In The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, authors Paul Polak and Mal Warwick believe that, unlike government and philanthropy, business is uniquely capable of solving poverty. Still, they allow room for others to pitch in.
Readers of this blog don’t need to guess why this book title attracted my attention: The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, by Paul Polak and Mal Warwick. At this writing, I’ve read through part one of three.
The world economy has expanded 17-fold since 1950, yet more than one-third of the planet lives extreme poverty. