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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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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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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Achieving Scale

Scale is the single biggest unmet challenge in development and impact investment today. IDE, the development organization I founded, has helped some 20 million people living on a $1/day move out of poverty, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to the 2.7 billion people still living on less than $2/day.  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…

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The SunWater Project – Advanced Solar Technology for Poor Farmers

In my last article, you heard about SunWater, a project to build a radically affordable solar water pump for $2-a-day farmers that will transform small plot agriculture, create new water markets, and significantly increase incomes that will raise bottom-of-the-pyramid families out of poverty. Our target customers are small-plot farmers in India and Africa. These 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.) and for household use. Current pumping systems cost too much or are unreliable. Solar pumping systems have been…

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Four Transformative Business Opportunities in Emerging Markets

University of California, Berkeley- Haas School of Business March 13, 2012 I’m going to describe a little bit about the four businesses and then we’ll have a little bit of time for question and answers. Here’s an example in the area of health. The four businesses I talked about are: health, education, water, and energy. One opportunity in health is that about a billion people need reading glasses. You don’t have to design a technology; you can actually have reading glasses of various strengths built in mainland China for about 50 cents or less. The real challenge is the global distribution system and a robust…

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From Concept to Market: How to Design for Impact

Responding to Martin Herrndorf's (@Herrndorf) blog post titled All That Glitters is Good on NextBillion.net "How do we commercialize university and do-it-yourself projects for the Other 90%? Too much sits in research." Paul Polak's video response is below: "The Appropriate Technology movement failed because it was peopled by technocrats rather than hard-headed entrepreneurs, and technologies were designed to solve technological problems rather than being designed for the market." "The same problem exists when technologies are designed in design courses in universities, rather than being designed to fit into markets, and markets that are scalable. In order to make things work with practical impact they have to be designed…

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Affordable Design Comes to Denver – “Design for the Other 90%” – RedLine Gallery

by Kali Friedmann 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. The exhibit, organized in part by International Development Enterprises (iDE), showcases products from an array of designers, engineers, and organizations focused on development, including Design Revolution (D-REV), the non-profit technology incubator co-founded by Paul Polak. D-REV is an outgrowth of Dr. Polak’s vision of fomenting a revolution in how companies design, price, market, and distribute their products, to produce…

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Social Enterprise and the End of Untouchability

by Bhavna Toor This week Paul Polak has guest blogger Bhavna Toor.  Bhavna will be talking about the new work Paul has been doing in India.   Originally Posted at Primal Fellowship Bhavna developed a deep curiosity for understanding the drivers of economic growth and social equity by witnessing socio-economic disparities firsthand in the half dozen countries around the world that she called home throughout her childhood. She has worked part-time with a number of non-profits and social enterprises by applying her business acumen to their respective issues. Bhavna recently completed her MBA from NYU Stern School of Business where she specialized in Social Innovation and…

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