Design Thinking & Prototyping Are Helping Generate Affordable Products For Small Farm Owners In Myanmar

Proximity Designs, established in 2004, is a nonprofit social enterprise based in Yangon.

Under the title “Impact Within Reach” @CameronConaway,showcases how Proximity Designs uses design thinking and prototyping to create quality, accessible, affordable and sustainable solutions for small-plot farmers in Myanmar.

Here is an example of how a 63 year old farmer, Thein Than, has benefited from such solutions:

Than is able to make a living as a smallplot farmer in part because the tools of his trade have improved a great deal in recent years. “Here’s how I used to do it,” he explains. With a grimace, he squats down under a bamboo stalk that has a rusted watering bucket on either end of it. When he stands up, his wiry muscles tremble under the weight of the contraption. But he manages to walk up and down rows of turnip and cilantro plants, tilting his body from side to side to give each plant just enough water. He used to fill the buckets and walk these rows 20 times every morning and 20 times every evening. “Not anymore,” he says.

In 2011, Than began using a device called Sin Pauk (“Baby Elephant”), a footpowered water pump made entirely of plastic that costs 15,500 Kyat (about $15). He pairs it with Pyit Taing Taung (“Sturdy Boy”), a 250-gallon tank ($33) that inflates as it fills with water. The pump uses a ropeand- pulley system that makes it easy for Than and his family to operate. Similarly, the tank has a lightweight design—it’s made of PVC-treated canvas and plastic—that allows Than to move it as he irrigates his land.

Together, these items have done more than decrease Than’s workload. They have enabled him to invest time in maximizing the use of his land and in taking his crops to market. As a result, he has been able to double his family’s income over the past five years. “My wife and I have used this extra money to make improvements to our house, but mostly it’s allowed us to cover education expenses for our four children,” he says.

And Thien Than also says something that is in essence what everyone of us want to have.

My sense of self is based on place. Because I can now make a living here, I feel I can be who I am.


When the Proximity team wants to create a solutions, the first step for them is design thinking. The start by selecting a target group of farmers and works iteratively with that group to develop a prototype design. But they encounter challenges to move further in this process because Myanmar lacks a reliable infrastructure for product development.

“There are times when we know our next step, but we have to put production on hold for months because a part is not available in Myanmar and nobody in the country has the tools to make it”

Go read the whole article on Stanford Social Innovation Review, now!

Author: Venkata Gandikota

Venkata has more than 13 years of technical engineering, research, ideation, strategy and business modeling experience. Based on his experience with the Indian market and realizing also the need for affordable & sustainable solutions for Finland and other European markets, he started The Nordic Frugal Innovation Society in late 2013 with 2 colleagues. By organizing ideation workshops and 2 major conferences involving Cities, Universities, and businesses he started to mainstream the concept in Finland and the Nordics. Gandikota has also written several articles focusing on frugal innovations in the Finnish media. He has also been helping Finnish businesses in India as CEO of Indianeer Consulting and gives guest lectures at JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä. He has a Bachelors in Chemical Engineering from India and a Masters in Environmental Engineering from USA.