A few weeks ago, Coca-Cola officially resumed production again in Myanmar after nearly six decades.  While official production ceased, the demand for this global brand never went away, with locals finding a way to get their hands on the iconic bottle and white cursive logo through other means.  To have a sip of Coca-Cola then was to have a glimpse of the outside world behind the country’s closed doors.

I along with two other Global Shapers from the Yangon hub, Zor Maung and Pyae Sone Oo, were lucky enough to attend Coca-Cola’s inaugural events in Myanmar on June 4, 2013.  Zor Maung and Pyae Sone were the first Shapers to step inside the new bottling plant, witnessing huge machines churn out thousands of cans and bottles, the first batches to be produced in-country. 

Evening reception in Myanmar

From left to right: Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, Muhtar Kent, Yangon Region Chief Minister, U Myint Swe, Former Pinya Manufacturing Co., Ltd. Chairman, Mr. Kitichai Yoksirimanee, and United States Ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell

Later that evening, Pyae Sone and I attended an evening reception hosted by the Chairman of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent, and former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.  As a young person living in Myanmar, it was an honor and rare opportunity to be in company of the country’s business leaders, non-profit heads, ex-political prisoners and activists, and other pioneers from a variety of industries.  What struck me was not so much the titles and standings of the guests, but that it was the first time I had personally witnessed the diversity of personalities and interests in one room.  If you had asked me five years ago if I thought that I would see revolutionaries and CEOs together in Myanmar, I would have said no.

On a personal level, the most poignant moment came for me when I sat down to have dinner and struck a conversation with the gentleman next to me.  Unbeknownst to me, the quiet, mild-mannered dinner guest in traditional Myanmar dress turned out to be a personal hero of mine, one of the student leaders from the 88 Generation who spent the past 20 years as a political prisoner, and had also known my grandfather.  He was refreshingly candid, upbeat, and positive, his passion for his continued work in development and politics a beacon of hope for myself and countless of other young people.  Shortly after, I met with Mr. Kent himself, whose continued support of the Global Shapers Community and Myanmar itself emblematic of looking ahead to the future.

“I never thought that I would experience this in a million years,” Pyae Sone remarked to me as the night ended.  I’m not sure what the next 1, 5, or million years may hold for Myanmar, but moments like this one show me that it is possible to move ahead with diverse groups and interests converging under one roof. 

Yin Mon Vanessa Han in Myanmar

Yin Mon Vanessa Han is the Founder and Managing Director of Myanmar Mentors, a non-profit organization aiming to provide educational and professional guidance to young people in Myanmar.  She is the current Curator and member of the Global Shapers Yangon Hub.