Established by Jim Taylor and Debbie Aung Din, Proximity began life, in 2004, as a country office of iDE. Back then, the company entered the Myanmar rural market with two treadle pumps, 13 staff and a distribution reach of just 600 villages. Now, eight years on, they are accessible to nearly 80% of the rural population, employing a nationwide staff of over 350, and offering a complete range of services that address many of the most pressing needs of rural families. That's no mean feat in a country like Myanmar.
Over the years the environment has changed, and the company had to adapt quickly to respond to their customer's needs. For the first few years, they focused on creating affordable irrigation products tailored to the Myanmar farmer. Proximity worked on building a distribution network to help the group reach scale, and perfecting quality, and service. They also began building a team of field staff across their project regions. Proximity always maintained that their staff is the most valuable asset, and this couldn't have been more true in the days immediately after Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayarwady Delta in 2008. Although the team aren't relief workers by title, they know and understand Delta farming families, and were able to identify their needs and employ our established distribution network to deliver over $16 million in aid to 1.2 million people.
After the cyclone Proximity began diversifying their line of services, and created farm recovery services in direct response to the crop failings and pest infestations that Delta farmers were suffering from. They also formed infrastructure service, rebuilding and building footpaths, embankments, bridges and canals to help with connectivity and water control. As relief became less critical, they grew and adapted these services to the changing situations; cash-for-work labour opportunities were provided on infrastructure projects, and Farm Advisory Services staff began teaching smart but simple farming techniques to farmers, for longer lasting impact.
All the while, they have been continuing to design and manufacture a range of irrigation products. To make these technologies accessible to thousands more rural families, the group developed a product financing service. More recently, they began offering a crop loan service, that provides credit for critical inputs, to help farmers set themselves up for a successful season. Each of these services increases incomes by an average of $250 per season.
This last year, their ninth, has been their most successful one to date. They sold their 100,000th product, launched a successful range of solar lighting, and are beginning to spin off their crop loans into a larger entity called Proximity Finance. They were also honoured to be recipients of both the Skoll Foundation's and the Schwab Foundation's Award for social entrepreneurship.
Where is Proximity Designs