Debbie Aung Din and Jim Taylor moved to Myanmar in 2004 with the mission of boosting the incomes of the rural poor. Debbie, a native of Myanmar, and her husband Jim, are both Harvard-trained development professionals with deep experience working in under-served communities, from the Mississippi Delta to Indonesia.
Proximity Designs was founded on Debbie and Jim’s conviction that everyone, including the poor, deserves products that are high quality, durable, deliver great results, and are enjoyable to use. These champions have built an organization with a culture of radical empathy and deep knowledge of their customers. Proximity lives alongside the families it serves, which makes it possible to develop farm technologies and agronomy services designed specifically for them. Debbie and Jim also stand out for the way they run their social enterprise with a business mindset. They insist on being held accountable by the market. Proximity treats the people it serves as customers rather than beneficiaries, according them dignity and respect, which is far more valuable than handouts.
Proximity’s “Total Game” Approach
Proximity is known for its work on the ground serving with farmers, but it truly works across the whole continuum of the market. Leveraging its social enterprise activities in rural villages, Debbie and Jim built a level of trust with the Ministry of Agriculture, enabling them to conduct in-depth economic research on the broader agricultural economy. Their deep knowledge of farm households and conditions allows them to “ground truth” macroeconomic data and provide independent analysis and insights to decision-makers. Beyond topics such as farm credit, Proximity has contributed to analysis on important national-building topics such as federalism, resource sharing, the exchange rate, energy, and telecommunications. Proximity is also building Myanmar’s market infrastructure. It has led the way as a “market maker” of financial services for farmers by proving to the market that farm finance is commercially viable. It played a similar role in developing the small-scale irrigation market.
Combining deep systemic work at the market level, with micro-level household impact, and macro-level policy means more sustainable changes for farmers’ lives. In a country where 70% of the population earns their living from farming, smallholder farmers are the biggest underserved market. With our belief in working across the prosperity puzzle, the Chandler Foundation puts core support toward backing Proximity’s “total game” approach to transforming Myanmar.
“ Myanmar is dealing with the lasting effects of 20 years of sanctions, 30 years of self-isolation, 50 years of authoritarian rule, 70 years of internal war, and more than 100 years of colonialism. Prospects for successful democratic development are tenuous. For Proximity, this means progress on realizing our own social impact mission is also difficult.
The Chandler Foundation has a unique understanding of the depth and complexity of Myanmar’s challenges, and supports Proximity’s contributions to find a pragmatic way forward. They appreciate that working in a dynamic environment like Myanmar means not only irrigation pumps, loans and knowledge for farmers, but also market-making, finding different frontiers, spreading new ideas, and working at multiple levels of society. Their appreciation of this complexity, and commitment to funding solutions equal to it, really sets them apart. ”
Debbie Aung Din
Co-Founder, Proximity Designs