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Last summer, I went with several youth leaders from Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn to hear Paul Polak speak. He was one of the opening speakers for the IDDS conference hosted by D-Lab at MIT.

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He appeared on Fresh Air last year:

Paul Polak, founder of the nonprofit International Development Enterprises, has spent 25 years working to eradicate poverty in Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and other countries in the developing world.

His perhaps-surprising conclusion: Government subsidies for the rural poor often make things worse.

Instead, Polak teaches families and farmers — many of whom live on a dollar a day and own perhaps an acre of land — how to increase crop yields with simple technologies, such as cheap, foot-operated water pumps and inexpensive drip hoses for irrigation.

Paul Polak has been working hard and realistically to create solutions to some of the world’s most challenging poverty.

Below are his twelve steps to Practical Problems Solving:

  • Step 1: Go to where the action is
  • Step 2: Talk to the people that have the problem and listen to what they have to say
  • Step 3: Learn everything you can about the problem’s specific context.
  • Step 4: Think big and act big
  • Step 5: Think like a child
  • Step 6: See and do the obvious
  • Step 7: If somebody has already invented it, you don’t need to do so again.
  • Step 8: (part 1) Make sure your approach has positive measurable impacts that can be brought to scale
  • Step 9: Design to specific cost and price targets.
  • Step 10: follow practical 3 year plans.
  • Step 11: Continue to learn from your customers.
  • Step 12: Stay positive: Don’t be distracted by what other people think.

The work of Paul Polak is worth checking out, and his approaches could be adapted to many possible challenges in the world.


Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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