Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail

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9781605092768: Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
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In this hard-hitting new book, Paul Polak tells why traditional poverty eradication programs have fallen so short, and how he and his organization developed an alternative approach that has succeeded in lifting 17 million people out of poverty.
Based on his 25 years of experience, Polak explodes what he calls the “Three Great Poverty Eradication Myths”: that we can donate people out of poverty, that national economic growth will end poverty, and that Big Business, operating as it does now, will end poverty. Polak shows that programs based on these ideas have utterly failed—in fact, in sub-Saharan Africa poverty rates have actually gone up.
These failed top-down efforts contrast sharply with the grassroots approach Polak and IDE have championed: helping the dollar-a-day poor earn more money through their own efforts. Amazingly enough, unexploited market opportunities do exist for the desperately poor. Polak describes how he and others have identified these opportunities and have developed innovative, low-cost tools that have helped impoverished rural farmers use the market to improve their lives.
Throughout the book Polak tells fascinating and moving stories about the people he and IDE have helped, especially Krishna Bahadur Thapa, a Nepali farmer who went from barely surviving to earning $4,800 a year—solidly upper middle class by local standards. Out of Poverty offers a new and promising way to end world poverty, one that honors the entrepreneurial spirit of the poor themselves.

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From the Publisher:

Preface

My fifteen-month-old grandson, Ethan, has fallen in love with a neighbor's driveway. It sits two houses down from where he lives in Sebastopol, California, and it seems to overflow with small, multi - colored stones. He stops there when I take him for a walk, and then he refuses to leave. He picks up a handful of stones and inspects each one carefully. He places them one after another in my hand, watching intently, and I give them back to him one by one until his hand is full again. I don't know who has given him the job of turning every little stone over and over in his hand until he understands its very essence, but that's the job he has accepted, and he's not leaving until it's done. He plops down on his butt and cuffs the stones into a pile, looks at me, and knocks it down and giggles. He can keep this up for hours, and if I pick him up to take him home, he cries. His playful curiosity is infectious, and I think I must have inherited a lot of genes from Ethan, because I operate just as he does. I live to play and to satisfy my curiosity.

For the past twenty-five years, two questions have kept my curiosity aroused: What makes poor people poor? And what can they do about their poverty?

Because of these infernal questions, I've dozed off during hundreds of long jeep rides with good companions over dusty, potholed roads. I've had thousands of conversations with one-acre farmers with dirt on their hands. We've walked along their patches of ten-foot-high black pepper vines in the central hills of Vietnam beside jungle permanently scarred by Agent Orange. We've strolled together through their scattered quarter-acre plots in the drab brown winter plains of the Gangetic delta in Uttar Pradesh, and they have offered me more cups of steaming tea than my seventy-three-year-old kidneys can take. I love discovering new things from people nobody else ever seems to listen to, and I love talking them into trying out some of the crazy ideas that we come up with together. I have learned more from talking with these poor farmers than from any other thing I have done in my life.

This book will tell their story and describe some of the things these people have taught me. It will tell the story of Krishna Bahadur Thapa and his family, and of how they moved from barely surviving on less than a dollar a day to earning forty-eight hundred dollars a year from their two-acre farm in the hills of Nepal. I tell many stories like Baha - dur's in this book, and I hope that each one of them satisfies another small bit of your curiosity about how people who are extremely poor live their lives and dream their dreams. Best of all, what I learned from these people has been put to work in straightforward strategies that millions of other poor people have used to end their poverty forever.

Each of the practical solutions to poverty I describe is obvious and direct. For example, since 800 million of the people whose families survive on less than a dollar a day earn their living from small farms, why not start by looking for ways they can make more money from farming? And since these farmers work for less than a dollar a day, why not look for ways they can take advantage of their remarkably low labor rates by growing high-value, labor-intensive cash crops and selling them at the time of year when these crops will fetch the highest prices? If it is true that common sense is not really common, and that seeing and doing the obvious are even less so, then some of the conclusions I draw from my conversations with poor people will surprise you: they certainly fly in the face of conventional theory and practice in the development field.

I hate books about poverty that make you feel guilty, as well as dry, academic ones that put you to sleep. Working to alleviate poverty is a lively, exciting field capable of generating new hope and inspiration, not feelings of gloom and doom. Learning the truth about poverty generates disruptive innovations capable of enriching the lives of rich people even more than those of poor people.

The first section of the book explains how I became curious about poverty, describes the process I learned for finding creative solutions to just about any major social problem, and challenges the three great poverty eradication myths that have inhibited doing the obvious to end poverty.

The next section, Chapters 3 to 8, describes what many small-acreage farmers have taught me, a practical approach capable of ending the poverty of some 800 million of the world's dollar-a-day people. For poor people themselves, there is little doubt that the single most important step they can take to move out of poverty is to learn how to make more money. The way to do it is through grassroots enterprises --just about all of the poor are already tough, stubborn, survival entrepreneurs--and they have to find ways to make their enterprises more profitable. For small-farm enterprises, the path to new wealth lies in growing market-centered, high-value, labor-intensive cash crops. To accomplish this, poor farmers need access to affordable irrigation, a new generation of farming methods and inputs customized to fit tiny farms, the creation of vibrant new markets that bring them the seeds and fertilizers they need, and open access to markets where smallacreage farmers can sell their products at a profit. This range of new products and services for poor customers can only be created by a revolution in current design practice, based on the ruthless pursuit of affordability. Chapter 9 describes how the principles discussed in the earlier chapters can be applied to helping poor people living in urban slums and on the sidewalks of cities in developing countries.

In the wrap-up section, Chapter 10 describes the central role poverty plays in most of the problems facing planet Earth; Chapter 11 describes what donors, governments, universities, research institutions, and the rest of us can do to end poverty; and Chapter 12 tells how Bahadur and his family finally moved out of poverty.

My hope is that you will come away from reading this book energized and inspired. There is much to be done.

From the Back Cover:

A Proven Solution to World Poverty

Why are so many millions of people around the world still mired in poverty, despite decades of relief efforts? International Development Enterprises founder Paul Polak explains that it's because most poverty eradication programs are fatally flawed. In Out of Poverty, Polak exposes these flaws and describes the alternate approach he and his organization have championed--an approach that has lifted millions out of poverty and given them the power to control their own destiny.

Endorsements

"Out of Poverty teaches us to think simple. Paul Polak brings forward ideas and solutions that bypass government agencies and other leaden institutions. Ideas that work!"
--Paul Newman

"Paul Polak's life of global engagement testifies to his dedication to helping the rural poor develop concrete ways to fight poverty. His book is the pragmatic idealist's view of how things can be done."
-- Suresh Kumar, Special Advisor, The Clinton Foundation

"Paul Polak offers a personal, radical, and profoundly sensible prescription for alleviating global poverty. His engaging style of storytelling is not only persuasive, but entertaining. Read Out of Poverty--it will change the way you look at the world."
--Sandra Postel, Director of the Global Water Policy Project and author of Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last?

"Paul Polak's approach is beautifully revolutionary because it recognizes that the poor must be part of the solution to end poverty and are not the causes of it."
--Majora Carter, CEO, Sustainable South Bronx

"Out of Poverty is very exciting. It matches a lot of my own thoughts about solving things. When you alleviate something but don't fix the cause, it comes back. Paul Polak's approach confronts the root causes."
--Steve Wozniak, Inventor of the Apple computer and Cofounder of Apple Computers

"Paul's approach to solving our world's greatest ailment is one of simplicity in design and humanity in spirit. His powerful recipe for change is clear, precise, and do-able. And we need to desperately do it right now."
--John Maeda, Associate Director of Research, MIT Media Lab and author of The Laws of Simplicity

"After twenty five years working in developing countries, Paul Polak provides a unique, practical, and entrepreneurial blueprint to enable and empower the rural poor to lift themselves out of poverty. His innovative and curious mind and his courage in challenging conventional thinking offer proven solutions that unleash the capacity of the poor to create income --giving them a hand up, not a handout."
--Philip R Berber, Chairman, A Glimmer of Hope Foundation

"Drawing on his own first-hand experiences and in-person observations, Paul Polak's book goes straight to the heart of the matter and offers how-to advice on wiping out global poverty, one family and one person at a time. Half the people on Earth live on less than four dollars a day--the rest of us should read this book."
--David M. Kelley, Founder and Chairman, IDEO and Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University

"Paul Polak listens to people few of us ever hear from--the world's poor `one-acre farmers'--and comes up with simple, practical solutions for helping them better their lives. His work is profoundly inspiring. Even if you don't normally read books about development and poverty, read this one!"
--Lori Pottinger, Director of Africa Programs, International Rivers

"With personal anecdotes and field experiences, Paul Polak shares the philosophies that have made IDE one of the most successful organizations in providing life-changing technologies to people in the developing world. Paul's joie de vivre, his commitment to eliminating poverty, and his pragmatic irreverence are all captured in his book."
--Amy Smith, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT

"Viewing the poor as passive recipients of assistance has wasted billions of dollars. Top-down, bailout subsidy programs don't work. As Paul explains, we need to partner with the developing world and provide tools and technologies to give them an opportunity to help themselves."
--Shrikrishna Upadhyay, Founder, SAPPROS, Nepal

"Paul Polak delivers a refreshing dose of common sense to the question of how best to help the world's poorest citizens, the common sense borne of a lifetime of hands-on experience. It serves as a how-to manual for Stanford's course on Design for Extreme Affordability."
--James M. Patell, Herbert Hoover Professor of Public and Private Management. Graduate School of Business. Stanford University

"Paul Polak is passionate about the alleviation of poverty. This book presents numerous case studies demonstrating that effective programs to raise the incomes of poor people must start with an effort to understand and involve poor people in the environments in which they find themselves."
--Vernon W. Ruttan, Regents Professor Emeritus, Departments of Economics and Applied Economics, University of Minnesota

"Beyond showing how the world's poor can lift themselves out of poverty, Paul Polak helps us get to know them as human beings. He gives voice to the people he worked with, helps us learn from their experiences. It is an extraordinary gift. This book should be required reading for every citizen of the world!"
--Andrew Youn, Founder, One Acre Fund

"Out of Poverty is an `unputdownable' record of Polak's success with tiny-scale farmers, embedded with workable rules for designing, scaling up, and distributing affordable innovations to the poor. It makes a clear declaration: Poverty can be ended if business, government, and development agencies learn these lessons."
--Michael Lipton, Research Professor, Poverty Research Unit, University of Sussex

"Paul's ideas have helped bring millions of people out of poverty, and, along the way, he has ignited a design revolution that offers us all a bright new way to look at world."
--Michael Cronan, Cronan Design

"Paul Polak's insights open new vistas in design discovery. Out of Poverty is one of the clearest descriptions of how design has a profound impact on the cycle of poverty, and really changes the world."
--Yves Behar, President and creative director, fuseproject and Chair of Industrial Design, California College of the Arts

"Paul Polak's method works because it harnesses the power of design thinking, low cost technology and human enterprise to create sustainable communities of trade. Paul's remarkable work has eliminated poverty and restored dignity to millions of families."
--Ann Willoughby, President and Creative Director, Willoughby Design

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