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Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail (BK Currents Book) Hardcover – February 11, 2008
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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.
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In Out of Poverty, Dr. Polak interweaves the IDE story and the principles that guide it with that of one Nepalese family who moved from poverty into the middle class. The fundamental precepts of Dr. Polak's work are clearly laid out in the introduction:
"1. The biggest reason most poor people are poor is because they don't have enough money.
"2. Most of the extremely poor people in the world earn their living now from one-acre farms.
"3. They can earn much more money by finding ways to grow and sell high-value labor-intensive crops such as off-season fruits and vegetables.
"4. To do that, they need access to very cheap small-farm irrigation, good seeds and fertilizer, and markets where they can sell their crops at a profit."
Much of Out of Poverty deals in detail with the challenges entailed in implementing these principles. Irrigation, including the story of the treadle pump, gets the most attention. Dr. Polak describes himself and the staff of IDE as what might be called catalysts rather than experts: from his perspective, the first step in any venture in rural development must be to talk to the people who will be affected by whatever is done -- and listen to them. The IDE approach is resolutely bottoms-up, because "To move out of poverty, poor people have to invest their own time and money. The path out of poverty lies in releasing the energy of Third World entrepreneurs."
IDE's work over the years has tightly focused on farmers. As he notes, "most of the poor people in the world live in remote rural areas that will likely continue to be bypassed by successive waves of urban-centered industrial growth." However, in the concluding chapters of Out of Poverty, Dr. Polak also shares a number of ideas for helping slum-dwellers ("43 percent of the urban populatioin in developing regions") move out of poverty, too. The book is chock full of great ideas for small-scale entrepreneurs.
Dr. Polak and IDE were pioneers in the bottoms-up development model that is fast emerging as the only approach likely to make a dent in the endemic poverty in so many poor countries.
Regrettably, Out of Poverty is not well written. It is endlessly repetitive, with the same phrases and anecdotes appearing in chapters throughout the book, and it fails to deliver on its promise of sharing many examples of families that have moved into the middle class through IDE's work, since the only story told in any detail is that of one Nepalese farm family. That's a great pity, since this is a message that needs to be disseminated far more widely among policymakers around the world. A second edition, reorganized and with additional examples, would be a boon to the development community.
The point is, however, most aid organizations don't address this root problem, choosing instead to go for big, showy projects that cost a lot and sound really ambitious, but just don't do anything to benefit the average very poor family. Polak suggests a twelve point plan to create programs that can really benefit the very poor. These include things like talking to people with the problem you are interested in, and really listening to what they have to say about it; learning everything possible about the problem's specific context; thinking in terms of scalability; developing measurable outcomes; and designing to specific cost and price targets.
The book tells the story of how one family in Bangladesh was able to move from barely surviving on less than $1 a day and not having enough food to make it through the year to relative prosperity and a much more comfortable lifestyle. This was made possible in part by their access to affordable, small-scale irrigation equipment, allowing them to make more effective use of their other resources - their land and their physical labor. Polak points out that when families can earn more money, they almost automatically do things like improve their diets, further their education, seek better healthcare, and generally become more empowered to improve their lives in the ways they see fit, according to their own priorities.
It took some mental acrobatics for me to begin to accept the concept of dollar a day farmers as "consumers" rather than "aid recipients." But as a market this group has a huge, untapped potential. There are something like 800 million small farmers; the combined purchasing power (given the right products and a little access to credit) would be enormous. Overall, I found this book engaging and its message hopeful and practical. It certainly provides food for thought.
Refreshing is not often a word I use for such books. But this Book is REFRESHING!
Finally a voice offering some practical solutions, instead of only analyzing what poverty is etc.
We "define" poverty more than we "destroy" poverty these days it seems.
For profit, poverty reduction to the bottom billion- Ingenious!
Comments specific to Polak's - Drip Irrigation for 1/4 acre or less plots.
What other technology can one offer to help a family for up to 5 years on a $6 to $15 investment? We discovered drip irrigation three years ago and have set up test sites in three West African countries. I almost cried when I stumbled on the concept, it was so simple, economical; the best way to help poor people period. We felt alone in drip project, as very few heard of small drip irrigation, and even less seemed interested. Now that we discovered Paul's book, we don't feel so alone, and have been encouraged.
We need Local suppliers in every country of West Africa willing to market, as Polak writes, to the $1 a day or less, realizing volume sales will come quickly. We cannot continue to order and ship supplies as individual NGO's or organizations, for our own purposes. It's wasting time, money, and resources.
Every backpacker, tourist and visitor to Africa & Asia should have a small drip irrigation kit in their backpack, to install for a local families they know. Two hours up and running, and it fits in your hands.
A must read.
International Community Development Manager for Man of Peace Development[...]
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I recommend this book for those who wish to do something productive and resourceful with their time for...Read more