Is it Immoral to Earn Attractive Profits from Poor Customers?

 by Paul Polak There are at least 7 billion different perspectives on morality, but the viewpoint I like best defines sin as the failure to reach your potential. By this definition we have at least 2.6 billion deep sinners – the 37% of people in the world who live on less than $2 a day. They are the future Steve Jobs’, Mohandas Gandhis, Madame Curies and Pablo Picassos who will instead eke out a living as drug dealers, child soldiers, prostitutes and destitute slum dwellers. The three trillion dollars or more we have wasted in misguided development aid probably represent an even bigger sin. But…

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¡Viva la revolución

Five years ago, at the Aspen design summit, I said that 90% of the world’s designers spent all of their time addressing the needs of the richest 10% of the world’s customers. I also said that before I die I want to see that silly ratio turned on its head. What followed was an amazing sequence of events that included the creation of the traveling exhibit Design for the Other 90% at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum; the formation of D-Rev: Design Revolution, a Palo Alto based non-profit incubator for the design and mass market of radically affordable technologies; and earlier this year the launch…

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Social Enterprise and the End of Untouchability

by Bhavna Toor This week Paul Polak has guest blogger Bhavna Toor.  Bhavna will be talking about the new work Paul has been doing in India.   Originally Posted at Primal Fellowship Bhavna developed a deep curiosity for understanding the drivers of economic growth and social equity by witnessing socio-economic disparities firsthand in the half dozen countries around the world that she called home throughout her childhood. She has worked part-time with a number of non-profits and social enterprises by applying her business acumen to their respective issues. Bhavna recently completed her MBA from NYU Stern School of Business where she specialized in Social Innovation and…

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Touching the Untouchables

by Paul Polak More than 160 million people in India are considered "Untouchable"—people tainted by their birth into an irrational caste system that defines them as impure and less than human. Ghandi called them Harijans, or “children of God” and launched campaigns to improve their lives, but in spite of his efforts, Untouchables in India are still not allowed to drink from the same wells as upper class Hindus, or attend the same temples, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls. They spend their lives doing menial jobs like cleaning toilets, and are frequent victims of violence. Jacob Mathew, my partner in a…

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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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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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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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