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    Friday
    Jun192015

    Design Team’s Energy Visionary: Nyan Lin Htet

     

     

    The Product Design Team philosophy suits Nyan Lin Htet to a T

    What do you get when you mix idealism and drive with some serious brainpower? Meet Nyan Lin Htet, Proximty’s newest Product Designer and solar energy enthusiast.

    “When I was very young, I saw solar cells in CASIO calculators, and once I saw a book about solar energy in English. At the time, I couldn’t read it, even though I was very interested,” Nyan Lin Htet recalls. His passion for renewables didn’t take off until the final year of his engineering studies in the Myanmar Maritime University. Nyan Lin Htet is the kind of person who’s always looking for the next challenge, and that final year of school he stumbled across an essay contest on low-carbon societies of the future. The exhaustive research he carried out for his submission made Nyan Lin Htet aware both of the urgency and the potential for emerging technologies to alleviate some of the world’s most pressing problems.

    As a recent graduate, however, there were few opportunities in his home country, and Nyan Lin Htet accepted work in oil and gas in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. His ideals eventually won out and brought him back to Yangon, where he embarked on 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 extremely slow internet. 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. So, 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 fits 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 Myanmars northernmost and southernmost latitudinal locations. Additionally, since he joined Proximity he's been awarded a highly selective scholarship to join a five-week US exchange program at the end of June where he will discuss global environmental issues with other YSEALI members and environmental experts at the University of Montana. When he returns, Nyan Lin Htet looks forward to helping the Design Team and Proximity develop products and services which bring unique energy and environmental value to 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

     

     

    Tuesday
    Jun092015

    Can digital sensors revolutionize smallholder farming in Myanmar?

     

    Digital sensors that allow for precision agriculture are becoming increasingly popular on large farming operations in the US and Europe. The technology, however is becoming affordable enough for developing markets. Earlier this year, Proximity Designs embarked on an interesting challenge with the Futuresense Team from IDEO.org; could we design sensors that would enhance the work of farmers in Myanmar? 

    Fast-forward a couple of months and a  IDEO.org is nearing the end of their second visit to Myanmar’s dry zone. During their first visit in April, our aim was to hone in on particular needs in Myanmar that could be met through sensor-tech. This time around, a Proximity-IDEO.org crew has spent ten sweaty days riding around Pakokku in the back of a pick up truck testing three prototype sensor products, speaking to everyone from farmers to fertilizer dealers, and thinking about what potential services around these products would look like. But, wait a second: what do we even mean by agricultural sensors? 

    At the high-tech end of the spectrum, there are drones that you can fly over your crops to tell you what areas are suffering from particular diseases or nutrient deficiencies. On the other end, there are farmers in Myanmar who use lemongrass stalks to predict next year’s rains. For this project, we’re wondering how we can use low-cost analog and digital sensors that measure soil moisture to help farmers make the best growing decisions they can.

    For instance, when we spoke to Proximity Sales Representative Aung Ko Win, he mentioned that farmers who purchase drip aren’t always sure about how they should adapt their watering schedules once they stop using traditional watering cans. So even though farmers access better technology through drip, they still rely on traditional thinking to determine moisture levels for their crops. Could a simple moisture sensor help a farmer make optimal watering decisions to reduce the risk of pests and disease and help improve yields? This is just one of the questions that we’re asking. 

    Over the next few months, Proximity will be working together with IDEO.org to continue evolving existing prototypes into fully fleshed out products and services. As we do so, we’ll be posting more on particular experiments or questions we’re encountering throughout this design process. If you’re curious and have any questions about this particular project, leave them in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you in future blogs!  

     

    Wednesday
    May202015

    Proximity senior manager invited to speak at Devex Executive forum

    Su Mon speaks about her experiences managing a rural sales force in Myanmar

    Last Thursday, the development media platform Devex hosted an Executive Forum in Yangon, aimed at preparing international players to enter the Myanmar development space. Su Mon, our multi-talented Rural Energy Team Leader, was the only female Burmese speaker invited to speak at the daylong event. We sat down with her to learn about the forum:

    Can you tell us a little bit about the panel you spoke on?

