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    Entries in impact (3)


    Hninn, on Dancing with Data


    Hninn sat down with us to talk numbers, merengue, and Harry Potter


    When you first approach Phyu Hninn Nyein, you’d never suspect from her friendly demeanor that she’s actually a fierce dancer and a statistics whiz. Do a little bit of digging, though, and it’s no time before Hninn opens up about how ballroom dancing is the best sport ever and how she hopes to increase numeracy levels across Myanmar. 

    There are many reasons why she’s the head of our Knowledge and Social Impact Team, but when you hear her story, it seems only natural that she’d carry the title of “Knowledge Manager.” Numbers have been her passion since high school, and at 17, she left Myanmar to study math and biology in the US. While doing work on HIV 1 pathogenesis at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, she made the switch to biostatistics.

    When Hninn decided to come back to Yangon to be closer to family, Proximity stepped in and seized Hninn’s talent to help us measure the impact our products have on the rural families that purchase them. The Knowledge and Social Impact Team collects and processes huge amounts of raw data regarding our customers, and while Hninn might dismiss what she does as “fancy analysis,” she’s essential to our operations. When asked why she postponed further studies to continue her work here, she says, “I really like what I’m doing right now so I want to keep on doing it," and recounts how Proximity helped her apply her skills despite the fact that she had no previous social enterprise experience. “This place has the right mix of guidance and freedom so that you really get to experiment with things,” she adds. 

    Glamorous? Definitely. Sweaty? We don't think so.

    All in all, the name of Hninn’s blog –Dancing with Data – suits her to a T. And while we are well acquainted with her data side, Hninn lights up whe she talks about training to master the Viennese Waltz in Massachusetts. “Ballroom is unlike any other sport, because you get to be both sweaty and glamorous at the same time," she says. Dancing is what she misses most from her time in the US.

    Still, there’s hope for Yangon’s ballroom scene with people like Hninn around. We're just saying: with her resourcefulness, we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if in a couple years Hninn is a Burmese waltzing celebrity, in addition to the data rock star that she already is at Proximity.


    A Year In Retrospect


     Proximity employees gather at Sayar San Plaza

    Our 440+ nationwide employees got onboard boats, buses, cars, motorbikes, and even ox-carts to reach Yangon for Proximity’s annual meeting. The three-day get-together is crucial to the life of our organization, because we gather to share our collective social impact on Myanmar, as well as to get an overall, company-wide picture of the previous year. It’s a key opportunity for every single member of our organization to share the deep, local insights that collectively build our thorough understanding of rural Myanmar customers.

    We’re committed to having an impact on a wide scale in rural Myanmar, and to that end we’re constantly measuring how we’re doing. The annual meeting is all about accountability, and while we’re accountable to our customers and to our donors, these three days in Yangon help hold us accountable to each other.

    So, how are we doing? Several initiatives reported optimistic results. For instance, Proximity Finance provided loans to 33,000 farmers in the past year, a number that has more than tripled since 2011. We’ve also sold 24,000 irrigation products to smallholder farmers this past year, and our earned revenue is more than 50% of our annual budget. In addition to noting these accomplishments, we also held candid discussions about areas to improve on, including the proper way to handle returned products. Overall, we’re proud to report that our activities in 180 townships helped us impact roughly 95,000 households in the past year. For more details, take a look at our latest quarterly report


    Looking to the future, Proximity Co-Founder Jim Taylor stressed the need for agility. With Myanmar’s new openness, the question we’re asking ourselves is: How do we focus on key opportunities  to contribute to this country’s future? We realize that when we talk about increasing farm productivity we also need to help farmers adapt to climate change and access much needed farm financing, and to this end we’re expanding our Proximity Finance operations and developing a new breakthrough irrigation product.

    The three intense days of data compiling and open dialogue help ground us, all 440+ of us, within the greater mission we’re working to achieve. After three days of data-gathering and knowledge sharing in Yangon, it was off to Chaung Thar beach for Proximity’s annual retreat!






    A Village of Solar Lighting Entrepreneurs

     Proximity's d.lights, left outside to charge 

    It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about challenges facing low-income farmers in Myanmar, but the migration of landless laborers is one of the biggest problems they encounter. Landless rural inhabitants are leaving their homes at accelerating rates in search of better futures in the cities and abroad, while farmers who count on their help to harvest crops are left short-handed. Migration is also hollowing out rural communities, with the elderly and the young becoming an ever larger portion of village populations.

    Despite this migration pattern, only 5 out of 100 families have left Set Thwar village in recent years. Surrounded by the sandy expanses characteristic of the Magway Region, it’s not initially obvious why Set Thwar’s inhabitants have stayed. However, all it takes is one conversation inside a bamboo-thatched home with a group of 20 or so women, to realize that small household businesses are the reason this community has remained united. 

    Daw Than Sein, for instance, deftly spins a stone wheel while molding a delicate clay vase. Pottery and incense are the village specialties, and she churns out a variety of vases and even an owl-shaped piggy bank in a matter of minutes. It’s no wonder she’s so skilled - she’s been working with clay since she was 15. What is surprising though, is the energy she brings to her craft; at 62, she doesn’t even stop to look up while recounting her family’s history. Almost mechanically, the row of pots next to her steadily expands while one of her six granddaughters sits down next to her, inspired to coat thin wooden sticks with incense to keep her grandmother company.

    Daw Thein Sein spins her magic

    Daw Than Sein’s family first purchased one of Proximity’s solar lights to save money during the monthly religious festivals, which would otherwise cost them 1,500 kyats in candles a night to attend. Before long, another, more significant benefit from the light became apparent: Daw Than Sein’s productivity doubled once she could work into the night. She went from making 50 vases a day, to easily finishing 100.

    “We can get 8 hours of light at night from the light. Now I keep making pots till 9:30pm. I didn’t want my daughters to take the light away to the festivals when they went, so before long, we had two solar lights in the family.”

    While Daw Than Sein’s pottery income is only one part of a larger equation, she’s able to contribute an estimated $360 more a year to her family’s income thanks to the solar light. Collectively, with her two sons working as drivers, her husband tending two acres of land, and her daughter and granddaughter helping transport Daw Than Sein crafts, the family’s able to earn enough to make an uncertain future in a distant city unappealing.

    Stories like Daw Than Sein’s abound in Set Thwar, where 100 families own nearly 150 solar lights. Thanks to the increased productivity of household businesses, few in Set Thwar see a reason to leave their homes. Their stories are a remarkable testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of Myanmar’s rural population, where a simple, well-designed product purchased on credit has the capacity to double revenues from businesses that have been passed down for generations. Daw Than Sain is optimistic about the future, and we thank her for showing us just how much difference a couple extra hours of light can make.