Matthew Wallace | 2019 Alumni Humanitarian Award Recipient

Matthew WallacePolitical Studies to Myanmar

Matthew Wallace ’06 PAA and his wife Heather Trammel ’05 LAS were members of the inaugural class (first four-year class) of the UIS Capitol Scholars Honors Program. Matt says he came to UIS because of an interest in politics, but he became disillusioned by what was happening in state politics at the time and started taking classes that focused on international politics instead. As he did classwork on Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, he became deeply interested in poverty alleviation.

That’s when Myanmar (formerly called Burma) caught his attention. “No one was talking about Myanmar,” he says. “It’s a hard country to get to and hard to get work in, but it had far and away the worst context for poverty at the time. That’s what made me want to go there.”

Matthew Wallace and Heather TrammelMatt and Heather married in 2006, and made the move to Myanmar in 2008. At first they both taught English, a common entrée for many expats working overseas. Before long, Matt began consulting with local companies on their supply-chain management and marketing. It didn’t faze him that he didn’t have much of a background in business. “Compared to the people in Myanmar,” he says, “I had a lot more capacity to learn about how a business could lower costs and raise profits and deciding what products would work well.”

Consulting gave him an idea of how he could work on alleviating the poverty he saw around him. By 2010, Matt and friend Ryan Russell had plans in place for a business called Opportunities NOW, which would include an entrepreneurship school and a source of loans for graduates. “We were especially interested in helping young people between the ages of 17 and 30,” Matt says. “In Myanmar, people in their 20s are called the lost or forgotten generation because they have no opportunity to get jobs. Their schools have been a wreck, and there’s no real sense of them having any kind of value for society. We wanted to give them a voice.”

During the next two years, Matt and Heather returned to the States so Matt could earn his master’s degree in International Commerce from the University of Kentucky Patterson School of Diplomacy. His business partner, Ryan, spent the time raising capital for the business.

Opportunities NOW Myanmar

In 2012, Opportunities NOW launched. “In the first year, we started eight to ten businesses,” Matt says. Since then, they have trained over 500+ students, invested in 250+ businesses, and have expanded to a second location.

Matthew Wallace on trishawSaw Golden Chit (at right) said he’s wanted to run a business and be his own boss since he was a child. He enrolled in Opportunities NOW in 2013, and became the owner of a fleet of trishaws. The three-month program taught him how to run a business before nurturing his own ideas and eventually providing a small loan to get started.


* provided by Opportunities NOW at 

Opportunities NOW is an entrepreneurship development system in Myanmar that seeks to reduce poverty by providing business training and mentoring in various stages of business startup. Opportunities NOW not only provides the educational framework to help a business grow, but also provides the capital that students need to succeed with their business through the ONOW Social Launch Fund. Opportunities NOW ran its first entrepreneurship training program in May 2012 and has grown rapidly since then.

ONOW is a social enterprise, committed to delivering financially sustainable positive change in the lives of the entrepreneurs we work with. Rather than existing to create shareholder value, ONOW commits to reinvesting at least 50% profits from activities into creating new tools in the Development Lab, extending the reach of the Enterprise Development System, and training ONOW’s young Myanmar staff to become creative professionals beyond their work with ONOW.

Why Work With Youth?

*provided by Opportunities NOW at

Youth unemployment is a global concern. The ILO estimates 40 percent of the world’s 160 million jobless are between the ages of 15 and 24, and that 85 percent of the 1 billion in that age bracket live in developing countries. Global unemployment levels among youth are two to three times higher on average than they are for adults, and young people are more likely to work low-paying, temporary jobs that don’t offer security or employment benefits.

Youth in Myanmar experience not only the worldwide trend of increasing youth unemployment but also an additional lack of local opportunities. A recent survey found that 37% of the country’s workforce is unemployed, and this number goes as high as 70% in certain minority groups.

Poverty is unevenly distributed between rural and urban areas: 85% of poverty is found in rural areas and the disparity between states and regions vary from as high as 73% in Chin State to as low as 11% in Shan State.

While the country is attracting increasingly substantial FDI and the economy growing at a fast pace, these benefits are not immediately translating into job creation. With no technical schools, ineffective university education and non-existent informal education, youth are unprepared to enter the workforce and often spend up to ten years after high-school without participating in the economy. This lack of a suitable framework for youth on the seam between work preparedness and job availability presents an opportunity for immediate action.

Alumni Humanitarian Award Ceremony
Thursday, May 2, 2019

Please join us in honoring Matthew Wallace at the Alumni Humanitarian Award Ceremony on Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 10am in the UIS Student Union Ballroom. RSVP by calling 217.206.6058 or emailing Reservations requested by April 23.