Empathy and design can be used to identify opportunities for creating genuine social impact.
Proximity Designs, a social enterprise based in rural Myanmar, proves that empathy and design can be used to identify opportunities for creating genuine social impact. They have been designing and delivering innovative products and services that boost productivity and incomes for rural families since 2004.
By living alongside Myanmar smallholder farming families, Proximity aims to discover unmet needs and opportunities that can be addressed with affordable and tailored products. Using a human-centered design approach, Proximity has created a line of small-plot irrigation technologies, farm advisory services and rural financial services that provide pathways out of poverty for Myanmar’s most vulnerable farming families.
Human-centered-design methods use empathy as a core approach for creating innovative solutions that can effectively address people’s needs. Proximity Designs demonstrates that having an intimate and empathetic relationship and understanding of people’s needs, can create impact.
Today, Proximity Designs makes and delivers a full range of products from irrigation systems to farming credit, and has the ability to deliver them to 80 percent of the country’s rural population who make $2 per day or less. U Seine Khine is one of the many farmers whose life was changed by investing $20USD in a Proximity foot powered water pump. On a typical day he used to hand carry up to 6 tons of water to his small plot, spending 8-9 hours on irrigation per day and seeing little return from his sales. With the purchase of the irrigation product, U Seine was able to double his annual net income and allocate his time more productively.
Proximity Designs is a prime example of how innovation lies in the ability to understand and listen to people’s needs. Empathy is key to tearing down barriers leading to inequality and opening the path toward innovation and affordable solutions.