Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail

Paul Polak (founder, International Development Enterprises) exposes and rejects the "Three great poverty eradication myths," namely, that donations alone, national economic growth, or Big Business (as it currently operates) will end poverty. 

He instead espouses a model that identifies market opportunities in high-value, labor-intensive cash crops for poor rural farmers and provides them with access to the tools they need. 

The first section of the book explores his own interest in eradicating poverty and describes the process he learned for finding creative solutions to major social problems. The second section describes the grass-roots approach to ending poverty in rural areas; a brief third section applies the principles to the poor in urban areas. The final section addresses the role poverty plays in environmental problems, and describes what donors, institutions, and governments can do to end poverty. As much time is devoted to one family throughout this book, the closing chapter addresses how one man in Nepal brought his family from poverty to the upper-middle class by the principles described in this book. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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 in lifting 17 million people out of poverty.

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.

2008 has been a great year in terms of attention to BoP and market-based solutions to poverty. Out of Poverty, a new book by Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE), just hit the shelves this month and will certainly add to this momentum. IDE's recent receipt of a $27 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation only makes Polak's book timelier, as widespread recognition grows for his leadership role in the BoP space and his innovative design solutions (including the treadle pump and micro-drip irrigation) that have increased the incomes of over 2.5 million dollar-a-day families living in rural areas and subsisting from small farms.

The book truly reflects the down to earth style and substance of Polak and his work. In fact, what's most striking about Polak's approach to attacking poverty is its straightforward, flexible, and results-based orientation.

The book covers a lot of ground quickly, challenging leading development theorists (
Jeff Sachs, Bill Easterly, and even C.K. Prahalad), explaining why markets are not serving the poor, and demonstrating, piece by piece, why for-profit mechanisms have and will continue to trump charity in terms of lifting people out of poverty.
Polak's ability to connect these arguments, on the level of tomatoes and cucumbers, with the nuts and bolts of his years spent, literally, in the field. Out of Poverty strikes a good balance between economic calculations and human anecdotes, staying true to the author's principal beliefs that one must "go to where the action is" and "talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they say," while also pursuing only approaches that "can reach at least a million people and make their lives measurably better."

extract of review by Abigail Keene-Babcock

No comments:

Post a Comment