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Interview with Phyu Hninn Nyein, Head of Operations at Proximity Designs

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

What is Proximity Designs?

I'm Phyu Hninn Nyein, Head of Operations at Proximity Designs. We're a social business in Myanmar that delivers technology solutions and financial services to smallholder farmers.

What are the top two challenges faced by you and other female entrepreneurs?

Every leader has experienced challenges or setbacks, but I would say women leaders face more adversity. Agriculture is a male dominated industry and women leaders in agricultural organizations is a rarity, especially in Myanmar.

When I joined Proximity's agronomy team as the first female member, there were more than a few raised eyes. There have been times where I was looked upon with doubts, questions and surprise from farmers, industry leaders and even from my own team.

The major misconception is that women do not know about farming or agriculture, let alone have the experience or know-how to lead an organization. In Myanmar, we also have certain superstitions that re-enforce this notion as well. A woman's skirt touching a certain crop will cause the crops to fail, as an example.

And lastly, there are also systemic challenges that inhibit women to take on careers in agriculture. The nature of the industry requires women to travel to rural areas, and that is not always easy for women due to the traditional stay-at-home gender roles.

How can the ecosystem be more accessible for women entrepreneurs?

I often encourage the female team members to take on more roles and responsibilities to make them feel safe and supported.

I have put particular emphasis on hiring female agronomist, many of which face challenges with employment opportunities. Today, women account for 43% of our team and 60% of senior managers across Proximity.

Today, women account for 43% of the team and 60% of senior managers across Proximity.

What is your advice to other female entrepreneurs?

I would like to encourage female agripreneurs to really support other female agripreneurs, because the impact is felt beyond these professional women. The impact reaches the rural community as well, where the gender norms and discrimination is often the strongest.

I have heard many stories of how women and girls from rural Myanmar were inspired just by their interaction with a female agronomist - simply seeing a professional woman outside of traditional careers such as bookkeepers, nurses, teachers - opened up new paths for these girls.

The road that the professional woman has to take is often challenging and arduous. However, that does not mean that we shouldn't take the road. We should continue down the road with pride and courage, while working hard to reconstruct the road - a better road. Women are not solely responsible for that. It is the responsibility of everyone to create a more inclusive workspace and eventually a more inclusive society.

I often find myself motivated by a quote by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author of "We Should All Be Feminists". She says:

“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”

The video from which this transcript was taken originally appeared in a LinkedIn post by WOMAG. You can also watch Hninn’s TEDx talk about “Big Data for Small Farmers Across Rural Myanmar” here.

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