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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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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What is the Role of Science in Ending Poverty?
Amin-Erdene Galkhuu pumps well water to her family's Bactrian camels in Mongolia's South Gobi region.

What is the Role of Science in Ending Poverty?

Ten years ago I attended The Alicante Conference on Water and Science, which focused on hydrogeology – the science of water in the ground. Most of the participants were members of science academies in their countries. The first point I made in my talk was that science was making only a feeble contribution to practical solutions to poverty. I went on to present the data that the farms where poor people make their living are microscopic in size. For example, 85% of all the farms in the world are less than five acres. Science in the fields of water, agriculture, economics, and design need whole…

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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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Who Will Grab the Fortune at the Base of the Pyramid?

Re-posted from NextBillion Blog, Next Thought Monday: Who Will Grab the Fortune at the Base of the Pyramid? by Paul Polak and Mal Warwick In a recent post on NextBillion, Stuart Hart, who coauthored The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid with C.K. Prahalad, wrote with concern about the potential of creating disruptive innovations for poor customers that can trickle up to Western markets. He fears “the risk that corporations [will] gradually come to view the world's slums and rural villages primarily as laboratories for incubating innovations for the rich.” We don’t believe Professor Hart has anything to worry about — because major corporations have demonstrated no meaningful interest in the…

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Why Entrepreneurs Will Beat Multinationals to the Bottom of the Pyramid

Re-posted from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. See the original post here.   Why Entrepreneurs Will Beat Multinationals to the Bottom of the Pyramid by Paul Polak and Mal Warwick C.K. Prahalad and Stuart Hart’s seminal book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid gained a wide audience when it was published in 2004 and has continued to be widely read ever since. Its iconic phrase, “bottom of the pyramid,” entered the English lexicon. The book was a call to action to the world’s largest companies to develop new products for the four billion people living on $4 a day or less—a market representing what was…

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University Innovation Fellows Respond To Paul’s Open Letter to Larry Page with a Letter of Their Own

April 7, 2014 Larry Page 1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy Mountain View, CA 94043 Dear Mr. Page, We are writing to you on behalf of a group of over 100 student leaders from around the country to express our support for Paul Polak’s ambitious challenge to Google to help end poverty. We are the University Innovation Fellows. We believe that poverty can be ended, and we are thrilled with the opportunity that Mr. Polak has presented you. By taking on this challenge, Google can help change the lives of over 100 million people, and can inspire millions more to address one of the world’s greatest challenges in…

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An Open Letter to Larry Page

In response to a recent article in which Larry Page, CEO of Google, stated, "I would rather give my billions to Elon Musk than charity" Paul Polak wrote Larry Page this open letter:   Dear Larry, In your recent conversation with Charlie Rose at TED, you said you’d rather hand over your cash to Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City) instead of donating it to a philanthropic organization. I understand the sentiment. The nonprofit sphere has generally proved itself incapable of solving many of society's most intractable problems. In particular, 2.7 billion people left behind in the most extreme poverty—40% of the world's population, living on $2…

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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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