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Paul Polak
Essays | Biography | Out of Poverty | Contact

An Open Letter to Larry Page

In your recent conversation with Charlie Rose at TED, you said you’d rather hand over your cash to Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City) instead of donating it to a philanthropic organization. I understand the sentiment. The nonprofit sphere has generally proved itself incapable of solving many of society's most intractable problems. But for all of us, it’s a practical challenge, not just a guilt trip.

READ MORE | COMMENTS (1)

End Poverty or Bust

Five years ago, Steve Bachar and Paul Polak decided to create a venture capital fund that would only invest in companies capable of: Transforming the livelihoods of at least 100 million customers living on $2 a day or less; Generating at least $10 billion in annual revenues; and Earning sufficient profits to attract commercial financial investment. There was only one problem. There were no companies to invest in that met the criteria. Among social entrepreneurs, design for scale is as rare as hen’s teeth.

READ MORE | COMMENTS

How to Solve India’s Poverty Crisis

Today there are still 2.7 billion people living on $2 a day or less. The conventional definition of economic growth — increase in average per capita GDP — is totally irrelevant to people living in extreme poverty. If you’re one of 400 million people in India earning $400 a year or less and the board chairman of Reliance Industries earns $18 million, the fact that the average per capita income between the two of you is $9,000,200 will give you scant comfort.

READ MORE | COMMENTS (1)

Achieving Scale

Scale is the single biggest unmet challenge in development and impact investment today. About the only big business to reach poor people at scale is mobile phones, and that happened pretty much by accident. I think it’s entirely feasible to help 100 million poor people at a time move out of poverty with technologies they need to raise their incomes, with the right distribution systems, and with business incentives at all levels.

READ MORE | COMMENTS

The SunWater Project: Advanced Solar Technology for Poor Farmers

Farmers need a reliable, low-cost water pumping system so that they can grow cash crops to increase their incomes. They also need electric power to add value to their crops (grinding, processing, etc.). Current pumping systems cost too much or are unreliable. How can we radically reduce the purchase price of solar PV powered pumping systems along with technologies that efficiently transport irrigation water?

READ MORE | COMMENTS (2)

Transforming Solar Pumping to Eliminate Rural Poverty

If I want to water my petunias, I turn on the tap outside my house, hold my thumb over the end of a battered green hose, and water away. If a small farmer in Ghana or China wants to water a small patch of vegetables he’s growing to sell in the local market, he breaks his back hauling water in two buckets or sprinkling cans from a nearby stream. It takes six hours a day every other day for three months to water a tenth of an acre of vegetables that he hopes to sell for $100.

READ MORE | COMMENTS (4)

Simplicity Brings Hope to the Digital Age

Business leaders today spend all their time trying to serve the richest 10% of the world’s customers. We need a revolution in business thinking to create products and services for the other 90%, not because it is the moral thing to do, but because there are vast new profitable markets awaiting the brave companies willing to create ruthlessly affordable new products serving the world’s 2.6 billion bypassed customers who live on less than $2 a day. The Appropriate Technology Movement, which showed such great initial promise, died prematurely because it was peopled by tinkerers instead of hard-headed entrepreneurs.

READ MORE | COMMENTS

Is it Immoral to Earn Attractive Profits from Poor Customers?

There are at least 7 billion different perspectives on morality, but the viewpoint I like best defines sin as the failure to reach your potential. By this definition we have at least 2.6 billion deep sinners – the 37% of people in the world who live on less than $2 a day. They are the future Steve Jobs’, Mohandas Gandhis, Madame Curies and Pablo Picassos who will instead eke out a living as drug dealers, child soldiers, prostitutes and destitute slum dwellers.


READ MORE | COMMENTS

Building a Better Mousetrap is Only the Beginning

In my work with a multitude of affordable technologies over the past 30 years, one key feature has become abundantly clear: If you have met the challenge of designing a transformative, radically affordable technology, you’ve successfully solved no more than 10-20% of the problem. The critical other 80% of the solution lies in designing an effective marketing, distribution, and profitable business strategy that can be brought to scale. Of these, perhaps the most important is designing an effective scale strategy.

READ MORE | COMMENTS

Affordable Design Comes to Denver — “Design for the Other 90%”

The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt “Design for the Other 90%” exhibit has arrived at RedLine Gallery in downtown Denver, showcasing products designed explicitly to fit the needs and circumstances of the world’s poorest customers —the “other 90%” who are bypassed by current design processes.

READ MORE | COMMENTS

Dr. Paul Polak is the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail, which has become a renowned resource for practical solutions to global poverty. His new book, co-authored with Mal Warwick is the Business Solution To Poverty, Designing Products and Services For Three Million New Customers.


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