    Su Mon: My session was focused on operations. What are the processes and pitfalls of doing development work in Myanmar? The talk wanted to explore organizations that have been operating here for a long time, and focus on what’s happening on the ground, which was especially relevant to me because of my experience training our rural sales force.  

    One of the guiding questions was about reaching remote customers, right? How does Proximity’s approach differ from other organizations on the panel?

    Su Mon: Well, unlike with other iNGO’s, a part of our sales and distribution network is made up of independent agents (they’re not full-time employees but instead earn commissions for sales), so they don’t need to do the work if they don’t want to. But if the incentives—such as the financial incentives, or the social prestige they gain from spreading technology— are right, people will be happy to do the work. If a product or service is actually valuable to an agent’s friends and neighbors, then he or she will share it naturally. This really is the key to last-mile distribution.

    It seems like there’s two parts to this process. On the one hand there’s the way that you foster agent networks, and on the other there’s the fact that the products themselves have to be valuable. Did that come up at all?

    Su Mon: It did. In my introduction I talked about our agent network, but I also wanted to stress that there has to be value to the products. You have to design something that people really want and in order to do that you have to really engage. You can’t just design in some headquarters somewhere. When you’re designing products or services, you have to have someone in the room that is involved in operations and who knows what’s happening on the ground. I think this is why understanding context is built into our organizational DNA, because we believe that creating that value for our customers will only happen if we adopt a human-centered approach. Already, in my time here, I have visited 25% of the nation’s townships even though technically I am based in the office.  

    What were some of the other main points discussed at the panel?

    Su Mon: Well, we talked about how it’s essential not to make assumptions about gender, and the speaker from PSI brought up some examples that were really good about how this is relevant. He was talking about their mosquito net program, and how females as heads of households were originally targeted. However, PSI found that in one particular region, they needed to target men, because the men went off to work in the mines where they were geting exposed to disease. Their approach had to change quickly to adapt to this.

    How will the discussion change how you think about your work in the future?

    Su Mon: In terms of my work, when I was listening to big international corporations talk about talent in Myanmar, I saw the ways other organizations are investing into bringing and training talent. It made me excited about all the things Proximity can do. It’s not a business as usual environment for talent recruiting in Myanmar at the moment, and Proximity already has some good initiatives running through Proximity School, but the talk sparked a lot of thinking about what more we could be doing. It’s nice to see that we’re on the right track, but still, I want to help us do more. 

    Thursday
    May072015

    Remembering Nargis

    Remembering Nargis from Proximity Designs on Vimeo.

     

    Saturday May 2nd was the anniversary of Cyclone Nargis, a storm that caused more than 130,000 casualties in the Myanmar Delta. One month ago, we spoke to U Soe Win about his experience, which compelled us to make this video. On the seventh anniversary of the storm, our thoughts and deep empathy go to hundreds of thousands of families who remain resilient, even after surviving unspeakable loses.

    Thursday
    Apr302015

    Proximity Designs in the Harvard Business Review

    Read the article online: http://bit.ly/1DvGOu5

    Running a sustainable social enterprise is no easy undertaking. To survive in the long run, social enterprises have to generate significant social impact and meet financial constraints that ensure sustainability. What can upcoming social entrepreneurs do to increase their chances of success?

    Roger Martin and Sally Osberg from the Skoll Foundation address this question in the May edition of the Harvard Business Review. Looking at a broad range of successful social enterprises, they identified specific commonalities that underline them all. According to them, successful enterprises focus on “changing two features of an existing system—the economic actors involved and the enabling technology applied.”

    As they walk readers through the different ways in which various social enterprises do this, the authors point to Proximity as an example of an integrated approach that takes on everything from product design to policy work in order to improve the lives of rural families nationwide. They authors write, “Debbie Aung Din Taylor and Jim Taylor, of Proximity Designs, understood that transforming Myanmar’s smallholder agricultural sector required them to fire on multiple cylinders: They had to reduce costs traditionally associated with a start-up, pare down the operating costs of product design and development, cultivate customers, shift government’s role, and continually enhance their technology solutions.”

    To learn more about how Proximity approached these challenges and how other outstanding enterprises are tackling everything from child labor to landmines, read the full article here