How to Focus and Create Maximum Impact featuring Erin Murphy

It is an exciting time in Myanmar’s history, and today we will hear from someone that is right in the middle of it.  In today's blog piece, we have Erin Murphy, founder and principal of Inle Advisory Group, a boutique consulting firm in Washington, DC specializing in development opportunities in Myanmar.

Erin has worked in Asia since 2001, and is frequently solicited for her views and input by The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Reuters, Bloomberg, and Associated Press, and is a featured author in The Huffington Post. Prior to founding Inle Advisory Group, Erin served as the Special Assistant to the State Department’s first ever Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Myanmar. She participated in the most significant U.S. policy shift on Myanmar in decades, joining Secretary of State Clinton on her historic trip to Myanmar in December 2011, overseeing the easing of economic sanctions, and advising and supporting the Office of the Special Representative during the unprecedented warming of U.S.-Myanmar ties.

Basically, she’s doing amazing work, and we can learn a lot from her on how to focus your efforts to create maximum impact.  Erin and Inle Advisory Group are truly making a difference in Myanmar by bringing investment into the country and helping companies do business there.  She is a great example of how giving back should match your values but also your experience in order to be truly effective.


First, tell us a little about where you are living and what your life looks like at the moment.

I travel quite a bit and find myself working in two entirely different timezones - Asia and the east coast of the U.S. I primarily work on investment and engagement in Myanmar, so I spend quite a lot of time traveling to the country and engaging with a wide range of stakeholders. Face time is so important to building relationships, so even when I am incredibly jet lagged or feeling under the weather from all the travel, I know what I am doing is worth it. When I am not flying off somewhere, I’m typically working from home in my loft in Baltimore with my scruffy dog at my side or meeting with folks in Washington, D.C. Work life can get pretty hectic and result in very very long hours. It’s helpful to have nice big windows with my desk facing the harbor.

Give us some background on how you got to where you are today.

I ended up here both through an intention to find ways to have a job where I could travel (although being in the throes of jet lag make me question that goal at the moment) and help people as all as great timing and the foresight to jump on the opportunity. I went to a college and grad school that focused heavily on international relations and also took the opportunity to teach English in Japan. I joined the U.S. government focusing on Asian affairs, thinking I would work on Japan and alliance issues, but instead was refocused on SE Asia. That job took me to the U.S. Embassy in Yangon and then staffing the first ever Special Representative and Policy Coordinator on Myanmar. Our timing was impeccable; our bilateral ties with Myanmar could not have been worse but in the 15 months I was in the office, an incredible sea change happened and I had a front row seat to foreign policy history. I felt a responsibility to continue to help Myanmar in the best way that I could, which led me to leave a nice fulfilling job with the U.S. government (complete with benefits and great coworkers) for the uncertainty of a business focusing on one of the world’s riskiest markets and at first, doing it alone. I’m glad that my impulse to do things happens first before my brain catches up to what is already underway.

How do you define success?

My definition of success keeps changing from year to year; being in business for yourself can be really challenging. You’re not only testing yourself but also whether your business will be successful both in achieving the values and goals you’ve established and financially. It also means being able to learn quickly from mistakes and failure; these are just opportunities to grow.

How do you use your career and position to impact the world?

Myanmar really began to open its doors to investors in 2011 and 2012. The country needs everything—and has everything—which makes it ripe for exploitation and also misunderstandings by both foreign investors and local government and industries. I founded Inle Advisory Group to act as a bridge in both directions: ensuring that foreign investors were fully aware of the challenges that could negatively impact their investment as well as the mindset and concerns of the government and ethnically diverse population with which it was to engage. I also wanted to work with the Myanmar government, local communities and businesses to understand how to view foreign investment—as an opportunity and not a threat—and, for local business in particular, to reorganize themselves in such a way that would not only be attractive to potential joint venture partners but would also adhere to the “gold standard” of corporate behavior. Regardless of whether Inle Advisory Group is my career path for the short or long term, every job I have taken or will take is driven by my desire to have a positive impact.

What advice do you have for others on how to use their careers to have a positive impact?

There is certainly a trend in business to ensure profit and impact extends both ways, whether it is the TOMS, Warby Parker, or Marie Mae model. Corporate social responsibility and philanthropic efforts are likely to be the norm now for investors big and small, and this is a great trend. However, I encourage businesses to make sure they have their house in order first;  the success of your philanthropic endeavors hinges on the success of your day-to-day business. If you don’t have the fundamentals or a well-thought out plan, you may end up failing in both your business and in helping those that are in need. You also need to ensure your social enterprise is tailored for the community you are working to assist; good intentions are great, but not enough. Listen to the needs of the community you are working with but also be an advocate for your idea and how you think it could help. A two-way conversation, or a bridge in both directions, will be critical in achieving your goal. This advice isn’t just for small businesses and entrepreneurs; you can work these concepts into whatever charity you give to or how you shape your current scope of work. Giving back should match your values but also your experience in order to be effective.