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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How to Triple the Income of Sprinkling Can Farmers in Asia and Africa

by Paul Polak There are at least 50 million poor farmers who use sprinkling cans to irrigate quarter acre vegetable plots and sell what they grow to customers in cities and towns in Asia and Africa. I  have interviewed hundreds of them, and have no doubt that they can double or triple their incomes with access to improved affordable irrigation, farming methods, and access to markets. Here is a case in point. In August, 2009, Bob Nanes, (IDE Ghana), Sue Haley (IDE Africa) and I visited 14 sprinkling can farmers who produce vegetables for the million or so people who live in Kumasi, Ghana. Here’s…

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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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Death of Appropriate Technology II : How to Design for the Market

by Paul Polak The single biggest reason that the appropriate technology movement died and most technologies for developing countries never reach scale is that nobody seems to know how to design for the market. Over the past 30 years, I’ve looked at hundreds of technologies for developing countries. Some provided elegant solutions for challenging technical problems. Some were big and clumsy. Some  were far too expensive. Some of were beautifully simple and radically affordable. But only a handful were capable of reaching a million or more customers who live on less than two dollars a day. If you succeed, against all odds, in designing a…

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The Death of Appropriate Technology I : If you can’t sell it don’t do it

The appropriate technology movement died peacefully in its sleep ten years ago. Launched in 1973 by Fritz Schumacher and his lovely book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered in 1973, it inspired politicians as different as Pat Brown in California and Jawarhal Nehru in India, thousands of middle-aged dreamers like me and millions of people from all walks of life around the world. What happened? How could such an inspiring movement with deep spiritual meaning have produced so little in the way of practical impact? The appropriate technology movement died because it was led by well-intentioned tinkerers instead of hard-nosed entrepreneurs designing for the…

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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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Design for the Other 90% and Wild Blueberries

Many people see design as creating new mechanical tools – better widgets for controlling space, flight, or grinding corn. For me, design is creative problem solving. Designing new mechanical tools is often a critical first step, but far from sufficient for creative problem solving. On our quest to help poor smallholders improve their livelihoods, we created useful tools such as treadle pumps and low cost drip systems. But they only addressed about 25% of the problem. To solve the other 75% of the problem, an effective way to put these tools in the hands of millions of last mile customers had to be designed. This…

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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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