The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers

Paul Polak and Mal Warwick. Berrett-Koehler (Ingram, dist.), $27.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-60994-077-5
This inspiring manifesto from Windhorse International CEO Polak (Out of Poverty) and entrepreneur Warwick (Fundraising When Money Is Tight) features a comprehensive roadmap for executives and entrepreneurs who wish to address the needs of the “bottom billions” who live on $2 a day or less: clean water, renewable energy, affordable housing, accessible health care and education, and jobs. As Polak and Warwick write, “The poor need to be viewed as consumers, not as objects of pity and recipients of charity.” The authors grimly describe how micro-loan setups have failed, development money has been misused, and development work has been abandoned. Better to establish small-scale businesses, they argue—but only if companies can make a major impact: “If you don’t understand the problem you’ve set out to solve from your customers’ perspective; if your product or service won’t dramatically increase their income; and if you can’t send 100 million of [your products], don’t bother.” The authors’ strategies include delivery to the last 500 feet (recruiting “local people at local wages in a sales and distribution network that can reach even the most isolated villages and homes”) and “Zero-Based Design” (designing products from scratch “without preconceptions or existing models to guide you... operating in a way that’s calculated to transform the lives of all your customers”). Companies have opportunities to produce and sell goods and services in the developing world that the developed world takes for granted: crop insurance, nutritious food, toilets, electricity, schools, and health services. This blueprint should be required reading, since, as Polak reminds readers, “We can’t donate ourselves out of poverty.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/22/2013
Release date: 09/09/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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