Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail (BK Currents (Paperback)) by Paul Polake is an interesting take on poverty. Instead of looking to give out hand outs, or to work top down, he went to poor people and asked them what they needed. They, of course, said, “more money.” But this is where it gets interesting: instead of offering them money, he thought about how they could make more money themselves. The answer in this case, since he was talking to subsistence farmers, was low-cost irrigation so they could produce higher value crops. Then he went about developing affordable irrigation systems, and created affordable lending so the farmers could get the systems. With a group of people, he started International Development Enterprises.
The book stands on an interesting concept – listening and learning what people in poverty need – rather that assuming we know best because we happen not to be impoverished. He also talks about the idea of using the market as a tool to bring things to people in poverty that they need, instead of using donations which can be corrupted or misused. It’s interesting as a business model, because what business person wouldn’t like to open a new market of millions of people? Also, I believe that most business people would like to make a difference, as well as, make money. I have both motivations. Often, but not always, in my life these have been separate endeavors, but when they come together as one, it is the best.
The book itself is well written, and simple. Although it gives specific successes, the author sustains his central thesis through the whole book, and spells it out clearly.
Out of Poverty: What works when Traditional Approaches Fail, Paul Polak, Non-fiction, September, 2009