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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Running the Numbers

by Paul Polak and Sydney Bergen Over the last 30 years I have found it useful to constantly and obsessively “Run the Numbers” when I look at any business opportunity. I try to do this in a way that quickly strikes to the heart of any business. Running the numbers can identify key transformative opportunities as well as the greatest likely stumbling blocks to success. Just about every entrepreneur I know can generate the financial projections required by a standard business plan. But the ability to carry out rapid and sequential back-of-the envelope estimates of things like where the sweet spot in the market lies,…

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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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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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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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Paul Polak’s Top 10 Books

Following is a list of the ten books that have been most helpful in increasing my understanding of the world. 1)    Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E. F. Schumacher (Blond & Briggs, 1973) 2)    The White Man's Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, by William Easterly (Penguin Press, 2006) 3)    Mao's Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962, by Frank Dikotter (Walker & Company, 2011) 4)    Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, by Madeleine Albright (Harper, 2012) 5)    Three Cups of Deceit: How…

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