Proximity Designs is a nonprofit social venture that has been reducing poverty and hunger for tens of thousands of rural families in Burma/Myanmar since 2004. It addresses extreme poverty by treating the poor as customers and offering innovative and affordably designed technologies and services. Its customers are families who earn their living by farming small plots of land.
The organization’s 15 products and services are designed to dramatically reduce daily drudgery and improve crop yields by replacing time-consuming and antiquated technologies. For example, its customers replace their rope and buckets with Proximity’s foot-powered irrigation pumps and typically double their net seasonal cash income. With this money, they can buy food, send their children to school, reinvest in their farms and more.
Proximity spends countless hours observing and interviewing rural households, learning what they value, identifying root problems and most importantly, developing empathy that leads to lasting solutions to the problems they face. The insights Proximity gleans from intimate exposure to customers are what drives its on-site product design lab. Products are manufactured locally and reach customers through a nationwide distribution network linking independent agro-dealers, village entrepreneurs (who work as product reps) and village-based groups.
Proximity understands that sustainable well being for its customers depends on a supportive macro policy environment. To that end, the organization has leveraged its extensive, on-the-ground knowledge of rural conditions, teaming with Harvard University’'s Ash Center to research and analyze Myanmar's rural economy. Through this collaboration, Proximity has produced several ground breaking reports that have helped to inform key policy makers in Myanmar.
The dramatic opening of Myanmar this past year generated much interest among students, leading to a record-breaking year of internship applicants, mostly Burmese college students currently studying in the United States. Proximity welcomed interns who came from Duke, Stanford, Reed, Bucknell, Indiana State, among other institutions. In addition, Proximity has recently developed a working relationship with the Design Matters program at Pasadena's Art Center of Design, which will involve students collaborating with farmers in Myanmar to develop design solutions to their pressing needs.
Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship
Skoll Foundation, 2012
Award for Social Entrepreneurship
Schwab Foundation, 2012
Debbie Aung Din & Jim Taylor
USA office, South Pasadena
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