Sigh. The post about Paul Polak got swallowed up by WordPress (and I didn’t have it backed up). So if anyone out there saved the lost post in a file, please send it along and we’ll re-post.

Meanwhile, here’s the re-construction, in abridged form:

Polak1Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises and the author of Out of Poverty, has been battling poverty in development countries for 23 years by helping poor farmers eke out a better living off the land. IDE operates on a local level, dealing with grass-roots problems and building markets for locally-manufactured solutions. This self-sustaining model has resulted in cleaner drinking water, better efficiency in agriculture, improved health and better standards of living for millions of people around the world.

This year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Paul and IDE a $27 million grant over three years, to do more of what they’ve been doing for the past 23.

Paul Polak’s approach to eliminating poverty is highly improvisational. Here are some of the ways that the principles of improvisation play into what Polak and IDE have achieved:

Polak3Listen. IDE grew out of Polak’s counseling work in in the 1980s with Vietnam Vets, followed by trips he himself took to Vietnam, and conversations with farmers and poor rural families there. From these conversations, he generated the philosophies and strategies for fighting poverty that became the foundation for his work.

Work with Themes. The central theme explored by Polak and IDE is water. Water is the most relevant element to any farmer. By addressing and exploring problems related to water, the IDE team knows that its work is relevant, and will touch on many areas — irrigation, health and sanitation, efficiency, etc. — that are central to the poor farmer’s plight. Solutions themed around water ripple through the local ecosystems and economies, providing many times the return on investment.

Initiate Strongly. Dealing with the water problem in developing countries gives IDE a way to initiate its development scenes strongly. Water is their ‘way in’ to begin the dialogue that results in productive scenes for everyone involved.

Make Many Small Moves Instead of One Big One. Too many decisions designed to alleviate poverty in developing countries, and the billions of dollars directed by those decisions, are, in Polak’s opinion, wasted on global solutions devised by well-paid, well-fed consultants, who are insulated from the realities on the ground. The problems are local, and require collaboration at the local level. By making its solutions affordable and having them address specific needs of a region, IDE finds ways to offer consistent incremental productivity. A poor farm woman who has to carry water three miles on her head to her family’s hectare doesn’t care about anyone’s global vision, she cares about her family’s prosperity and her hurting neck. Polak and his team understand that relieving the pain in that woman’s neck can be a small step toward improving her family’s way of life, and that family’s improved way of life lifts the local economy. Think of it as the Seep-Up Theory.

Give Gifts. Like all outstanding improvisers, Paul Polak supports the intentions and ideas of players in his scene. One of IDE’s earliest moves was to support the manufacturing and marketing of a foot-powered ‘treadle pump’ Polak had first seen used in Vietnam. Today, there are eight manufacturers and thousands of distributors of said pump, and an estimated 1.3 million small farmers in developing countries have put it to work.


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