In 2004, Proximity founders, Jim Taylor and Debbie Aung Din sought to create a social business for Myanmar’s underserved rural families. Their initial focus was irrigation. Motorized pumps are expensive and most of Myanmar’s farmers do not have electricity or funds for fuel. A collaboration with students from Stanford University’s Design for Extreme Affordability program helped the Taylors develop one of the cheapest pedal pumps available, costing only $45.
In a country where manufacturing and finance systems were underdeveloped, Proximity had to ensure its products could get where needed. In addition to the 150+ agricultural shops selling the organization’s products in villages and market towns throughout the country, Proximity Designs developed a network of sales representatives and independent agents to reach farmers who rarely traveled to town. This village-level distribution chain was so effective that Proximity Designs became a first responder when Cyclone Nargis devastated the Ayeyarwady Delta in 2008; ultimately, they delivered over $17 million in emergency aid to 1.2 million farmers.
To address credit famine, Proximity Designs offered low-risk installment loans to farmers, syncing the repayment schedule with the crop cycle. Over time, Proximity customers have seen an average annual income increase of $348.
Today, Proximity offers low-cost and climate-smart farm technologies, agronomy advice and farm financial services. In 2018, Proximity launched Myanmar’s first affordable soil diagnostic testing kit, providing farmers with customized recommendations on the amount of fertilizer to apply to crops. This service helps farmers reduce unnecessary input use, increases farm productivity, and restores soil health. Later, Proximity began to sell Trichoderma, a biocontrol agent effective in fighting black stem and many other soil-borne fungal diseases. Trichoderma also improves soil quality, crop growth, and yields by making nutrients more available for plants.
Proximity has also worked at the macro level, engaging in policy discussions with the Myanmar government and other stakeholders to share research and findings, facilitating dialogue around the critical issues facing Myanmar.
As of 2022, Proximity has reached 1.3 million farm households, enabling approximately 5.6 million people in rural Myanmar to grow their farm enterprises and afford basic food, health care, and education for their families. Today, as a result of the changing political and economic landscape of the country, Proximity Designs tackles global issues such as climate change, deep poverty, food insecurity, inequality, and political conflict.