Thursday, August 17, 2017

Design company wins international prize

A non-profit design company in Yangon won an international award for social entrepreneurship on September 11.

Proximity Designs, founded by Debbie Aung Din and Jim Taylor, received the award from the Schwab Foundation at a ceremony that took place at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting in Tianjin, China.

Proximity Designs was one of 26 design companies selected from around the world to receive the prize.

The 2012 award attracted a pool of more than 1000 entrants – with winners becoming part of a network that is invited to participate in WEF events. Schwab co-founder Klaus Schwab is WEF executive chairperson.

Louisa-Jane Richards, media communications assistant at Proximity Designs, told The Myanmar Times in an email: “Our design lab is one of a handful in the developing world that designs products specifically for the rural poor.”

Proximity Designs, formerly International Development Enterprises Myanmar (iDE Myanmar), was established in 2004 and works in partnership with local manufacturers, retailers, and villagers to distribute low-cost products that aim to boost farmers’ productivity and income.

Company co-founder Jim Taylor said: “The idea of extreme affordability keeps us accountable. If people don’t find our products of value, they won’t spend their hard-earned money on them.”

The company’s six-member team, which includes local engineers and prototype makers, has developed foot-powered irrigation pumps, water storage tanks, drip irrigation systems and solar lighting.

“Our first product [was] a foot-operated irrigation pump that makes sure water is there when farmers need it, especially during the six months when there’s no rain.  It boosts farmers’ incomes by as much as 300 percent,” said Debbie Aung Din.

Louisa-Jane Richards said Proximity Designs’ products are sold at the cost-price for materials and manufacturing, with new products subsidised in the first year of release.

The company’s latest device is a 250 gallon water bucket that is portable, lightweight and stable. It was released on September 8 and Ms Richards said: “Pricing hasn’t been set yet, but it will probably start at about K20,000.”Proximity has also created a line of products more user-friendly than the cumbersome watering can.Forty-six-year-old U Than Swe from Tharyar Gone village, Sibine township, uses a pump bought from Proximity Designs.

“It’s like spraying water with a motor. I expanded my vegetable plot… which increased my income, and now I can survive without taking loans,” he said.

Earlier this year, Proximity Designs won a Skoll Award in recognition of the impact its water pumps have on harvesting higher crop yields.