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HomeOpinionFinancing the Revolution: An interview with Padaythar Pin fundraising platform

Financing the Revolution: An interview with Padaythar Pin fundraising platform

Originally published on Mohinga Matters

This revolution is very costly, but that does not stop the Myanmar people from resisting the brutal military regime. More than two years into the coup, we have witnessed how the military has retaliated against anyone who has made a financial contribution to the resistance by blocking their bank accounts or arresting them. Again, that does not stop the people from supporting the revolution. Information Technology (IT) experts and creative individuals have stepped in to organize digital fundraising platforms such as click-to-donate websites, mobile applications, or YouTube channels. Ko Padaythar is one of those individuals who created a YouTube fundraising platform called Padaythar Pin in November 2021. The video creator turned People’s Defense Force (PDF) fighter leads a team of creatives and experts who produce videos and generate income to support the resistance. Padaythar Pin’s content ranges from original songs and music videos to short films and animation that tell the story of resistance fighters to cooking tutorials and audiobooks. This month, we talked to Ko Padaythar and discussed how technology has changed the way we resist the military. 

MM: Why did you choose to support the ongoing revolution with the Padaythar Pin project?

KPDT: In the early days, I was also one of those who took part in anti-coup protests and rallies just like everyone did. In May 2021, I joined the PDF to take part in the armed resistance. To this day, I am still a PDF soldier with my main responsibility being fundraising for the force. It all started when we went to frontline battlefields, we noticed that we had insufficient resources. So we asked ourselves if we wanted to sit around and wait for other people’s support or to raise our own funds by using our skills and creativity. When I was in Yangon, I was a video creator. So I talked to our comrades, and we decided to create videos, stream them on YouTube, and raise money for our column. Technology is not a difficult arena for us so I was confident that we could run this project. And back then, there were not a lot of streaming platforms for fundraising so that’s how we started.

MM: What kind of challenges did you face when you started Padaythar Pin?

KPDT: In terms of technology, we did not have problems because all our comrades are professionals in their respective fields so we know what we are doing. But we started our project in a liberated area in the jungle so the access to electricity and the internet was the major problem. This problem exists to this day. There is no wifi, and the mobile data is very slow and limited. Another challenge is the security concern. Since we are videographers, we have to be careful with what goes into frames because we might reveal our location so this sort of restricts our filming process. The rest of the process such as generating income and transferring the funds from YouTube into our bank accounts is not a big deal for us. 

MM: How much support does Padaythar Pin get from the public? 

KPDT: When we started our platform, we received overwhelming support. One of the reasons is that the public knows we are frontline soldiers from the ground so they can support us directly by streaming our YouTube videos. That’s why we were able to raise funds in the beginning in a short period of time. But right now, our funds have decreased by close to 70 percent, mainly because of the military council’s fear tactic and the worsening situation of the people’s livelihood. Nowadays, even in urban areas, there is limited electricity supply so there is less time to stream our videos, and thus, limited funds. Also, because of the ongoing conflicts, civilians have to move around from their homes, and they do not have time to be streaming our videos. So it is a fact that the support is not as strong as before. Despite all these, we know that the public is still supporting whatever we do in the name of revolution.

MM: Many experts acknowledge that IT has changed the way we communicate in this revolution. In your opinion, how tech-savvy are Myanmar people for this kind of fundraising?

KPDT: For young people, they grew up with technology and they learned things on the internet all the time. For instance, in the early days, the regime tried to disrupt our communication by shutting down the internet and banning social media apps, but young people learned how to use VPN (Virtual Private Networks) to hack our way around. Young people also shared knowledge with their peers and elders such as fact-checking, avoiding misinformation, etc. They have been in the leading position on how to make use of the internet in the revolution. For the older generation, it is difficult for them to get used to these gadgets and apps. But I notice that they are curious and willing to contribute to the resistance. There are older aunties and uncles who don’t know how to watch YouTube videos, but they ask young people for help. We received messages on our Facebook page where they came and asked how to do this and that. They have the moral conscience to support the revolution so even when they are not tech-savvy, they try and learn. This time around, you can’t isolate the public, and it is one of the mistakes that Min Aung Hlaing made. They staged the coup, tried to isolate the people, and then expected to rule the country when the protests died down. It doesn’t work like that anymore. It’s been more than two-and-a-half years since the coup, and the military can’t rule the people. I do think that technology plays an important role in sustaining our resistance to this day. 

