June 22, 2022
From Myanmar to Finland – a quarterly review
In early March, I hopped on a long flight to Helsinki from Yangon in Myanmar, where I have been residing and working for the past six years. I was excited to embark on an adventure and a new challenge ahead of me: I had wrapped up my existing job in Yangon, accepted a job offer from Finnish development financier and impact investor Finnfund and was looking forward to start a new life in this Nordic capital claimed to be one of the most liveable cities in the world.
With my background in private equity and financial services in frontier markets, I’m used to thinking in terms of quarters and now that three months have passed since my arrival, perhaps it’s a good time to look back at how things have developed.
The ‘dive straight into the deep end’ approach
I was told that Finland is ‘cold and dark’ by quite a few people, both friends and colleagues, before coming here. Having lived in Minnesota and Chicago winters, I was a bit steadfast that I knew what I was getting into but still it was a cold adjustment immediately after I arrived. Nonetheless, despite the cold Finnish March weather, I believe I adjusted relatively fast and well to life in Helsinki. Finnfund had been very supportive with all the details regarding my move and my new colleagues were very welcoming. The first weeks were of course all about logistics, but I did manage to try my skills in skiing within a few days – something I was not super prepared for but was a lot of fun! Next winter I will be more prepared. I also have a weekly session booked in the communal sauna in my apartment building – never thought I would enjoy Finnish sauna as much as I do.
Workwise, the Finnfund way is to combine a thorough onboarding programme with jumping right into project work – you learn by doing. Very quickly I had participated in all parts of the investment process and I’m even happy to say that we recently signed one of the investments I was working on. I’m the type of person who’s always looking for new challenges and I have absolutely enjoyed this deep dive into the world of impact investing and development finance.
Big parts of the work are similar to what I did working at a PE fund in Myanmar but I really appreciate some of the specific resources at Finnfund: We have dedicated environmental and social responsibility, impact and legal teams and working with these experts is very rewarding. I bring my financial analysis and business assessment skills to the table, they bring their expertise. I also work closely with our economist team. In my previous jobs, all focus was on Myanmar but now we need to take the macroeconomics of each country into account when preparing new investments. Finnfund invests in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the markets and context are different every time. Because of my knowledge from Southeast Asia, I’ve mainly been working on projects located there, but I have also been involved in, for example, projects in India, Pakistan, Africa and Latin America and even recently went on an in person due diligence trip.
Local knowledge is an advantage
I was expecting to become some sort of Myanmar expert at Finnfund, and it’s been nice that people have really wanted to hear my thoughts and experiences. One of my E&S colleagues wrote a blog post about the investor’s role in dealing with data confidentiality and reached out to me to hear my view on the Telenor case in Myanmar. This is, in my opinion, one of the advantages of having a diverse workforce: hiring people from different parts of the world gives the organisation an insider’s view into the culture, politics and business environment, especially if we are doing business in those countries. You can of course gain this knowledge in other ways as well, but a local person has first-hand knowledge of the nuances in a different way. Besides Myanmar, I have been following other Asian countries closely and I’m happy to share this knowledge with my colleagues.
Roughly half of Finnfund’s portfolio consists of investments in Africa. We’re lucky enough to have a close colleague Kelvin Kiiru who also recently came to Finnfund from Nairobi, Kenya this year. We’ve attended Finnish culture and language trainings and celebrated Finnish Vappu together, and he’s my go-to person when I need to learn more about African countries. I’m happy to do the same for him and other colleagues when it comes to Asia.
Part of a European network
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to attend a training in Brussels, Belgium arranged by EDFI, the Association of bilateral European Development Finance Institutions. Together with about 60 other newcomers from different European DFIs, we spent some intensive days learning more about development finance while at the same time getting to know each other over drinks and good food. This is very valuable since we often work together when our institutions co-finance different projects.
I had already worked with some of the DFIs in Myanmar and had a rough idea about the scene in Europe, but meeting people face to face always adds another dimension to the training. We were so lucky that this could be arranged as an in-person meeting! It was great to meet new people and make new connections. Some of us even stayed a bit after the event to explore Brussels and beyond together, such as a day trip to Ghent.
I’m getting quite used to being the only person in the room who’s from Myanmar. My home country was mentioned a number of times during the EDFI training, and again it was nice to be able to contribute with my personal experiences. Many of the attendees knew about the political crisis in the country but were keen to learn more about how it has affected the people and the business environment.
Vision for Q2: Digging deeper
So, my first quarter in Europe, Finland and Finnfund, in a nutshell, is over. Looking back, it has definitely been a transition period both personally and professionally. My vision ahead is to get deeper into my role and work towards the career goals I have set for myself. I really look forward to working together with my colleagues, my new-found EDFI contacts and of course I want to explore more of Finland! Summertime is said to be amazing and I plan to spend a lot of time in the Finnish nature, hiking and photography. The neighbouring countries Sweden and Estonia are on my to do list as well. I am already looking forward to what might be in store ahead. Maybe I will return with a Q2 review later this year?
Investment Associate, Financial Institutions
All photographs are taken by Kyaw Latt during his first three months in Finland