Myanmar: Battling poverty with human-centred design

Proximity Design’s creations help people in Myanmar survive in extreme poverty.

From the Series

While ethnic conflict rages in the Myanmar, there are hundreds of rural inhabitants struggling to make ends meet without proper infrastructure, energy, and irrigation tools. Award-winning social enterprise Proximity Designs, based in Yangon, have made it their mission to turn grass-roots research into problem-solving designs.

“This meticulous user-centered research helps us to provide products and services that are personalized and relevant, and that slot easily into rural lifestyles,” says the company’s website.

One of the company’s best-selling products, solar lights, taps into the need to work, study, and cook when night falls in Myanmar.

“With the added hours of productivity that bright, longer lasting, more reliable lighting offers, incomes are also expected to rise,” says the company.

Other products include; the Red Rhino, Baby Buffalo, Baby Elephant, The  Original, Drip, and Storage. These water-pump and water-storage devices were all designed with specific rural farming shortfalls in mind.

For instance, the Baby Elephant water pump was developed after it was found that farmers were building precariously high platforms to place their pump on and treadline from. The Baby Elephant has a unique rope and pulley system that enables the user to remain on the ground while pumping up to a water tank. This makes for safer, more user-friendly treadling.

To address the shortage of a constant and reliable sources of water, Proximity designed the “Sturdy Boy”, a 250 gallon capacity tank designed for complete portability, durability, and affordability.

Made of PVC canvas with a plastic rim, the Pyit Taing Taung (Sturdy Boy) is stored flat and grows into a freestanding tank as it is filled with water.

All Proximity’s products are designed to be affordable and easily accessible.

“We treat the poor as customers, not beneficiaries. It means they always have a choice, and that we’re guaranteed to get their honest opinions on what we’re doing, either through sales numbers or when they corner us in a teashop,” says the company.

“Their feedback, our detailed impact analysis, and our continued field observations, all circle back into the design process. It’s what keeps us growing, and improving our services.” 

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