Debbie Aung Din and Jim Taylor moved to Myanmar in 2004 with the mission of transforming the lives 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. Proximity lives alongside the families it serves, which makes it possible to build solutions 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.
Innovation in Myanmar
Proximity Designs’ DNA is hard-coded with innovation. Although water pumps and irrigation products are centuries-old tools used around the world, Proximity redesigns its innovative line of products so that they are relevant and useful for Myanmar’s farmers. In doing so, they have boosted the incomes of almost 500,000 households by more than US$ 217m. Never complacent, Proximity continues to innovate and develop new agricultural products and services that allow its customers to earn more, and make the lives of their families better. Proximity’s approach – widely known as human-centered design – is now widely recognized for its effectiveness as a tool for transformation.
Because of its adaptive, customer-centric approach, Proximity’s irrigation business remained competitive despite the low-cost – but often poor quality – diesel pumps from China that were entering the Myanmar market. The Chandler Foundation’s unrestricted funding enabled Proximity to swiftly allocate resources towards innovation. In 2015, Proximity developed and launched the Lotus – the world’s most affordable solar-powered irrigation pump. This revolutionary product was designed specifically for its rural customers and manufactured locally.
“ The operating environment in Myanmar is particularly dynamic and fast-moving at this stage of its emergence from five decades of isolation. The Chandler Foundation’s unrestricted funding has allowed us to respond in a timely manner and engage in the most high-impact activities rather than be stuck with an out-of-sync project plan. We think a dollar of unrestricted funding is significantly more valuable and impactful than a dollar of funding that is tied to an inflexible plan. ”
Debbie Aung Din
Co-Founder, Proximity Designs