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    For the past decade, Proximity has created products and services that support the entrepreneurial spirit of our rural Myanmar costumers. The treadle pump has been a central feature of our irrigation product offerings. Sturdy, durable, and affordable, the treadle pump has freed tens of thousands of rural families in Myanmar from the daily drudgery of hauling water to their fields.

    Today, farmers continue to look for efficient ways to save costs and expand their businesses. For many, this has meant switching to diesel engines for irrigation. Though more powerful, these heavy engines are polluting and noisy. Farmers complain about the high costs of running these motorized pumps, including daily purchases of fuel, frequent repairs and the need for extra labor to move them around. At Proximity, we’ve been working to create an alternative.

    On October 15th, we’ll celebrate the launch of our new, solar-powered irrigation pump.  Designed specifically for Myanmar farmers, Proximity’s super affordable solar pump fits into the narrow two-inch tube wells found nationwide on farms. This new product has been in the making for over a year. Now that it’s here, we can’t wait to share it with you.

    Meet The Lotus: 



    Here's a thought: what if instead of asking people for charitable donations, we asked them for $25 loans?

    Every morning, Daw Lei Lei wakes up to the satisfying sound of her 100 ducks nestled alongside one another in the shed outside of her house in Hmaw Bi Village. After she sets them free, Daw Lei Lei follows the ducks on a small wooden boat as they roam through the nearby pond. She's careful not to lose even one.

    Making sure her ducks are well-cared for is crucial for duck farmers such as Daw Le Lei, since egg production rates can vary greatly depending on the food that her animals eat. Accessing quality feed is crucial to the success of Daw Lei Lei's business, but unfortunately, it isn't always easy. She needs the food the most in July, which is also the leanest month for thousands of duck farmers in Myanmar's Delta Region; because rice farming is in full force this month, duck farmers have to limit the movement of their flocks, meaning production can drop to as little as one or two eggs a day for every ten ducks.

    Starting 2014, Proximity Finance, our micro-finance arm, has supported over 2,200 duck farmers in Myanmar by disbursing micro-loans designed specificallyto help duck growers buy nutritious feed when they need it the most. Proximity can provide these loans thanks to a partnership with Kiva, the largest microfinance crowdsourcing platform in the world. Kiva enables individuals everywhere to support farmers and smallholders in remote villages. By entering $25 into the system, Kiva ensures that 100% of your loan goes directly to the borrower of your choice in one of 83 different countries. When the loan term is up, you can re-lend the money to a different borrower, or withdraw the funds and receive $25 back. Proximity Designs is Kiva's first field partner in Myanmar.

    Daw Lei Lei was one of the first Proximity customers whose duck micro-loan was funded through Kiva. Before the loan, Daw Lei Lei's family finances where often in the red. Her village was gravely affected by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, and the family lost a daughter as well as their seven-acre farm. Since then, the family has survived by farming ducks, but their business was precarious at best. 

    The family used the $200 micro-loan to purchase more ducks and quality duck feed, and even this small injection of cash was enough to stabilize their income. With the increased profits, Daw Lei Lei's husband purchased a boat to start his own transportation business, which in turn yields enough profit to cover their two children's school fees, allowing the family extra breathing room that they haven't had in years. 

    Already, we've raised $1,070,000 through Kiva, thanks to countless individuals who are entrusting rural Myanmar village groups with their loans. We're aiming to lend $500,000 to more than 2,500 duck farmers in Myanmar by November 2015. If you are interested in Proximity's work, you can get directly involved in what we do by lending $25 so that U Win can purchase better feed, or by supporting duck farmers in Chaung Pyar.




    Flood Update

    Villagers in Pwint Phyu Township carry relief packages home by wading through flooded fields

    We're in the midst of monsoon season in Myanmar, which is a pivotal time of the year for local farmers. Heavy rains offer relief ater months of insufferable heat, making the ground fertile enough to sustain rice, beans, pulses, and other rain-fed crops that often make up the brunt of a family's yearly income. 

    This year, however, torrential rains have caused monumental flooding in twelve out of fourteen states. With more than 1 million people affected and 1.3 million acres of rice paddy fields sitting idly underwater for two weeks, these rains have thrown off the fragile balance that rural farmers rely on. Most farmers lack access to savings, insurance, and labor reserves, compromising their ability to bounce back from disasters like this month’s flooding. One bad harvest can set a household back for years, and in this case, damage to delicate farmland combined with the widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure point to a long and difficult recovery process ahead. 

