Design can help rural Myanmar

Designing for rural people in Myanmar - TEDxInyaLake

The opening of Myanmar enables businesses, NGOs and social enterprises to venture further in the country and tackle challenges of rural areas as well as of cities. In the countryside, a social enterprise is applying cutting-edge design principles to alleviate difficulties of farmers and rural inhabitants.

Designing products for Myanmar’s farmers

Debbie Aung Din is the founder of Proximity Designs, a social enterprise of farm technology catering to rural inhabitants of Myanmar. She relates some of her experiences designing products for people living on a dollar per day, as part of the TEDxInyaLake event that featured talks on developing Myanmar.

Myanmar: a country in need of many things

Though motorcycles and solar panels have begun to spread in Myanmar,  rural people remain isolated and poor. NGOs help for the rural development of the country, but their contributions are sometimes inadequate because they do not fit the needs of the people.

That’s why even in the not-for-profit activities people have to be considered as customers with needs to be satisfied rather than charity recipients. To sell goods and services in rural Myanmar, one should listen to the people and understand their needs so as to design useful products accordingly.

Living with very limited resources means that every good or service purchased by the poor need to provide value and efficiently complete their function. The same principles used to design iPhones or electric cars must therefore be applied to the market of people who live on a dollar a day.

“While everyone deserves good design, the poor can least afford poor design”. – Jan Chipcase, Studio D

The design process

1. Get close to the customer

To solve the problems of poverty, one needs to go to the countryside, talk to the people and understand their needs. A field trip is not enough; to really get to know their customers business or non-profit executives have to discuss with many customers, watch them in their daily activities and understand their daily lives, hopes and aspirations.

Understanding the flaws of a competing motor pump imported from China – polluting, heavy, noisy and costly in fuel -, Proximity Designs created the lotus pump, an affordable solar irrigation pump, designed with components available for manufacturing in Myanmar.

Services of micro-credit are not adapted either to farmers cash flows: as they receive money only after a harvest,  the credits’ regular payments are inconvenient. Providing a useful and reliable financial and credit services through mobile therefore has great potential in Myanmar, but it may not necessarily mean creating a new application.

2. Prototype and obtain feedback

Having ideas will not make the cut: a prototype has to be realized and tested with real users to see if they want to use it and how to improve the product.

Usefulness and reliability are the major characteristics of any product or service, but even rural dwellers also prefer products that are more beautiful. Confronted with a choice of water containers with the same capacity, Myanmar farmers have favored the one that looked better in their farms.

3. Measure the impact

The success of a well-designed product or service is its impact in the people’s lives. In order to properly assess this impact, ways to measure it must be conceived. Through this focus on their final impact, Proximity Design can prioritize their products to design first.

They can measure their impact through their customers benefit from a significant extra income of 250 USD per year. This extra revenue means more food, better inputs for the next crop and the assurance to be able to pay for their children’s school fees.

“Good design helps people make their dreams come true.”

Video published by TEDx Talks in April 2016

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