Brave Thinkers

More
Illustration by Quickhoney

Name: Paul Polak
Job: Founder of International Development Enterprises and D-Rev
Why he’s brave: His companies treat the poor as consumers and entrepreneurs.
Quote: “Talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they have to say.”


Criticizing charities and development groups—for bloat, condescension, or naïveté—can be a convenient excuse to forget about the excruciating reality of poverty and inequality. But not for Polak, whose complaint with conventional charities is that they fail to consider the market potential of the world’s 1.2 billion poor people. Treating the poor as potential consumers and entrepreneurs, he believes, is the best way to help them achieve self-sufficiency. Operating under the guideline “Cheap is beautiful,” his companies sell affordable and useful tools—like manual-treadle pumps for irrigation, or solar-powered water purifiers—that poor people can use to make a living selling products to their peers. For instance, a farmer who buys a treadle pump for $8 can use it to transport groundwater to his fields during the dry season, when crops fetch higher prices, and quickly recoup his investment at the local market. Polak thinks that profitable markets in impoverished areas will spur more prosperity than offering direct donations, financing large infrastructure projects, or relying on government initiatives. “The single most important thing they need to get out of poverty is to find a way to earn more money,” he writes in his book, Out of Poverty. “This is so obvious that people tell me that it is a perfect example of circular logic. But the sad fact is that it isn’t at all obvious to the great majority of the world’s poverty experts.”

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?

How to avoid working through lunch, and diseases related to social isolation.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In