In Myanmar, with Proximity Designs

A social enterprise works to improve farmers' economic prospects

Debbie Aung Din Taylor (with red hat), co-founder of Proximity Designs, meets with villagers in A Phaung Gyi, in Dedaye township in the Ayeyarwaddy River Delta. Many of the villagers use crop loans provided by Proximity Designs to plant rice. It also provides agricultural advice, and now distributes a line of popular, low-cost solar lights (90 percent of Myanmar's rural households are not on an electrical grid).
Proximity Designs manufactures its pumps, water-storage baskets, and irrigation drip lines in Myanmar; it purchases components locally, from a bustling, if informal, industrial park in northeastern Yangon.
Proximity Designs now sells d.light solar lights—typically, on a multimonth installment plan. The basic light, shown here, has the most basic of uses: enabling reading, or homework, at night, in lieu of candles, which are expensive, a fire hazard in bamboo houses, and unsuitable for use under mosquito netting. (The white paste on the girl’s cheeks is <i>thanaka,</i> a cosmetic paste made from ground bark, which many women and girls in Myanmar apply to guard against sunburn and to protect the skin.)
Manufacturing manager Todd Murphy, an engineer, at Proximity's factory and assembly facility in northeastern Yangon
A rural agency distributes Proximity Designs' equipment, such as the pump being demonstrated here.
Rural agents come to Yangon for product and sales training during the monsoon season. For some of the agents, shown here at the 2013 training session, the visit to Yangon is their first immersion in city life.
U Myat Thein, an entrepreneurial farmer and now a village agent for Proximity Designs, grows corn as a cash crop in Wakouktaw village, Kungyangon township; with his wife, Daw Khin Ohn Myint, and their youngest child, daughter Thin Thin Myat, he welcomes visitors to their home—fans at the ready for the delta's heat and humidity.
Proximity Designs' water basket in farm use: using a treadle pump, farmers can collect and move water and then distribute it by hose or drip irrigation lines—huge improvements in time and labor compared to bearing buckets of water on their shoulders with a wooden yoke.
A Proximity Designs foot-powered pump in use

“Sowing Seeds,” in the January-February 2014 Harvard Magazine, reports on an alumni-founded social enterprise, Proximity Designs, working in Myanmar to boost farmers' incomes with affordable rural technologies. The article also describes the collaboration between Proximity Designs and economic and policy analysts at Harvard who study the country's shattered economy, its prospects for growth, and broad changes needed in governance and civic life to bring about better lives for Myamnar’s largely impoverished people. These images supplement the photographs accompanying the article; they show Proximity Designs' products and services as they are manufactured, distributed, and used in Myanmar today.

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