Proximity Designs

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Summary
Proximity Designs is a not-for-profit social enterprise working to help reduce poverty for rural families in Myanmar (Burma). They design and market products and services that low-income farmers purchase and use to help increase their incomes. The organisation sells foot-powered irrigation pumps, water storage tanks, drip irrigation systems, solar lighting and farm advisory services. Proximity distributes its products and services through a network of private sector agro-dealers and independent village-level agents that reaches approximately 80 percent of Myanmar’s rural population.
Company Goals

The power of being proximate

Our founders, Jim Taylor and Debbie Aung Din, launched Proximity Designs in 2004 with the commitment to create a social business for Myanmar’s underserved rural families. They saw farmers’ profound needs were neglected by the private, government and aid sectors. After 20 years working to make change happen in tough environments around the world, they put to use a powerful idea they learned at the start of their careers.

It was in the Mississippi Delta where they worked with social entrepreneur and civil rights leader, John Perkins, that they learned an important lesson: deep knowledge and understanding comes from living among those you aim to serve. Their problems become yours.

With these values, they moved to Myanmar and entered the rural market with 13 team members and two treadle pump models, working alongside rural farmers.

Hence, our name Proximity.

The mission

35 million rural farmers with a lot to gain

In a country where 70 percent of the population depends on agriculture, improvements in farming technology and techniques – and the credit to access them – are vital to improving living conditions.

That’s where we come in. Our mission is to increase incomes across rural Myanmar. Over the past 14 years, our customers have seen an average annual income increase of 30 percent by using our products and services, which helps put food on the table, keep kids in school and set families up for a brighter, easier future.

Agility through moments of change

While our mission has always stayed the same, over the years we’ve adapted quickly, responding to changing needs. This couldn’t have been more true in the days immediately after Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwady Delta in 2008. That year we shifted gears, employing our distribution network to eventually deliver over $16 million in emergency aid to 1.2 million farmers.

As we grow, we continuously aim to deliver the most impactful products and services for our customers. Now we see ourselves at an inflection point – moving beyond treadle pumps to scale a wider platform of agricultural services, coupled with nation-building to help Myanmar’s farmers achieve their goals.

Social and enterprising

Being a social business, our aim is to have deep sustainable impact at a large scale. Our revenue model is 65% earned revenues from the products and services we sell and 35% philanthropic capital. Our grants allow us to invest in product design, measure impact and reach thousands of rural villages.

The Delta, the Dry Zone and beyond

The scale and scope of our work

Our early years of operation allowed us to create a nationwide network of field sales teams, private retailers and hundreds of independent village agents needed to deliver products and services to small farm customers across Myanmar. Today the scope of our network reaches nearly 80 percent of the farming population. We have customers in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Lower Myanmar, the central Dry Zone and the Shan hills.

The golden land

Why we focus on Myanmar

For decades, Myanmar was one of the world’s poorest and most isolated countries. We were drawn to work here because we saw the huge potential for how well-designed products and services could have a meaningful impact on the lives of millions of enterprising small-plot farmers.

Sometimes folks ask us if we have plans to expand beyond Myanmar. Simply put, our answer is no. We strongly believe it takes deep knowledge of a place and the lives of its people to have a chance at solving the complex problems of poverty and economic development. Our intention is to go deep into this large market rather than skim the surface in many different places.

Over the past five years, the pace of change in Myanmar has been dizzying. We’ve had to be especially agile to adjust to the changes our customers are experiencing. Myanmar is far behind its neighbors and millions of small farmers are still neglected and poorly served. It’s now a key moment in the country’s long history. It will take years of sustained effort, wise leadership and efficient use of investments to rebuild the nation and lift millions of rural families out of poverty.

That’s why we’re here.

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