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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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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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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The Next Digital Revolution

If the giants of global business had used some of the basic principles of appropriate technology effectively, Those giants and the companies they formed would have literally transformed business as it is today.

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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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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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Touching the Untouchables

by Paul Polak More than 160 million people in India are considered "Untouchable"—people tainted by their birth into an irrational caste system that defines them as impure and less than human. Ghandi called them Harijans, or “children of God” and launched campaigns to improve their lives, but in spite of his efforts, Untouchables in India are still not allowed to drink from the same wells as upper class Hindus, or attend the same temples, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls. They spend their lives doing menial jobs like cleaning toilets, and are frequent victims of violence. Jacob Mathew, my partner in a…

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How Much Money is Enough?

By Paul Polak How much money is enough, and what will I do with myself when I get there? This question is just as challenging for multimillionaires as it is for dollar-a-day farmers. The dilemma is tantalizingly similar for both. For the one-acre farmer whose family now has enough to eat for the whole year because they have increased their income to three dollars a day, the question is what’s next? Do they keep increasing their income from farming, or focus on educating their kids, stabilizing their income, and living a happy rural life? For the multimillionaire, the question is what’s next? Do they keep…

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The Birth and Death of Big Institutions

By Paul Polak The failure of development is closely tied to the ossification of big institutional structures. The World Bank was born as a vehicle for reconstructing Europe after World War II, a task it carried out with amazing success. But when it morphed into a massive institution to address global poverty, it didn’t do so well. Schumacher launched a revolution in design with his admirable book, Small is Beautiful, but the appropriate technology institutions that emerged from it became ossified, failed to address market forces and died. The Politics of Innovation I define institutions as radical ideas cast in concrete. The radical notion that…

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Applying the Design Revolution to the Woes of Big Canals

By Paul Polak The 13,324 miles of canal system in Pakistan’s Sindh province irrigates 12 million acres of land. That’s a canal that’s long enough to cross the United States three times! This canal system and others like it make as significant a contribution to feeding the world’s growing population as the introduction of the green revolution’s miracle seeds. But big canals come with big problems. Namely, rampant corruption, water wastage, numbingly inefficient operation and maintenance as well as millions of acres of productive land ruined through water logging and salinization. Because of water losses from evaporation, leakage, evaporation, poor operation and maintenance and prehistoric…

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