MM: Are there any instances where you have to accommodate people who are not familiar with IT?

KPDT: For us, it’s the language we use for the public. We try to avoid technical jargon as much as possible and communicate in the language and vocabulary that they can understand. We avoid complex explanations and only engage with simplified instructions. If the instructions get slightly complex, they cannot follow sometimes. It’s also understandable because if it requires more than 2-3 steps, considering they are not familiar with the technology and English language, they might want to give up easily. Also, attention span is also very short among social media users, and we don’t want them to move on to other things because of minor inconveniences. So we keep on learning the difficulties that the public faces as they support our digital fundraising platforms, and we try to accommodate their needs. 

MM: How do you source content for the platform?

KPDT: In the beginning, we created our own content by filming in our territories but after getting noticed and receiving support from the public, other content creators reached out to us. Some creators give their content to us, and then request us to use the funds raised for the PDF troops. Others also gave us their content, and let us manage the funds raised from their content. Noticeably, Padaythar Pin premiered the short film “Stateless” in May 2022, created by Director Na Gyi, Paing Phyo Thu, and Daung. The money raised from this film flowed back to the resistance. Lately, we receive content from outside contributors to use on our streaming channel as their contribution to the resistance. So now we are streaming both outside content and our own content.

MM: How much money have you raised so far through the channels?

KPDT: There are two main income stream flows in our platform. The first one is the digital currency we’ve raised through our YouTube channel. But we can’t depend on this platform alone so we have to create fundraising campaigns where we sell both tangible and intangible products. We have sold merchandise like t-shirts and memorabilia items, and then digital assets like non-fungible tokens (NFT) which can be purchased by cryptocurrencies. We also raised funds by selling raffle tickets. That’s our second stream of income. So combining all these, we have raised more than MMK 8000 lakh ($300,000 USD). 

MM: Where do these funds go to?

KPDT: The majority of the funds we raised from our online streaming services are disbursed to our troops from the Dawna Column, which operates under the command of the National Unity Government (NUG) Southern Command. We’ve also distributed funds to other local resistance forces as well. But to do so, we need to conduct due diligence first because we have heard so many stories about how certain groups received the funds but did not actually fight in the battles or bullied civilians with their weapons, etc. So we make sure we don’t support such groups. We used to support striking civil servants who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) when we had extra funds but we can’t do it anymore. But now, we try to hire CDM members and provide per diem to them for their contributions. We also try to support the displaced people but we can’t support every war-torn place. So we internally discuss where to transfer the money each month. Let’s say if we support Karenni refugees this month, we support those in Sagaing Region the following month. Based on the news we receive, we decide which region is in dire need of support, and then transfer money to them. 

MM: How do you release financial reports to the public?

KPDT: We have different financial reporting systems for different types of fundraisers. We have monthly records of funds raised from digital platforms, and we then record how much money is disbursed. These records are shared on our Facebook page. In addition to our own fundraising, we also work as a part of larger fundraising campaigns organized by the CRPH (Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw) Official Fundraising Program (OFP) where we create content for and promote their campaigns. For these campaigns, the respective fundraisers have the financial records, and they share them with us. We usually check with the frontline resistance forces for the money they receive as a part of the check and balance process, then we disclose it to the public. For other merchandise and digital products that we sell, we have our own financial officer who checks the money we raise and how this money is used. Usually, we have screenshots of bank transfers as records. When the records check out, we share them with the public. We have been operating since November 2021, and to this day, we have had no financial disputes and have not received complaints or accusations. But since we are dealing with large amounts of money, we have to be systematic and careful in the way we handle money. What I feel is that people join the resistance to contribute to the revolution in any way that they can, so they might not always be correct. But to me, honesty is the most important factor. If one is honest, one can explain the mistake made. But if a person is dishonest, they will keep on making mistakes. 

MM: Since you used to be a video creator who is familiar with social media and IT,  how important is technology, do you think, for our ongoing revolution?

