Black Swans and the Future of Energy by Paul Polak and Krish Desai

Energy experts now confidently predict that by 2040, solar and wind will drive no less than 60% of global power; natural gas will replace the lion's share of the burning of coal, and the market for electric cars will soar. Nassim Taleb, on the other hand, questions the ability of experts to predict just about anything. He asserts instead, in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, that the future is consistently shaped by unexpected, high-impact outlier events, which we do our best to rationalize after the fact. Who could have predicted the Black Swan disruptive transformative impact of Henry Ford's Model T…

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Sharks, Pigs, & Coconuts: Economic Development and Mental Health by Paul R. Polak, M.D.

This research article was written by Dr. Paul Polak in the 1970's while he was the Executive Director, Southwest Denver Community Mental Health Services, Inc., 1611 South Federal Blvd., Denver, CO. 80219. * Paper presented at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American Orthopsychiatric Association, San Francisco, CA., March 1978.   The most effective mental health program in a poor country is the initiation of successful economic development programs. By economic development I do not mean the large-scale grafting of high technology and dollars to village cultures that is so typical of U.S. foreign aid policies. Economic development to me implies much more of a process in…

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What is the Role of Science in Ending Poverty?
Amin-Erdene Galkhuu pumps well water to her family's Bactrian camels in Mongolia's South Gobi region.

What is the Role of Science in Ending Poverty?

Ten years ago I attended The Alicante Conference on Water and Science, which focused on hydrogeology – the science of water in the ground. Most of the participants were members of science academies in their countries. The first point I made in my talk was that science was making only a feeble contribution to practical solutions to poverty. I went on to present the data that the farms where poor people make their living are microscopic in size. For example, 85% of all the farms in the world are less than five acres. Science in the fields of water, agriculture, economics, and design need whole…

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An Open Letter to Larry Page

In response to a recent article in which Larry Page, CEO of Google, stated, "I would rather give my billions to Elon Musk than charity" Paul Polak wrote Larry Page this open letter:   Dear Larry, 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. In particular, 2.7 billion people left behind in the most extreme poverty—40% of the world's population, living on $2…

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Is it Wrong for Business to Profit from the Poor?

Mohammad Yunus is a nice man. He's also very smart, innovative, a risk-taker -- and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace. However, he is sometimes wrong. And he's most certainly wrong when he insists, as he has done so frequently in recent years both in his books and in public appearances, that the solution to global poverty lies in forming "social businesses" that never distribute profits to investors. “Poverty should be eradicated," Yunus asserts, "not seen as a money-making opportunity.” He believes that investors in social businesses should only get their money back. In my view, that adds up to a sizable interest-free subsidy,…

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Sun-Powered Irrigation

By Jack Keller, P.E., Paul Polak, Paul Storaci, and Robert Yoder A note from Paul Polak: This is the last paper my dear friend and soul brother, Jack Keller, wrote, He died recently at the age of 85 at an IDE social gathering, in the middle of an animated discussion on politics, He put down his wine glass, said he wasn't feeling too well, and collapsed in the arms of a fellow board member. He died doing what he loved, which is the way I hope to go when my time comes. This article describes our dream of replacing millions of diesel pumps in the…

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Clean Water for India

Spring Health, our rapidly scalable safe drinking water company designed to go global, has now started its commercial rollout in India by recruiting and training 90 new full-time staff, and expanding from 35 villages to 105 villages in three months. As the months go by, we have learned more and more about the fundamental importance of getting the marketing mix right. We've bundled all the most successful tactics into an approach we call "blitz marketing." Blitz marketing We have improved our blitz marketing strategy to the point that we now can increase sales in village partner shops to 1000 liters of water a day within…

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The Last 500 Feet

Developing practical and profitable new ways to cross the last 500 feet to the remote rural places where poor families now live and work is the first step towards creating vibrant new markets that serve poor customers. Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to transport 100 kitchen drip kits from Kathmandu to Pokhara on the roof of a bus. The challenge is in getting those kitchen drip kits to the hundred scattered farms in hill villages that are a day’s walk from the nearest road! From anything including drip irrigation kits, oral rehydration salts, penicillin, and disaster relief food, moving goods and services over the last…

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End Poverty or Bust
Paul Polak speaks about commercialization and scale at Cornell University

End Poverty or Bust

Creating a Runway for Profitable New Multinational Businesses to Transform Poverty By Paul Polak Five years ago, Steve Bachar and I decided to create a venture capital fund that would only invest in companies capable of achieving three goals: 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. We couldn’t find any companies to invest in that met these criteria. Among social entrepreneurs, design for scale is as rare as hen’s teeth.  So my partners and I…

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