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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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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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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How to solve India’s poverty crisis

By Paul Polak and Mal Warwick Economic debate swirls around the question of how to end poverty, and no wonder: today there are still 2.7 billion people living on $2 a day or less. How should a nation that contains nearly one in three of the world's poorest people address this very real problem? At one extreme among Indian observers, Nobel Prize winner and Harvard professor Amartya Sen urges greater government investment in programs to aid the poor. At the other, Jagdish Bhagwati, Columbia professor and leading trade economist, insists on the need to fuel the growth of industry and the middle class. From our…

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Simplicity Brings Hope to the Digital Age

Seoul Digital Forum, May 22, 2012 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. Henry…

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Is it Immoral to Earn Attractive Profits from Poor Customers?

 by Paul Polak 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. The three trillion dollars or more we have wasted in misguided development aid probably represent an even bigger sin. But…

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Building A Better Mousetrap is Only the Beginning

Paul Polak Responds to Acumen Fund's Lesson #6 - "Great Technology Alone is not the Answer"  Question: If you build a better mousetrap will the world beat a path to your door? Answer: Without superb marketing and distribution nobody beats a path to your door. 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…

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¡Viva la revolución

Five years ago, at the Aspen design summit, I said that 90% of the world’s designers spent all of their time addressing the needs of the richest 10% of the world’s customers. I also said that before I die I want to see that silly ratio turned on its head. What followed was an amazing sequence of events that included the creation of the traveling exhibit Design for the Other 90% at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum; the formation of D-Rev: Design Revolution, a Palo Alto based non-profit incubator for the design and mass market of radically affordable technologies; and earlier this year the launch…

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The Future Corporation

The Future Corporation will remain competitive in the global marketplace by creating vibrant new markets serving $2 a day customers at scale. Three years ago, General Motors, the biggest, most powerful corporation in the world,was brought to its knees by failing to react quickly and effectively to competition from Japanese imports, which were smaller, more fuel efficient, and cheaper. Companies like Wal-mart, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft will soon face the same do-or-die crossroads General Motors did if they don’t react quickly and effectively to the challenge of earning attractive profits at scale from emerging markets.  This will require nothing less than a revolution in how businesses currently…

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