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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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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Transforming Solar Pumping to Eliminate Rural Poverty

What if we could harness the limitless power of the sun to carry  water to the crops of millions of small poor farmers around the world? If I want to water my petunias, I turn on the tap outside my house, hold my thumb over the end of a battered green hose, and water away. If a small farmer in Ghana or China wants to water a small patch of vegetables he’s growing to sell in the local market, he breaks his back hauling water in two buckets or sprinkling cans from a nearby stream. It takes six hours a day every other day for…

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Big Dams or Sprinkling Cans?

By Paul Polak Everybody in the world knows about big dams. They do irreparable damage to the environment and the  millions of people they displace, but we need to keep building a few of them to feed the nine billion people we expect will live on planet earth when its population stabilizes. Ten years ago, ten world experts both for and against big dams formed the World Commission on Dams and reached a stunning consensus on the path forward, which the World Bank promptly decided to ignore. But there has been no World Commission on Buckets and Sprinkling Cans, although some 50 million poor farmers in Asia…

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Paul is on Vacation this Week, and an Introduction to Three of Paul’s Organizations

Paul Polak is taking a well deserved break this week, but will be back and writing next week.  We wanted to take this opportunity to introduce those of you who are new to the work Paul has done to three of the organizations Paul has founded of co-founded.  IDE, D-REV and most recently Windhorse International are three organizations that test the ideas written about in Paul's revolutionary book Out of Poverty. IDE (International Development Enterprises) IDE's origins as a formal organization lie in a visit to a Somalian refugee camp in 1982. It was there that founder Paul Polak noticed a critical lack of transport…

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The NAWSA MAD SYSTEM (ASWAN DAM Backwards)

by Paul Polak Replicating the Functions of the Aswan Dam on Two Acre Farms: Like all big dams, the High Aswan dam traps monsoon rainwater and stores it in the 550 km long Nasser Lake behind it, and distributes it by canal to farmers’ fields during dry season, when irrigation water is desperately needed to grow crops. But can we do the same thing on-farm for the 450 million farms in the world that are smaller than five acres? This would make a game-changing contribution to ending extreme poverty and food insecurity at the same time. The remarkable thing is that this is entirely feasible.…

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Want to Scale-Up your Development Project? Make a Bollywood Movie

In the late 1980’s after launching IDE, I knew we had a big problem. We were convinced that treadle pumps, a simple $25 StairMaster device that could earn a net income of $100 a year or more for one-acre farmers could make a huge impact in Bangladesh. And we knew that market forces were the best way to bring them to scale. But how could we put them in the hands of millions of small farmers? We started out by energizing a private sector network of 75 small manufacturers, 2500 village dealers, and 3,000 village well drillers who we trained a three day course with…

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