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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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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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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How Shopping is Experienced in Different Parts of the World

By Paul Polak Everybody in the world shops, but for some the experience is very different than for others.  In Denver when I shop for a nice cut of meat to serve for company, the place where I shop looks something like this. In rural Kenya, when a family is able to afford some meat for dinner, the place they shop looks more like this. The Walmart or King Soopers or Whole Foods equivalent for the 2.6 billion people in the world who live on less than two dollars a day is the small mom-and-pop village shop which sells bananas, cigarettes, matches, cookies, candies, small…

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Why Ending Poverty is Greener than Green

I believe that ending extreme poverty can have a greater positive impact on the environment than just about anything else we can do. Because of its central role in population growth, climate change, loss of biodiversity and conflict, implementing practical solutions to extreme poverty is probably the first place to start if you want to make a significant contribution to preserving the environmental balance of the planet. Practical solutions to extreme poverty already exist. If organizations like IDE and the Grameen Bank have helped some 40 million extremely poor people move out of poverty, what’s stopping us from scaling up the market driven approaches that can do the same for a billion people?

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