Meet Phyu Hnnin Nyein from Myanmar
Updated: Oct 13, 2020
Q: Hi Phyu Hninn Nyein, can you introduce yourself and what you do?
I'm Phyu Hninn, Head of Operations at Proximity Designs. We're a social business in Myanmar that delivers technology solutions and financial services to smallholder farmers.
Q: You were the first female member of Proximity’s agronomy team – what was the transition like for you? 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 surprises from farmers, industry leaders and even from my own team.
However, since then, I have put particular emphasis on hiring female agronomists, many of which face challenges with employment opportunities. Today, women account for 43% of our team and 60% of senior managers across Proximity.
Q: It’s great that you are enabling Proximity to hire more women and providing them with the opportunity to take the industry further. From your experience, what are the barriers to women’s success in agriculture? There is a major misconception that women do not know about farming or agriculture, let alone have the experience or the know how to lead an organization. In Myanmar, we also have certain superstitions that reinforce this notion as well. For example, a woman's skirt touching a certain crop will cause the crops to fail.
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. But I often encourage the female team members to take on more roles and responsibilities to make them feel safe and supported.
Q: Lastly, to close off, what is one piece of advice you have for female agripreneurs? I would like to encourage female agripreneurs to really support other female agripreneurs. The impact of the support is felt beyond these professional women, and reaches the rural community as well, where the gender norms and discriminations 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 agronomists - simply seeing the professional woman outside of traditional careers such as bookkeepers, nurses, teachers - opened up new paths for these girls. 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 route 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.
This story was first published by WOMAG.
About Phyu Hnnin Nyein
Phyu Hninn Nyein, aka, Hninn is a statistician turned small farmer enthusiast. After working in conservation and statistical genetics in the US, she returned to Myanmar in 2012 as Myanmar emerged from decades-long isolation. Passionate about the application of data, technology and entrepreneurship for rural development and environmental sustainability, she joined Proximity Designs. After building up Proximity’s research and impact arm, she has led Farm Advisory Services through its rapid expansion to a 200+ people team impacting 50,000+ farmers/year in 30 townships across Myanmar. She now heads up nation-wide operations of Proximity Designs, providing affordable, well-designed and climate-smart techniques and services that boost smallholder farmers’ productivity and incomes.