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    Entries in social enterprise (9)


    What I learned about social enterprises by working at one

    Guest blogger Lauren Leatherby is a first-year Master in Public Policy student at the Harvard Kennedy School who spent Winter Break as a short-term fellow at Proximity.

     Folds of longyi fabric drape onto the floor as a dozen farmers, their faces cooled with thanakha, discuss the past season’s challenges around a low table.  

    “Labor costs have doubled,” one farmer says in Burmese, the others nodding in agreement. “We can’t afford labor costs anymore. Costs have gone from 2,000 kyat per day to more than 4,000.”

    Proximity co-founder Debbie Aung Din asks about other difficulties they have faced. How have they dealt with the labor shortage? What kind of pests have they seen this year? What tools do they need the most?

    Since arriving at Proximity for a short fellowship, field meetings like this combined with my time at Proximity’s brightly hued, open office in Yangon have shaped my ideas of social enterprise. Below are a few of the things that stood out to me, surprised me, and even wore on me about my time here at Proximity.

    Customer Respect


    In a previous job, I conducted market analysis projects at a Fortune 500 company, where constantly soliciting customer feedback was critical to success. I’ve found Proximity listens to Myanmar’s low-income, rural farmers in the same way my previous employer listened to its Rolex-wearing customers. The luxurious $50 dinners of customer feedback meetings may be swapped for tea leaf salad on the floors of thatched-roof homes, but the respect and high value that Proximity places on its customers’ opinions is the same.

    I’ve also been impressed with the resources Proximity puts toward following up with its customers in proportion to its relatively small staff. The Knowledge and Social Impact Team spends their time taking buses, motorcycles, and ox-carts to remote villages, where they ask farmers about changes in yields, incomes and spending, after using Proximity products and services. Thanks to their work, the organization has measured nearly USD $400 million  in cumulative increased economic impact across Myanmar through the sale of Proximity's products.  


    Swimming Against the Current

    Walking into Proximity’s design lab, a naturally-lit, brightly painted space in Yangon’s industrial zone, one quickly gets the feeling that creative things happen here. Multicolored dry-erase sketches of prototypes dot the windows, and a mural depicts a fish swimming upstream, going against the norm.

    “These are some of the ideas from our Team Improvement Project this morning,” says Ko Nyan Lin Htet, the design lab’s newest engineer, as he directs my gaze to a handful of sketches on scrap paper. “We brainstorm like this every Friday. My idea presents a way to light the whole floor using only natural light.”

    These Team and Personal Improvement Projects, which take time away from current projects to focus on self development, were just one way I saw Proximity’s emphasis on being unafraid to fail a few times before getting things right. This emphasis on creativity and innovation struck me as representative of Proximity’s overall business model –using swift, imaginative solutions to confront large, seemingly intractable problems.

    Burmese at Heart


    Knowing that Proximity operates only in Myanmar but has strong Western connections, I wasn’t sure what to expect in regard to office culture. As I found my way up to Proximity’s third-floor office my first day, I saw a neat array of shoes outside the door. Guessing I should take mine off too, my first day at Proximity also marked the first time I entered a new job barefoot.

    I had previously worked abroad in Dubai, where my meetings were held in English and the office generally followed U.S. work culture, so the amalgam of Burmese and English used during Proximity's staff meetings was striking. While a few expats dotted the crowd, the room was nearly entirely locals, and not a single foot wore shoes. Longyis predominate over pants here, office snacks generally consist of Myanmar jellies and tea leaf salad, and Burmese is the primary language echoing throughout the office.

    The Mundane Exists Here, Too

    Finally, my time here has reminded me of the regular work that goes on even at award-winning social enterprises like Proximity. While high-level strategic thinking frequently takes place, with meetings discussing the future of Myanmar's energy and innovations to combat rising labor costs, there are also the same mundane, day-to-day tasks that go on everywhere. I got to help on projects I really liked, but where was my help, at times, most exigently needed? Writing up job descriptions and finding photos for publications. This was a reminder that even at the coolest organizations, there’s still no shortage of small tasks in addition to the big, fun, shaping-the-future-of-this-country brainstorming.



    We're looking

    Proximity is hiring! Check out the brand new opportunities we have below, and have a gander at some of the older ones, and some info on what it's like to work at Proximity, over on our website:

    For more information please contact


    Digging it...

    During the dry season, we fund community managed rural infrastructure projects across the country. These take the shape of bridges, jetties and footpath in the often-flooded rural delta areas, and rainwater harvesting reservoirs in the central dry zone of the country. Here are some images of our ponds in the digging stage and, after the long monsoon, full of life-giving water…


    The Schwab Foundation Award for Social Entrepreneurship 2012

    On September 10th, at the World Economic Forum in Beijing, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship announced Proximity Designs as an awardee of their prestigious Award for Social Entrepreneurship 2012!

    Selected out of over 1,000 applicants as one of twenty-six awardees, we are the first ever organization from Myanmar to be invited to join their community of 225 social enterprises, representing 70 countries around the world.

    Jim Taylor and Debbie Aung Din, Proximity's co-founders, travelled to Tianjin to collect the award at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of New Champions on Tuesday 11th, and we'll hopefully have some photos soon.

    Hilde Schwab, the Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, who will present the award, said of the awardees

     “The 2012 awardees are successfully mobilizing a range of actors, including governments and corporations, to effectively address urgent social and environmental challenges. It is a testament to their impact – and to the efforts of thousands of other social entrepreneurs – that social innovation is becoming a priority for decision-makers at the most senior levels.”

    We’re incredibly proud to have been selected, and the announcement couldn't have come at a better time, as we launch in to our ninth season and the sales of our most innovative products yet.

    We hope you will join us in celebrating this award, and raising a glass to another successful year of helping rural families here in Myanmar! 


    Drip: An Old Couple's Tale

    Meet endearing couple, U Aung Than and Daw Khin Win. They've had some trouble with their crops in the past, but since installing drip irrigation on their small plot they've been seeing some great results.