KPDT: In this revolution, I see the role of technology in two parts: one is on battlefields, and the second is in the dissemination of information. On battlefields, the military council is really scared of our drone attacks. Before the coup, drones were used for filmmaking or agricultural projects. That’s what we are familiar with. Now we are using drones in active conflict. Young comrades are using drone technology and implementing it in our frontline battlefields, and this is very new to our enemy. Another thing is information technology. The regime’s main strength is to disseminate propaganda and polarize the public, and they put so much effort into their propaganda to this day. But it does not work the way it used to because the public now knows what is right and what is wrong. We have social media platforms where the information flows in a timely manner. Experts are using these platforms to inform the public what the real situation is and what the military propaganda is. So the military’s psychological warfare is not as effective as before, and that’s one of the benefits of the technology. Now that we are using technology to raise funds such as Click2Donate or YouTube, the public can support the revolution by staying indoors and clicking or streaming these apps and content. They can do it in the comfort of their own homes, not having to worry about arrests. So I think technology plays an important role to sustain our revolution.

MM: Any new projects that we can look forward to?

KPDT: When we founded the Padaythar Pin, one of the objectives was to raise funds, and another was to record the resistance. We don’t know what will happen to us or the revolution, but we want to remember that we contributed to this. I am a video creator and I believe in visual storytelling, so we will create videos from the battlefield to document what we are going through. We all know that the military regime is using entertainment as propaganda to disassociate the public from the resistance, and unfortunately, some celebrities are also contributing to it. At Padaythar Pin, we will create videos and films to counter military propaganda, and we have plans to collaborate with experts and creatives in the future. 

MM: The NUG claimed that this year 2023 will make a decisive turn for our armed revolution while the coup leader Min Aung Hlaing repeatedly said that its forces will annihilate the PDF. Since you are a PDF member who is on the frontline battlefield, do you think something significant will happen this year, considering the current situation?

KPDT: We can not foresee when the revolution will end, but I did notice the NUG claim about this year, and the public seems to have hopes for that. I think things are going in that direction as well. At this point, we have to accept that the revolution is a process, and we have to think far ahead. If we don’t win in a certain period of time, what will we do? What’s our plan? We also have to be specific on how to measure our progress. Do we want to gain control of certain percentages of territories by the end of 2023? Or do we want to gain support from certain numbers of countries on the international stage? Only by setting specific goals, measuring our achievements, and reflecting on our progress, we can move forward. We don’t know if we will win this year or next year, but we must find ways to sustain the resistance while sustaining ourselves as well. Because if these people get tired, how are we going to continue? So everyone should keep in their mind that the revolution is a process. We need to have resilience and perseverance. Our main goal is to abolish the military regime and to build a federal democratic union. To achieve our main goal, we need to set achievable smaller goals each year and work towards them. In my personal view, the revolution is not going to end by 2023 but I do believe that this year will have a significant turn for our resistance.

MM: What do you want to say to our readers?

KPDT: I just want to say that we are grateful for the support from the international community and diaspora groups across the globe for keeping their attention on our revolution to this day. I’d like to request them to understand us and support us by sharing knowledge. In the Spring Revolution, we young people are trying to alter our country’s fate, but we also grew up in an isolated society where education was deliberately destroyed by the previous juntas. We are trying our best to be open-minded, and learning as much as we can while fighting against the regime. I’d like to request the international community and diaspora groups to understand our struggles and support us by sharing knowledge and providing educational resources that we do not have. While the younger generation is picking up arms and fighting in battles, the older generation is also helping us by sharing their knowledge and experience. So even if you can’t support us or help us physically, share knowledge or help us connect to the world. That’s my request to them. 

MM: Anything you’d like to add?

KPDT: As a video creator who worked in the entertainment industry, I notice that celebrities have a huge influencing power over the public. A celebrity’s word is more effective than a thousand words of an ordinary person like me. That’s the power of celebrities, and the military knows it. So when the public sees prominent figures supporting the military regime, they might think, “Oh the celebrities are now supporting the military. They probably lean into the side that will eventually win”. It affects their emotions. The military is doing it on purpose to make the people think as such. I want to say that our revolution does not depend on elitist individuals. We are moving forward with our collective efforts. Some people may click five minutes a day, others may donate monthly from their salaries. Our revolution depends on these people, not on celebrities. As long as we keep on fighting with our collective effort, we will eventually win. Celebrities showing up at military events is not a bad omen. It is our collective effort that will bring us victory, and we must not forget that.

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