Making a Dent in the Universe

Paul Polak uses sound market practices to create world changing businesses.
Paul Polak uses sound market practices to create world changing businesses.

I’ve been reading up on Paul Polak’s work at Paul His new book The Business Solution to Poverty with co-author Mal Warwick has inspired me to dig deeper in search of more affordable housing solutions. They explain why governmental and philanthropic efforts to end poverty have fallen short and will never end poverty because “they lack the incentives of the market to attract massive resources”. Donations and tax money will never end poverty. It’s just Business 101 if you think about it.

“Right now the number of people living on $2 a day or less is more than the entire population of the world in 1950. These 2.7 billion people are not just the world’s greatest challenge—they represent an extraordinary market opportunity. By learning how to serve them ethically and effectively, businesses can earn handsome profits while helping to solve one of the world’s most intractable problems.

The key is what Paul Polak and Mal Warwick call Zero-Based Design: starting from scratch to create innovative products and services tailored for the very poor, armed with a thorough understanding of what they really want and need and driven by what they call “the ruthless pursuit of affordability”.

Together, they show how their design principles and vision can enable unapologetic capitalists to supply the very poor with clean drinking water, electricity, irrigation, housing, education, healthcare, and other necessities at a fraction of the usual cost and at profit margins attractive to investors.”

Here are Paul’s 12 steps to practical problem solving for the poor:
1. Go to where the action is.
2. Talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they have to say.
3. Learn everything you can about the problem’s specific context.
4. Think big and act big.
5. Think like a child.
6. See and do the obvious.
7. If somebody has already invented it, you don’t need to do so again.
8. Make sure your approach has positive, measurable impacts that can be brought to scale.
9. Design to specific cost and price targets.
10. Follow practical three-year plans.
11. Continue to learn from your customers.
12. Stay positive: don’t be distracted by what other people think.

“One of the most hopeful propositions to come along in a long time. Paul Polak and Mal Warwick’s approach is original, ambitious, and practical—and it just may be the key to reducing the number of people in poverty on a very large scale. They propose to harness the power of free enterprise to begin meeting the most basic needs of the poor . . . while making a profit. Though market-based approaches aren’t new, Polak and Warwick lay out a practical and systematic way to work on a global scale, transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of poor people.”
—President Bill Clinton

Related: Out of Poverty by Paul Polak
IDE (International Development Enterprises) founded by Paul Polak “IDE staff throughout the world have helped more than 19 million people lift themselves permanently out of poverty.”

5 thoughts on “Making a Dent in the Universe”

  1. Logical. When something makes sense to the common man or woman THEN you have a direction out of a land of confusion. Hmmm…sounds like a song. I like the gentleman’s logic. It’s plain and simple but, has so much to say. His ideas can bring happiness to a single person or a family. It gives them direction with the end in comfort and security. Thanks Owen.

  2. In reply to Owen’s challenge: Set a teen drama/soap opera in an eco-village or -resort. In between backstabbing and bed hopping, have them build a few things, wander through a food forest, etc. Don’t preach, when you get preachy, it turns the audience off. I suspect that will reach more people than any number of books and websites.

  3. A far better approach is to educate the poor.

    Teach them how to read.

    Teach them math.

    Teach them how to grow their own food.

    Teach them how to build their own house.

    Listen to the poor at every opportunity. Let them teach you as much or more than you teach them.

    Don’t force solutions on anyone. Simply pass knowledge along and allow the recipient to decide how to use it for their own maximum benefit.

    Above all, DO NOT ALLOW local governments, wealthy upper classes, or large corporations to interfere or belittle those educational efforts. Those that have money and power will want to keep it. They will do whatever it takes to prevent change from the status quo.

    That is where websites such as this one can be such a powerful and transformational tool. Putting knowledge out freely and openly that can educate the poor is exactly what Owen and Kelly are doing here. Yes, wealthy people can build with natural materials too, and I’ve never seen this website discourage that. However, the primary focus has been to help those people in the world that are struggling. The knowledge presented in this website helps empower people to take matters into their own hands.

    The more poor people that exercise that power and use this knowledge, and knowledge like it, and adapt it to their own local conditions and customs are the people that will overcome poverty.

    The next step is for each one of them to pass along what they have learned and help others around them.

    I suspect Owen and Kelly have heard from many people who have used the knowledge on this website to build a life for themselves.

    I also suspect that Owen and Kelly have also heard from some of those people who have taken the next step and become teachers and trainers to help spread the knowledge.

    I know from my own personal experience that when I have trained someone else how to do something, and they become proficient enough to start training others, that has been some of the most gratifying experiences in my life.

    Training other trainers is key. Training teachers and educators to pass along knowledge is the best way for ideas to proliferate.

    Treasure those who teach. Not just in classrooms, but in life. Mentors are teachers. Trainers are teachers. Parents are teachers. Grandparents are teachers. Friends are teachers. Authors can be teachers. YouTube video posters can be teachers. Bloggers can be teachers.

    In my humble opinion, EDUCATION in various forms is the biggest threat to poverty ever invented. (Statistics of education levels vs income levels support that statement dramatically.)

    Want to make a dent in the universe?

    Train others.

    Train others to become trainers.

    If you do, the dent you make may dwarf supermassive black holes in the center of galaxies in our expansive universe.

    • Words of wisdom. “Teach a man to fish…” Just be sure that whatever you’re teaching “Does no harm”.

      So here’s a challenge to readers. (I don’t think I’ve ever challenged readers like this.) How can we promote natural building and other sustainable living concepts in a massive way that improves the lives of millions of poor people in our lifetimes?

  4. An interesting example of someone using at least the first 3-7 concepts is ‘Thingamabob’ on H2. Admittedly I’ve only seen two practical inventions on the show (suspender cell-phone charger and chair pants), but if he followed up he might have something profitable.


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