Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail (Paperback)
In this hard-hitting new book, Paul Polak tells why traditional poverty eradication programs have fallen so short, and how he and his organization developed an alternative approach that has succeeded in lifting 17 million people out of poverty.
Based on his 25 years of experience, Polak explodes what he calls the “Three Great Poverty Eradication Myths”: that we can donate people out of poverty, that national economic growth will end poverty, and that Big Business, operating as it does now, will end poverty. Polak shows that programs based on these ideas have utterly failed—in fact, in sub-Saharan Africa poverty rates have actually gone up.
These failed top-down efforts contrast sharply with the grassroots approach Polak and IDE have championed: helping the dollar-a-day poor earn more money through their own efforts. Amazingly enough, unexploited market opportunities do exist for the desperately poor. Polak describes how he and others have identified these opportunities and have developed innovative, low-cost tools that have helped impoverished rural farmers use the market to improve their lives.
Throughout the book Polak tells fascinating and moving stories about the people he and IDE have helped, especially Krishna Bahadur Thapa, a Nepali farmer who went from barely surviving to earning $4,800 a year—solidly upper middle class by local standards. Out of Poverty offers a new and promising way to end world poverty, one that honors the entrepreneurial spirit of the poor themselves.
About the Author
Paul Polak is the founder of International Development Enterprises, which currently assists rural farmers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe. He is the recipient of the Scientific American Top Fifty award for agriculture policy and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. In 2007, IDE received a $13.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Polak currently heads D-Rev: Design for the Other 90%, which helps multinationals profitably develop affordable products to help the world’s poor.
“Drawing on his own firsthand experiences and in-person observations, Paul Polak’s book goes straight to the heart of the matter and offers how-to advice on wiping out global poverty, one family and one person at a time. Half the people on Earth live on less than four dollars a day —the rest of us should read this book.”
—David M. Kelley, Founder and Chairman, IDEO, and Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University
“Paul Polak listens to people few of us ever hear from—the world’s poor ‘one-acre farmers’—and comes up with simple, practical solutions for helping them better their lives. His work is profoundly inspiring. Even if you don’t normally read books about development and poverty, read this one!”
—Lori Pottinger, Director of Africa Programs, International Rivers
“With personal anecdotes and field experiences, Paul Polak shares the philosophies that have made IDE one of the most successful organiza- tions in providing life-changing technologies to people in the develop- ing world. Paul’s joie de vivre, his commitment to eliminating poverty, and his pragmatic irreverence are all captured in his book.”
—Amy Smith, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
“Viewing the poor as passive recipients of assistance has wasted billions of dollars. Top-down, bailout subsidy programs don’t work. As Paul ex- plains, we need to partner with the developing world and provide tools and technologies to give them an opportunity to help themselves.”
—Shrikrishna Upadhyay, Founder, SAPPROS, Nepal
“Paul Polak delivers a refreshing dose of common sense to the question of how best to help the world’s poorest citizens, the common sense borne of a lifetime of hands-on experience. It serves as a how-to manual for Stanford’s course on Design for Extreme Affordability.”
—James M. Patell, Herbert Hoover Professor of Public and Private Management, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
“Paul Polak is passionate about the alleviation of poverty. This book presents numerous case studies demonstrating that effective programs to raise the incomes of poor people must start with an effort to under- stand and involve poor people in the environments in which they find themselves.”
—Vernon W. Ruttan, Regents Professor Emeritus, Departments of Economics and Applied Economics, University of Minnesota
“Paul Polak’s provocative and compelling story of how smart techno- logical tools can empower poor entrepreneurs to create their own wealth will disgruntle some devotees of old development. Let them get ‘regruntled’ and notice what works.”
—Amory B. Lovins, Chairman and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute
“Out of Poverty is an ‘unputdownable’ record of Polak’s success with tiny-scale farmers, embedded with workable rules for designing, scaling up, and distributing affordable innovations to the poor. It makes a clear declaration: Poverty can be ended if business, government, and development agencies learn these lessons.”
—Michael Lipton, Research Professor, Poverty Research Unit, University of Sussex
“Paul’s ideas have helped bring millions of people out of poverty, and, along the way, he has ignited a design revolution that offers us all a bright new way to look at the world.”
—Michael Cronan, Cronan Design
“Paul Polak’s insights open new vistas in design discovery. Out of Poverty is one of the clearest descriptions of how design has a profound impact on the cycle of poverty and really changes the world.”
—Yves Behar, President and Creative Director, fuseproject, and Chair of Industrial Design, California College of the Arts
“Paul Polak’s method works because it harnesses the power of design thinking, low-cost technology, and human enterprise to create sustain- able communities of trade. Paul’s remarkable work has eliminated poverty and restored dignity to millions of families.”
—Ann Willoughby, President and Creative Director, Willoughby Design Group