    Over the past week, Proximity has reached out to our network of 250 field staff nationwide to understand how the floods are affecting our rural customers. We’ve learned that the damage is severe. In the township of Minhla alone, sales representative Ko Yan Naing Tun reports that 3,000 acres of harvested land have been completely destroyed, leaving farmers without a safety net. The extent of the damage is still to be determined.

    As the water recedes, farmers are starting to assess extensive damage to their crops

    We are evaluating ways to help our customers remain resilient in the face of natural disaster. Proximity Finance, our farm-lending business unit, is considering different ways to restructure loans and help reduce the financial burden on flood victims. Members of our staff have volunteered to assemble relief packages in Padaung and Pwint Phyu Township, and Proximity has greatly reduced the price of lanters for staff members wishing to purchase solar lights to donate to flood victims. Proximity’s experience in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 leads us to believe that the toughest time in the recovery process will take place when the floods fully recede and the aid stops flowing in. Looking at the long road ahead of our customers, we are committed to designing innovative products and services that will help our customers rebuild stronger, more robust businesses that will thrive for years to come. 


    Proximity's got Talent

    These past two weeks were busy ones at Proximity. Nearly 400 staff traveled from all corners of Myanmar to gather in Yangon for our Annual Meeting. It’s a key time of reflection for our organization, during which we leverage our collective viewpoints and the individual, localized knowledge of each of our field staff members to strategize for the coming year. The intense days of discussion and training were followed by three days of bonding, as all of us piled into eight buses to spend the weekend in scenic Bagan.

    We battled monkeys in Mt. Popa, learned the value of iterating in design by balancing marshmallows on spaghetti, competed against each other in relay races, and visited many a historic pagoda. Proximity’s annual talent show saw the return of several classic acts including the sweet tunes of Ma Moe Moe Kaing and the cross-dressing prowess of Ko Kyaw Zeya, as well as a performance by a promising Proximity Bhangra Troupe. All of the teams were encouraged to join the talent show, and several even created clever skits to explain the ins and outs of their work to the rest of the staff. Not to mention, all of the staff joined in on the latest interation of Proximity's product and services dance. Picture 400 people doing the 'water basket' dance move in unison; now that's some serious talent right there!


    Design Team’s Energy Visionary: Nyan Lin Htet




    What do you get when you mix idealism and drive with some serious brainpower? Meet Nyan Lin Htet, Proximity Product Designer and solar energy enthusiast, recipient of a highly selective scholarship to participate in a five-week exchange program with the University of Montana to learn more about global environmental issues.

    We caught up with him before his flight to Missoula and discovered that Nyan Lin Htet’s interest in renewables dates back to his final year of engineering studies at the Myanmar Maritime University. While carrying out exhaustive research for an essay contest about the low-carbon societies of the future, Nyan Lin Htet became aware of both the urgency and the potential for emerging technologies to alleviate some of the world’s most pressing problems.

    Pursuing this further, he eventually enrolled in an online course on solar energy at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Nyan Lin Htet spent at least three hours every day studying complicated equations and learning about semiconductors, as well as solar cells and solar systems, all the while bearing with power outages and slow Myanmar internet speeds. Still, out of the 57,000 people who signed up for the course, he received one of the top 35 scores, and was one of four students selected to visit Delft University for a one-week workshop. The visit had a huge impact on him and made it clear that he had to find a way to align his values and his work. Which is why Nyan Lin Htet set about researching the solar landscape in Myanmar while participating in a “Startup Bootcamp.”

    It was around this time that Proximity’s workshop first got a call from an inquisitive young man requesting data about our renewable energy lanterns.  “I had attended many meetings and conferences about social business, so when I learned that Proximity was a social enterprise with a design lab I was so excited,” he explains. It wasn’t long before Nyan Lin Htet joined Proximity, where he fit right in as a product designer. “The Product Design Team is unique in Myanmar,” he says, “here, every member has different ideas and everybody is allowed to think outside of the box and to think creatively.”

    Already, Nyan Lin Htet has helped the team design a solar panel stand that positions panels at the optimum angle given Myanmar’s northernmost and southernmost latitudinal locations. Currently, he's drinking up plenty of fresh Montana mountain air and soaking in as much as he can about opportunities to bring unique energy and environmental value to Myanmar customers.

    Tireless and positive, Nyan Lin Htet is determined to become a successful social entrepreneur one day, and we can’t wait to see where his mix of strong ideals, initiative, and intelligence, take him.  

    At Proximity's Product Design Lab, Nyan Lin Htet shows off his battery expertise