Paul Polak: 12 Social Entrepreneurial Principles for Solving Poverty

Sometimes I wonder why we have forgotten these principles from the late Paul Polak. When I chatted with him about the $300 House, he wanted me to reconsider and make it a $100 House. His point was simple: affordability drives design.

Now, as part of the research agenda of the Regenerative Marketing Institute, I’m thinking about how these BoP principles and Stuart Hart‘s BoP protocol apply to the developed world — to communities trying to find a way back from the COVID-crash.

Here are Polak’s principles:

1) Go to where the action is. You can’t solve poverty from a World Bank office.
2) Talk to the people and listen to what they have to say.
3) Learn everything about the context of the problem and the people.
4) Think and act big. No reason to be modest. Small solutions applied thousands of thousands of times.
5) Think like a child to find the obvious solution people have missed in the past. (Irony of thinking big and like a child)
6) See and do the obvious. Emersing yourself in the problem helps.
7) If someone has invented it–you don’t have to. Find existing solutions
8} Make sure your approach can be scaled up.
9) Design for the poor. Affordability rules the design process with poor customers.
10) Follow practical 3 year plans. Must transform into effective work plan for 3 years.
11) Continue to learn from your customers. (Interviewed more than 3000 farm families, $12 solar lantern)
12) Don’t be distracted by what other people say (Almost every project I’ve done has had sceptics)

Let’s add another principle for impact innovation:

13) Design for justice. (The design schools don’t)