNICEF had to amend our programme document in the middle of the project as we initially planned to work with school libraries which are under Ministry of Education. Now, that project is focusing on working with community libraries only.  
These findings are in line with our earlier findings from Community Libraries which are mentioned in the Lessons Learned from CL file. 


2. Flexibility: In a time of crisis with COVID and the coup in Myanmar, flexibility played a crucial role in bringing success.  As we pointed out, we have faced so many challenges but because of the flexibility of our donor and partners, we were able to complete the project successfully. 


3. Affordability: Since our focus was to reach to the most vulnerable population of our country, affordability was one of the key challenges that our rural people faced.  Connectivity and devices gave them a huge support to them.  According to our survey, once these two components along with trained librarian is present, library visitorship increased by 80%. 


4. Diversity: All three tracks under this project covered diverse people of Myanmar especially reaching to the most vulnerable population.  In other word, this project had met our anticipated outcome of both Internet and community developments.  This was because all three tracks met the community needs especially in this challenging time of the country.   


5. Partnership: We always try to find partners not only at organizational level but also at community level.  At the organizational level, MBAPF was able to convince our longstanding partner Ooredoo Myanmar to invest in devices (Eg. routers, tablets and smart phones) as there was a high demand for them.  Moreover, MBAPF was able to bring in MBE for the business start-up programme of the project.  UNICEF has showed their interest in our MIL topics and we have started to train to their local partners. 
MBAPF partners with UNESCO to celebrate 2021 Myanmar Media and Information Literacy Week from 24th to 30th October 2021.  During this week, virtual Myanmar MIL Youth Agenda Forum was held and at the same time, one video competition among youth organization on selected MIL related theme.  Award winners videos can be viewed here.  Many alumni TAGs participated and won the top ten prizes. 

At the community level, our community librarians also tried to find partners to get further sponsorship even after the grant period was over.  At present, many libraries are caring out these training as part of library activity on regular basis.   

6. Ownership: We have given a sense of ownership of these projects to the community as mentioned above. 
Item 4 and 5 are crucial in sustainability of the project.  We have been witnessing sustainable model working in this project.

Bibliography

1. Infographic showing the coverage of the Beyond Access Myanmar library network 
2. MIL curriculum 
3. This report by IREX shows that there is an increase in 86% library visitor ship after getting connectivity, devices and trained librarian. (Sharepoint access required).
4. We are enclosing a report based on lessons learned from working with Community Libraries across Myanmar.