Tide will ebb

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This is the late night view of Shwedagon Pagoda from Thanlyin bridge.

Now you can see it, but there’s no guarantee buildings will not be blocking it in ten years’ time. Five?

I’ve been back in Myanmar for 20 months now. Every conference I go to, and over a lot of “I’d like to pick your brain operating in Myanmar” meetings, I keep hearing one message over and over: Things are happening here!

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Match made in Myanmar: Proximity Designs + Frog Design

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Proximity Designs and Frog Design Inc. are both wonderful social enterprises using human-centered design to bring solutions to everyday problems in developing countries, making lives a little easier for the bottom billion.

Well, Frog’s clients are not limited to the bottom of the pyramid. In fact, it’s perhaps best known for advising Apple with some of their signature gadget designs.

So this power team, with combined talents from Proximity and Frog, did qualitative studies into attitude and behavior associated with money in rural Myanmar. The findings will be published in late April. But the team gave a snippet of their work at Proximity’s office yesterday, along with some ample supply of white wine and goodies from Yangon Bake House.

At the end of their presentation, one English woman asked: “Are these Myanmar people happy?”

To this question, the super cool Ms. Lauren Serota of Frog Design and Austin Center for Design responded – more or less – as follows:

“You know, I have done over 30 or 40 similar researches throughout my career but I never knew what Myanmar was like before coming here. Things I have seen and learned from this trip have expanded my horizon and have become a part of me and my relative knowledge. This is what happens when you go to a new place. Entrepreneurs and farmers we spoke to have their relative knowledge but a lot of these people usually have not left their villages or towns. They make do the same way you make do with the Internet speed here in Yangon but as someone visiting here from the US, I am like ‘Oh my God, how do you live with this Internet? The speed is just atrocious!’ Right? So for a lot of Myanmar people we spoke to on the trip, this is the way of life they know because that’s their relative knowledge and they don’t know what’s out there. At the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to offer financial products attractive to them, because there is already a diverse set of informal products and arrangements out there as we have seen.”

That was perhaps the best response to every generic “Are (insert a marginalized group) happy?” without rarefying / romanticizing the marginalized group or dramatizing the role of the outsider as a privileged, heroic savior.

Cool stuff. Can’t wait for the report to come out.