The Risky Business of Transformation: Social Enterprise in Myanmar’s Emerging Democracy

John Dale and David Kyle
Published in
Cambridge University Press

Social enterprises – businesses that trade for a social or environmental purpose – have been gaining currency in the United Kingdom, the United States and many countries of Southeast Asia as well. This chapter examines the emerging social enterprise sector in Myanmar, which is poised to expand in the wake of the country’s democratic political transition. Increasingly, international development institutions and investors embrace the notion that social enterprises can play an important role in promoting social inclusion and reducing inequality. The collective consensus is that a thriving social enterprise sector might serve as a democratising force in Myanmar. However, the relationship between social enterprise and democracy remains unclear, even where it thrives outside Myanmar. Can social enterprise thrive in societies with weak democratic institutions? And if not, what kinds of basic democratic safeguards are necessary for a sustainable social enterprise sector that might, in turn, strengthen existing democratic institutions and contribute to the creation of new ones?