Phyu Hninn Nyein received the Community and Public Service award at the recent Women of the Future South East Asia Awards in Singapore.
Hninn, an alumna of the Diploma in Strategy and Innovation at Saïd Business School, received the award on 20 March. The judges included Desiree Bandal, Group Head for Government Policy at Air Asia and Caesar Sengupta, Vice President of Product Management at Google, among many other respected names from Business and Government.
‘I felt very happy and proud for the country,’ commented Hninn. ‘Of course everybody needs to be recognised for their hard work whether they are male or female, but South East Asia still has a long way to go before we have complete gender equality. These awards help to shine the spotlight on the achievements of women in the region, and I was delighted to be selected this year.’
Hailing from Myanmar, Hninn is a general manager at social enterprise Proximity Designs, her home country’s largest agricultural services platform. She began her career as a research assistant at Harvard Medical School after studying an M.A in Biostatistics at Boston University. She joined Proximity Designs in 2014, where she leads on farming agronomy, a practice that applies scientific methods and thinking to modern agriculture. Hninn states that while the agronomy is mainstream in the West, it’s very much new to Myanmar’s farming community.
‘I see farming as a complex optimisation problem,’ explained Hninn. ‘Farmers have to juggle hundreds of different factors: market price, climate change, supplier costs and so on, and they are trying to optimise their income as best they can. The benefits of an agronomic approach can make a huge difference to their livelihoods.’
Having begun her career in the laboratory, the challenges of managing Proximity Design’s rapidly expanding business lead Hninn to consider business education. ‘I had thought about an MBA, but Myanmar was going through such dramatic changes, I didn’t like the idea of leaving the country for too long. When I read about the Diploma in Strategy and Innovation at Oxford Saïd, it seemed like the perfect fit for me.’
Hninn might have found her perfect programme, but there was a hurdle to overcome: the application deadline was only days away, and Myanmar’s fledgling telecommunications systems meant contacting the School was no easy task. ‘I reached out to Andy Poole (Associate Director, Business Development Executive Degree Programmes) and he was really helpful. After a couple of frantic days trying to get access to my emails, I was enrolled at Oxford. It was an incredible time for me. Myanmar was having its first election in twenty years, and so both my home country and my company were going through an unprecedented period of transformation, and now I was too.’
Reflecting on the programme, which coincided with a change of roles at Proximity Design that saw her take charge of the company’s Farm Advisory Business Unit, Hninn believes that its impact on her career cannot be understated. ‘Had I not been through the programme, it would have been much harder for me to lead the scaling up of our Advisory Unit,’ she said. ‘The strategies that I picked up on the programme were really helpful, particularly how to manage transitions and dealing with resistance to change, and it was great to bounce ideas around with my classmates.’
As she looks to the future, Hninn believes Myanmar’s new found access to modern technology means Proximity Designs is perfectly positioned to leverage the countries rapidly changing business landscape. ‘To put this change into perspective, a sim card for a phone here used to cost two thousand US dollars,’ she said. ‘Today, it costs only two dollars. Now that everyday people have access to these technologies, Proximity Designs will be able to interact with our farmers in ways never previously possible, and I’m excited to see what the future will bring next.’