The Globe as you know it is changing.
Coming June 2019

  • More thought-provoking stories that inspire
  • Independent, free and member-supported
  • Vote for, pitch and commission stories
  • Member engagement with our journalists

To understand more about why you are so important to our member-supported initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. And watch this space.

Myanmar / Businesswoman conjuring a social media success story

By: Janelle Retka - Photography by: Victoria Milko - Posted on: March 15, 2018 | Business

Sandi Sein Thein’s marketing company Digital Kaway – which means ‘wizard’ in Myanmar – has expanded local perceptions of what the internet has to offer, earning her a place on Forbes’ prestigious 30 Under 30 Asia list

Sandi Sein Thein saw social media as a way to eliminate outdated, overpriced advertising methods Photo: Victoria Milko

When Digital Kaway began doing business three years ago, it comprised two founding employees, two computers and an internet connection. The agency had one client: an infants’ vitamin and nutrition company that Sandi Sein Thein won over at a networking event. Her pitch for a low-cost outreach scheme was based around mothers submitting photos of their babies to the client’s Facebook page and sharing the link with friends in an attempt to gain ‘likes’ and win a product. It worked.

“Mums really love to do that. They really want to post all their baby photos,” said Sein Thein, the marketing agency’s CEO and co-founder. “So they shared a lot.”

The baby products were selling well, and Digital Kaway’s first successful project meant that “we had the confidence that it’s a good idea to start [marketing] on Facebook”, the 29-year-old said. The social media-focused agency was ready to kick off and planned to use the internet’s relative infancy in Myanmar and the firm’s understanding of platforms such as Facebook and company-specific mobile apps as its leverage in the marketing industry.

“In Myanmar, [companies] spend really huge on traditional marketing, like newspapers and billboards. They might invest $1,000 for [one ad],” she said.

If companies were to shift gears to use social media as a marketing tool instead, Sein Thein was sure they could reduce or eliminate the need to pay for advertisements and take advantage of a growing online audience.

This concept was new to the country. Less than a decade ago, the fingernail-sized piece of PVC that makes up a SIM card was going for $2,000 in Myanmar. Restrictions on internet access were reduced in late 2011, but usage remained limited in the face of high phone and internet costs. Then, suddenly, SIM card prices dropped – drastically. By 2014, the going rate was $1.50 and the internet’s popularity surged.

As with many nations that have only recently embraced the web, there was tunnel vision surrounding Facebook, which had become synonymous with the internet as far as the local population was concerned – but few knew how to take full advantage of the platform.

Sein Thein divides her time between managing Digital Kaway and the local chapter of Geek Girls, a women-in-tech initiative Photo: Victoria Milko

At the time, Sein Thein was in Singapore, working at her stable and lucrative job of five years recruiting students to attend Shelton College International using social media marketing.

“That was a good time. The pay was really good,” she said. “But my mind changed in 2014 when I saw some changes in my country, like politics and the economy and everything.”

It was time to move on.

Within six months of returning to Yangon, she and her business partner, Kaung Sitt, had used their personal savings, along with some money from a small investor, to prepare a makeshift office for Digital Kaway.

“Crony businesses” owned by affluent locals and small family businesses would be their focus. Sein Thein said they avoided corporate companies and focused on smaller firms because Digital Kaway understood their needs best. The two founders were alert to how important social media would become with time, and it became a matter of convincing business owners of the importance of a media plan.

“One thing some of them really don’t realise is you can’t just post a photo and a caption” on Facebook, she said. Companies that use that approach are “posting content but not engaging the public and customer relations”.

Local social trends and commentary – such as political jokes or trending lingo – can be turned into catchy marketing material so that companies are not just posting about their product.

“Every two weeks there’s something new,” she said. “There’s a saying that went viral recently: ‘When the world is divided into two, I want to stay where you are.’ So we reworked it: ‘When the world is divided into two, I want to stay where – insert the name of a restaurant – is,’” Sein Thein said, adding that this might be developed in the form of a meme, a graphic or an animation.

She began pitching tailored media plans relentlessly to potential clients. Sein Thein has lost track of how many marketing proposals she has developed over the past three years, but it’s in the hundreds. Building a portfolio, she said, is essential to gaining credibility for a startup company.

In one instance, in 2015, Digital Kaway developed an app for an NGO hoping to educate the population on political candidates and their platforms in the general election. Illustrations of the candidates were commissioned and her team developed written copy that was easy for users to digest before heading to the polls.

Paraphernalia on the shelves in Sein Thein’s office in Yangon Photo: Victoria Milko

Branding for companies became a focal point of the agency’s work, while company-to-consumer relationships were bolstered by hands-on social media monitoring in which Digital Kaway staff were the first to respond to online enquiries or complaints – often using digital “stickers” to maintain a cheerful tone. With these services, Sein Thein said, clients had established a reliable and engaging online presence.

As Sein Thein grew her company, she began looking into opportunities to advance tech literacy across Myanmar, which she thought would inadvertently boost social media marketing success. She founded the country’s chapter of Geek Girls, a women-in-tech initiative, and began training tours throughout the country.

“It’s something that promotes my business, too, because I give guidelines on how to use social media… how to use Google, Wikipedia, YouTube,” she said.

Now, Sein Thein spends about a third of her time on Geek Girls tours, devoting the rest to her Digital Kaway office in Yangon. She has become the first established entrepreneur in a long family line of corporate and government employees.

“My mum didn’t like it – and she still doesn’t like it – when I started this, because when I worked in Singapore for a corporation my pay was really good,” she said. “When I started the company, things changed. Sometimes I couldn’t even afford a taxi fare after paying the salaries of employees, which is the first thing [employers need to pay out]… But now we are doing well.”

Tech literacy in the country has grown drastically in recent years, and about 90% of the population is now online. According to Sein Thein, contributing to the tech environment surrounding her company has been key to the agency’s success – even as competition has blossomed in the marketing sector.

“We don’t really have a lot of [tech] talent here in Myanmar yet, because the country is opening and growing up,” she said. “We still need a lot more training and vocational training, all these professional trainings.”

In addition to Geek Girls workshops, Sein Thein invests time in training her own employees – Digital Kaway currently has a staff of 69 – and said that the company’s expertise and focus on the local market propels it past competition.

The young entrepreneur sees plenty of room for Digital Kaway to grow in this environment. The agency currently provides services to 34 companies in Yangon, and in the next five years Sein Thein hopes her medium-sized company will gain investors and become a “big media agency” that’s established in other parts of Myanmar, including Mandalay. She also plans to turn the company’s attention to Google, SEO management and website copy editing in anticipation of a future lull in social media use in Myanmar.

Indeed, it is precisely the uncertainties in the industry that evoke worry in her mum that have been a driving factor for Sein Thein in the growth of Digital Kaway, she said.

“I think without the risk there is no opportunity to grow… It has taken a lot of components to survive for three years. That was a long journey and it’s still a long journey,” she said. “When you start a business, you can see that sometimes things will not happen as you expect, but this is my enjoyment in life.”

This article was published in the March edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here.

Related reading: