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

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

by Paul Polak, Mal Warwick
     
 

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Right now the number of people living on $2 a day or less is more than the entire population of the world in 1950. These 2.7 billion people are not just the world’s greatest challenge—they represent an extraordinary market opportunity. By learning how to serve them ethically and effectively, businesses can earn handsome profits while helping to solve

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Overview

Right now the number of people living on $2 a day or less is more than the entire population of the world in 1950. These 2.7 billion people are not just the world’s greatest challenge—they represent an extraordinary market opportunity. By learning how to serve them ethically and effectively, businesses can earn handsome profits while helping to solve one of the world’s most intractable problems.

The key is what Paul Polak and Mal Warwick call Zero-Based Design: starting from scratch to create innovative products and services tailored for the very poor, armed with a thorough understanding of what they really want and need and driven by what they call “the ruthless pursuit of affordability.”Polak has been doing this work for years, and Warwick has extensive experience in both business and philanthropy. Together, they show how their design principles and vision can enable unapologetic capitalists to supply the very poor with clean drinking water, electricity, irrigation, housing, education, healthcare, and other necessities at a fraction of the usual cost and at profit margins attractive to investors.

Promising governmental and philanthropic efforts to end poverty have not reached scale because they lack the incentives of the market to attract massive resources. This book opens an extraordinary opportunity for nimble entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate executives that will result not only in vibrant, growing businesses but also a better life for the world’s poorest people.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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 , 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.)
From the Publisher
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. This blueprint should be required reading, since, as Polak reminds readers, “We can’t donate ourselves out of poverty.” (Sept.) —Publisher's Weekly, Starred Review

“One of the most hopeful propositions to come along in a long time. Paul Polak and Mal Warwick’s approach is original, ambitious, and practical—and it just may be the key to reducing the number of people in poverty on a very large scale. They propose to harness the power of free enterprise to begin meeting the most basic needs of the poor . . . while making a profit. Though market-based approaches aren’t new, Polak and Warwick lay out a practical and systematic way to work on a global scale, transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of poor people.”
—President Bill Clinton

“In down-to-earth prose that's a pleasure to read, Polak and Warwick describe in detail, and with abundant examples, how to build a multinational business that will help end the tragedy of poverty—while opening up new markets and returning attractive profits. This book is must reading for senior management at every major corporation with global operations.”
—Aron Cramer, President and CEO, Business for Social Responsibility

“As this extraordinary book makes so clear, business alone possesses the power and the resources to help billions of the world’s poor rise out of poverty. I believe we have a responsibility to do so, too. In these few pages, Polak and Warwick provide us with a detailed blueprint for the construction of new business ventures that will directly address the scourge of poverty.”
—Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra & Mahindra

“The Business Solution to Poverty is an incredible resource for values-driven business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to improve performance, foster meaningful social change, and enhance the bottom line. Though written with developing countries in mind, the principles of Zero-Based Design can be put to work anywhere. Read this book and change the world!”
—Deborah Nelson, Executive Director, Social Venture Network

“I visited several small poor villages in rural Orissa where Spring Health, one of the companies this book describes, sells safe drinking water. I believe Spring Health will grow quickly into a very big company. You can learn how to build such a company through this extraordinary book. Paul Polak and Mal Warwick offer a way forward for enterprising multinational companies to expand their markets, acquire tens of millions of new customers, and generate handsome profits—while helping millions of very poor people to lift themselves into the middle class.”
—Tim Solso, former Chairman and CEO, Cummins

“The Business Solution to Poverty presents a radical new idea that’s firmly grounded in common sense. This book describes precisely the sort of investment opportunity that patient investors who seek social impact are looking for. Once companies like those Paul Polak and Mal Warwick envision are up and running and looking to the capital markets, I’m confident they will provide the opportunities for funding to help put an end to global poverty.”
—Wayne Silby, Founding Chair, Calvert Funds

“The failure of foreign aid and other efforts by outsiders to end poverty in developing countries is no secret. But now we have a promising alternative approach to this age-old challenge. The Business Solution to Poverty shows the way, step by step, with countless examples that virtually leap off the page.”
—Barbara Lee, cofounder and Cochair, Congressional Out-of-Poverty Caucus, and Chair, Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity

“Paul Polak and Mal Warwick have written an insightful and accessible guide for co-investing in a way that enriches the livelihoods of the poor and the souls of investors. Why are we here, anyway? Whether you’re an entrepreneur or investor, The Business Solution to Poverty has an abundance of examples of what it takes for enterprises to be successful and transformational in emerging markets.”
—Bob Pattillo, founder, Gray Ghost Ventures

“Few people in rich countries like the United States can imagine what poverty in the developing world is really like. The Business Solution to Poverty will help readers everywhere understand both the enormous human toll that poverty takes and the true potential to end it.”
—Van Jones, cofounder, Green for All and Rebuild the Dream

“Finally, a solutions-focused approach, as opposed to the typical problems-focused approach, toward solving one of the most pressing global issues of our time—global poverty. Polak and Warwick fully understand that business, not aid, offers the greatest opportunity to serve the world’s three billion people living in poverty and that a profit-based solution will move the needle far faster than tired models of traditional philanthropy. These emerging markets represent a vast opportunity for successful enterprises to flourish successfully, and the authors give us a practical guide to doing so.”
—Kellie A. McElhaney, author of Just Good Business and Founding Faculty Director, Center for Responsible Business, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

“This is a very practical and compelling set of takeaway ideas to accelerate the use of business tools to end poverty. They are based on decades of operational success that have benefited some of the world’s most impoverished people. Polak and Warwick have produced a gem that teems with easy-to-understand concepts and brilliant examples that show how business can make a historic contribution to improving life conditions in developed and underdeveloped societies.”
—Ron Grzywinski, cofounder, ShoreBank

“The Business Solution to Poverty is based on decades of experience in eradicating poverty through profitable business. This astounding book will teach you how to practice ruthless affordability, zero-based design, last-mile delivery, and other essentials of poverty alleviation. Your view of poverty—and perhaps of business, too—will never be the same.”
—Gifford Pinchot, President, Bainbridge Graduate Institute

“The Business Solution to Poverty turns Paul Polak’s groundbreaking work to expand affordable irrigation for the dollar-a-day farmer into a compelling and practical vision to eradicate poverty. An indispensible resource for all with a big idea, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a drive to make poverty history.”
—Sandra Postel, author, lecturer, and Director, Global Water Policy Project

“Though The Business Solution to Poverty presents a powerful case for a market-based path to a world without poverty, it also lays out a practical and compelling vision of the role that philanthropy and NGOs can play.”
—Neelam Makhijani, Chief Executive, Resource Alliance

“The Business Solution to Poverty helps us understand what poverty looks like in developing countries. Moreover, it challenges us to consider how to best reach potential customers at the bottom of the pyramid by calling for a revolution not just in design but also in corporate blueprints—ushering in a new breed of businesses that should help transform the marketplace in emerging markets.”
—Randall T. Kempner, Executive Director, Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs

“Paul Polak is a hero of mine. His vision, like that of Muhammad Yunus, is to use business to serve the very poor at scale. As entrepreneurs who walk their talk, Polak and Warwick demand that we deliver value to the poor, not catchphrases to the media, and that we do so at a scale commensurate with the need. Polak’s personal experience delivering needed basic services over the last mile is what makes this book powerful.”
—Jay Coen Gilbert, cofounder, B Lab

“The Business Solution to Poverty makes a strong case that business, employing innovative technology, can effectively end extreme poverty in collaboration with government and local communities.”
—Rajiv J. Shah, Administrator, United States Agency for International Development

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781609940775
Publisher:
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
09/09/2013
Pages:
264
Sales rank:
391,177
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Paul Polak, widely considered the father of market-based solutions to poverty, is founder and CEO of Windhorse International, a for-profit social venture launching new businesses to serve the poor and the latest of three organizations he has founded. He is the winner of numerous awards, including being named one of The Atlantic’s 27 “Brave Thinkers” in 2009.

Mal Warwick, former chairman of Social Venture Network and a co-founder of Business for Social Responsibility, is founder and chairman of Mal Warwick | Donordigital, a fundraising agency serving nonprofits nationwide. He is one of three partners in One World Futbol Project LLC

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