Jim Taylor

Organization: 
Proximity Designs
Year founded: 
2004
Country: 
Myanmar

Proximity Designs works to increase the productivity and incomes of rural households in Myanmar by designing and marketing simple, highly efficient, affordable products and services. Proximity has developed an extensive distribution network to reach thousands of rural villages across Myanmar.


Focus: Agriculture, Energy
Geographic Area of Impact: Myanmar
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Annual Budget: US$ 3 million (2012)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 51%
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 445,000 (2011)
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2012

Background
Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, with an agricultural economy that is key to reducing economic inequality and massive poverty. To succeed, Myanmar’s small farmers need access to technology, knowledge, credit and markets. Entrepreneurial farmers are trapped in a downward spiral with yields and output declining. Farmers, the private sector, and civil society are aware of the inequalities and want to engage with the rest of the world.

Innovation and Activities
Proximity Designs is a product design firm whose customers are exclusively poor, rural farmers in Myanmar. It leverages knowledge of farmers’ needs to design highly affordable products and services, developed in its own design lab in Myanmar, and has partnered with Stanford University’s Design School. Most of Proximity’s products are manufactured locally in Myanmar, and include foot-operated irrigation pumps, drip irrigation sets, water storage tanks, solar lanterns, financial services and farm advisory services. These products and services are designed to dramatically reduce daily hardships, and improve household productivity and incomes by replacing time-consuming, antiquated technologies. For example, rural customers who replace their rope and buckets for Proximity’s irrigation technologies typically double their net seasonal cash incomes (US$ 200-300). They can then use this money to buy food, send their children to school, reinvest in their farms and more. Myanmar faces a huge credit vacuum as well, so Proximity offers various loan products to help farmers purchase products and inputs.

Proximity’s success is rooted in the extensive distribution network it has developed to reach customers in even the most rural and isolated areas of Myanmar. The distribution network is comprised of 165 private agro-dealers, 180 village kiosks, over 840 independent village agents, 1,800 community groups and 135 product demonstrators. These groups and individuals are trained by Proximity and equipped to do necessary installations and repairs. Proximity brings dealers and agents together in the capital of Yangon for multi-day trainings that increase skills and foster a commitment to improve farmers’ situations. Through its network of vendors, Proximity has delivered more than 180,000 products and services to over 150,000 rural Myanmar households.

Proximity understands that the sustainable well-being of its rural customers is dependent upon a supportive macro-policy environment. To that end, Proximity leverages its in-depth knowledge of rural conditions, teaming up with Harvard University’s Ash Center to research and analyse Myanmar’s economy. Several groundbreaking reports have been produced to help inform key decision-makers in Myanmar.

The Entrepreneurs
Jim Taylor earned an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and MBA from the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California. He has over 30 years of experience working in Asia in both the private and public sectors.

Debbie Taylor received her Bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College and earned an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She has 26 years of experience in design, execution and evaluation of rural development programmes. Together, they have eight years of experience operating a social enterprise in Myanmar.