Paul Polak on "Design for the Other 90%" [PopTech 2007]

I’ve been derelict in my duties for not posting this way back in October.

From his extensive experiences working with the poor of the developing world, Paul Polak [, founder of International Development Enterprises,] has learned a lot about effective market-based approaches to alleviating poverty. He argues that in order to be successful, solutions must be simple, inexpensive, easy to reproduce, and most important, respond to the expressed needs of the people they are meant to benefit.

V. good post by Ethan Zuckerman where he nicely summarizes Polak’s advice:

In solving these problems, Polak tells us that we must:
– go to where the action is
– talk to the people who have the problem
– learn everything about the specific context

To that end, Polak has been meeting with at least 100 one-acre farmers each year, having over 3,000 conversations with farmers all over the world. This has led him to the Vince Lombardi-like conclusion that “affordability isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” This is part of his “don’t bother” trilogy – rules he gives to design students considering designing for the developing world:

– if you haven’t had conversations with at least 25 poor people before you start
– if it won’t pay for itself in the first year
– if you can’t sell a million of them

don’t bother designing your product. Products for the developing world need to focus on:

– affordability
– divisibility
– infinte expandability

Polak also debunks 3 myths about ending poverty:
– You can’t donate people out of poverty
– You can’t end poverty through consistent national GDP economic growth. [National growth tends to be urban and industrial; poverty tends to be local and rural. Rural folk are often bypassed by national economic growth.]
– Multinationals in their current incarnation are not going to lift people out of poverty.

Related Posts

Link of the Day: Design for the other 90%
IDDS 2007 Part III: A List of Projects
Shawn Frayne discussing his micro wind generator, SODIS bags, and design
5 Things you need to know as an NGO providing a product or service
If you’re new here and are really interested in design for the other 90%, have a root around aidg.org as well.