Paul Polak discusses "Slow Technology" at Better World By Design

After over 2 decades of working to get affordable agricultural products to poor farmers in rural Asia and Africa, Paul Polak’s got a brand new bag. He is focusing the full force of his abilities on creating a design revolution to serve the other 90%. To do so, he’s using the business acumen and extensive experience that he gained in his work with International Development Enterprises (IDE), the NGO he founded in 1981.

Polak starts his talk with Moore’s Law, which describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. Since 1958, the number of transistors you can put on an integrated circuit has doubled every 2 years. In Silicon Valley where Moore’s Law rules, Polak notes that if a computer company can’t deliver a doubling in speed and data capacity every 2 years, that company dies. But for the 2.6 billion customers living under $2 a day slow technology rules.

He doesn’t mean slow as in super slow processor or internet speeds, he also means slow as in Slow Food. The Slow Food movement was started in Italy to combat the encroachment of fast food and fast living. Among other things, it favors local food traditions, local sourcing done in environmentally benign ways. So instead of flying strawberries in from Colombia, you buy them local. Viva the Farmer’s Market!

If we follow his train of thought, slow tech designs are simple radically affordable tools that are available to poor customers in their own village.

Design = creative problem solving, that is not limited to creating tools.

Good design is just the first step

Tech for the other 90% often requires transformative technology innovation, but that is only 20% of the job. Your next challenge once you have a decent product is distribution. You have to come up the with creative business models and supply chains to meet

2.1 million treadle pumps (IDE) past 20 years. manufacturers, bollywood movie for marketing, distributors

Revolution is design
A rev in how big biz designs, prices and markets its products

He handed IDE over a year ago and started 2 new orgs: D-REV (to create a revolution in design to reach the other 90% rather than just the richest 10%)

mentions Phil Willerstein NCIA – curriculum changes … many unis want to participate

His biz pals and he started what he hopes will be a MNC that will create a globl distribution system for the co to make a tidy profit, but gets much needed tools out to the people who needs them the most.

Far too much of the world economy focuses on the richest 10%

he is currently working on the invest memo, raising money, plan to start co next mo.

People w/o water, electricity, etc.

How do you reach people who will never get connected to the grid?
Kurt? pv prototypes – gluing a mylar sheet to a 4×8 piece of plywood that is j curve. cheaper to create a collector for the sunlight, than lowering the cost of wafers. Manual sun tracking. hoping to get the functional cost down to $1-$1.50. $1.50 for sub 15W. What to create a system of several thousand micro-utility franchises.

Micro-franchising kernel sanders style

Village entrepreneur: $1100. They have to put down a third. They need to put skin in the game. Black box: gear to charge cell phones, etc. 3-4 month payback. $100/mo payback to parent company
200W unit can be used to charge cell phones, pump water, run a small arc welder, etc.

Yunus Social business
Gates creative capitalism (social status)

Polak big business will change in response to bottom line profits

Question: running IDE based on a hybrid model (donations for R&D) and that use market systems to bring products to the customers. Why shifting away or scaling.

He is not abandoning the non-profit model because some tech isn’t going to make you a big profit, ex treadle pumps.

Worked with grameen bank to provide loans.

Why charge?

His experience: most effective way to spread is through a business model. Pump manufacturers made a profit, dealers made a profit, unsubsidized.

You can’t donate people out of poverty. You have to design products that are people will actually buy. You can get rid of a huge amount of crap products that way. If you haven’t talked to 25 poor people, doesn’t pay for itself in 3 months, can sell a million don’t bother.

Activate local private sector.

Question: Lack of financial mechanisms/services that …

Question: his African experience
IDE works in Zam, Zim, Eth. Zam very scattered pop, tough for distrib

Ask him if he could email me an example of a typical interview that he would give a standard farmer in India/Africa/etc. Kickstart 80,000 treadle pumps in Kenya.

From his site: Practical things you can do

ONE: If you like what you’ve read in Out of Poverty, get ten other people to read it and encourage them to act on what they learn from it.

TWO: Stop pitying poor people.

THREE: Learn as much as you can about poor people in your neighborhood, their specific problems, and the specific context in which they
live and work. (My personal favorite as it builds compassion rather than pity.)

FOUR: Become informed about the realities of global poverty and what can be done about it.

FIVE: Invest in viable businesses serving poor customers.

SIX: Contribute time and money to organizations that demonstrate specific scalable impacts, and make them accountable for whatever time or money you provide.

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