FEATURE22 February 2021

Moving money: Increasing Myanmar’s financial literacy

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Asia Pacific Features Finance Impact

To increase understanding of finance in Myanmar, BBC Media Action produced a radio show giving tips for migrants and rural communities. By Liam Kay.

Myanmar money_crop

The south-east Asian nation of Myanmar has a significant internal migrant population. Its 2014 Population and Housing Census estimated that there were more than nine million internal migrants – equivalent to almost 20% of the population – with people moving from the countryside to major cities for work as the economy shifts from agriculture to industry. Myanmar still has a large rural population; Unesco data shows that 65% of people live in the countryside.

To help migrants and rural communities, the BBC’s international development charity, BBC Media Action, ran a project that aimed to educate people about financial management. The project was funded by the Livelihoods and Food Security Fund, with the objective of addressing issues around migration, work and money.

The charity decided to create a radio magazine show, Yay Kyi Yar (Towards Clearer Waters), to educate migrants and rural communities about finance, having identified it as an issue among both groups.

Running throughout 2017 and 2018, the programme was broadcast weekly on the national broadcaster, Myanmar Radio, and a community radio station in Thailand that reaches migrants from Myanmar. In 2019, the programme switched to television, where it ran for 11 episodes and was accompanied by a campaign on Facebook.

To inform the content of the show before its launch, the research team conducted focus groups with migrants in the city of Yangon, and communities in the Delta and Dry Zone regions and Shan state, to learn about their experiences, knowledge and current practices of financial management and migration, and to understand where gaps existed. This formative qualitative research found there was little prior knowledge about money management among rural and migrant communities.

Haung Nyoi, local research manager at BBC Media Action, says: “The cycle of debt in these communities is often not because of a lack of job opportunities, but because people are ashamed to let others know about their debt. Sometimes, people do not look for information. Sometimes, people thought it was their fate to be in debt.”

BBC Media Action worked with the production teams at the two radio stations to use the findings of the research to develop content for the show, with key areas identified and broken down by segment and episode. The researchers also pre-tested a pilot episode to gauge audience opinion on how informative it was and whether they found it enjoyable.

The team created a character called Mr Money to encourage people to engage with the show’s content in an amusing and lighthearted way.
“What we heard from the beginning to the end of the project, and still now, is that the main appeal of the programme was the Mr Money character,” says Anna Colquhoun, international research manager at BBC Media Action. “When we were travelling around the country, if we mentioned that we were the organisation that made Mr Money, we were welcomed.”

The radio show ran for 78 episodes. The first phase of the evaluation involved qualitative research with people who had listened at home and those who had attended ‘listener clubs’, where communities listened to the show together. During this phase, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups to understand the extent to which people’s attitudes or behaviour altered. The qualitative study involved 47 people.

The second phase, a quantitative survey, had two components: a nationally representative household survey comprising 3,000 interviews; and an additional 300 interviews with people identified as regular listeners, meaning they tuned in at least twice a month. It included questions on topics such as financial management, the show itself, migration, and media consumption.

In total, Yay Kyi Yar had 3.2 million listeners, equating to about a quarter of radio listeners in the country. Within that number, 1.8 million were deemed regular listeners. The show also had 700,000 Facebook followers by the end of its run, a figure that has since grown to more than one million.

The evaluation found that regular listeners were more knowledgeable, confident and more likely to be talking about managing their money than non-listeners, says Colquhoun. More than half ( 57%) of regular listeners reported that they had taken some action to manage their money because of the show.

“The actions people on the survey listed were almost entirely linked to the tips given by Mr Money,” Colquhoun says, adding that some of the most popular tips mentioned by the character included “saving with a particular objective in mind, saving small cash, making household budgets, and making a plan before you go to the market”.

The show recently resurrected the Mr Money character during Covid-19, to discuss migration, workers’ rights and pandemic preparations.
“The reason Mr Money was successful was because of his plain-speaking language,” says Colquhoun. “He was entertaining and he gave people tips that were really easy to do. Those same principles were then brought into how to approach Covid-19. All the tips he gave were easy to implement as an individual and as a household.

“It was an antidote to the more serious information they were hearing from the government or from other sources, which perhaps didn’t engage them in the same way.”

Regular listeners were:

  • 1.6 times more likely than non-listeners to say they were saving regularly when controlling for other key variables
  • Twice as likely to say they had compared interest rates before taking out a loan
  • 1.5 times more likely to have discussed money matters with someone close to them.

Additionally, 71% of regular listeners felt their knowledge of how to manage money had increased over the previous year, compared with 57% of non-listeners.

This article was first published in the January 2021 issue of Impact.