A Social Enterprise Story from Bagan, Myanmar

Last Updated on March 5, 2023

The Myanmar Youth Development Institute brought vocational training opportunities to the youth of Bagan, Myanmar with the creation of Sanon Restaurant in 2019, Bagan’s first socially responsible restaurant.

Social enterprise is fairly new to Myanmar despite being well developed in nearby Thailand and Vietnam, so it’s exciting to see how every year brings new opportunities for social enterprise to help responsible travelers

Note: Sanon restaurant closed during the Covid-19 pandemic and was not yet open as of early 2023. Check the website or Google listing to find out if it has reopened, and consider volunteering to improve the students’ English if you have more time to give.

responsible travel bagan, myanmar
A close look at responsible tourism in Bagan, Myanmar means a stop at Sanon Restaurant.

How Did Sanon Restaurant Get Started?

In the early stages, Myanmar Youth Development Institute consulted with Friends-International, a well-developed social enterprise working toward providing a better future for marginalized children and youth, their families, and their communities in Southeast Asia, and around the world. To date, Friends International has reached more than 60,000 people—the organization provides them with services that include health care, shelter, food, and education, as well as training for employment programs in sewing, beauty, electricity, moto-mechanic, and hospitality.

In consulting with the Myanmar Youth Development Institute—an Institute that supports orphans and youth in Myanmar—Sanon Restaurant gives new opportunities to 30 students each year. The Myanmar Youth Development Institute works on community development in Myanmar’s most rural areas.

The opening of Sanon Restaurant in Bagan as a social enterprise gave the organization a new platform to offer professional training in hygiene, food preparation, and customer service. It also offers life skills training, accommodation, and meals to students who participate in their training workshops. English language is also an essential skill within the hospitality and tourism industries, and is a part of the training program. Students are then given job placements and a further two years of support after graduating from Sanon.

We’ve been working with various youth centers in Myanmar since 1998 and it’s been a concern, the escalating numbers of disadvantaged youth. With this in mind and the rise of tourism, we are thrilled to open our social enterprise that supports and empowers youth!

Richard Cody, Director, Myanmar Youth Development Institute.
burma social enterprise
Sanon Restaurant serves creative Western and Burmese fusion dishes.

Why Locate Sanon in Bagan?

Bagan’s geographical location makes it one of the driest areas in Myanmar. It is challenging for communities to earn a living through agriculture, and many reap the harsh effects of Myanmar’s prolonged dry season.

The Myanmar Youth Development Institute and Sanon Restaurant provide an alternative income for these families while inspiring and educating youth in the hospitality industry. The organizations aim to train 30 students per year, find them employment in the hospitality sector, and guide them in the workplace for a further two years.

Sanon social enterprise in Bagan, Myanmar
Youth in the training program receive a broad and deep level of training in every key area they need for success in the tourism and hospitality industries.

Sanon Restaurant uses the same social enterprise business model and training system as the other TREE Alliance (powered by Friends-International) restaurants, and the team in Myanmar received initial training and support from the Friends-International headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. All profits generated by the Sanon project are then reinvested into other youth projects in Myanmar.

With borders now open to tourists from around the world, Myanmar will rapidly see a rise in tourist numbers as it becomes a more regular stop on the Southeast Asia backpacking circuit, which is paving the way for many new business endeavors.

Sanon Restaurant is an example of the kind of business that will take Myanmar in a positive direction. It is the kind of business that favours community development and human rights over profits and exploitation. If there was ever a time that Myanmar needed a leading social enterprise model, it is now. Sanon Restaurant is the perfect example of business done right.

Sanon, meaning Turmeric in Burmese, offers guests a tapas style menu of creative cuisine using both Burmese and Western influences. When it’s open, it’s located in Bagan’s main tourist area of Nyaung-U and will eventually reopen seven days a week from 10am to 10:00pm, during high tourist season. Find a pin-drop of its location here.