Skoll Foundation


Proximity Designs

Skoll Awardee(s): Debbie Aung Din and Jim Taylor
Award Year: 2012
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Economic Opportunity

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“We wanted to treat people as customers, not as aid beneficiaries. It’s about giving people choice and therefore dignity. We don’t decide what people need, they tell us through the marketplace whether our products are valuable.”

Sub-Issues: Smallholder Productivity, Financial Services, Livelihoods In Myanmar (Burma), smallholder farmers are often trapped in a life of subsistence, weathering crop failure and other setbacks on their own. Neither government nor foreign donors provide information, skills and tools. Private companies overlook smallholders and rely on large producers to supply their customers.

The Skoll Awardees: Jim and Debbie Aung Din Taylor met as 20-year-old community activists working to fight poverty in the Mississippi Delta, where they learned that before anyone can help people, they must live with them, and truly understand them. They took this philosophy with them when they moved to Burma in 2004 to found an organization they could scale up quickly to help the 4 million rice farmers struggling to lift themselves out of subsistence and poverty. That organization, which became Proximity Designs, designs and delivers products, services, and policy solutions to increase productivity and improve incomes. Its $13 plastic water pump, the “baby elephant,” doesn’t just replace sprinkler cans or provide an affordable alternative to metal pumps, it increases yields and enhances food security even in a debilitating political environment. PD designs and sells affordable foot pumps, drip irrigation sets, and water storage containers; offers financing services for those unable to afford upfront costs of products or seeds, and provides advisory services focused on helping farmers improve productivity, incomes, and resilience. At the time of the Award, PD had transformed the lives of more than 400,000 Burmese people.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2012:

  • Cumulative number of income-boosting products and services sold reached 100,000, benefiting 486,500 people.
  • PD reaches approximately 80 percent of Burma’s rural population.
  • Cumulative increase in income has reached $276 million.
  • Rice yields increased 10 to 15 percent
  • 546 village infrastructure projects have been completed.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.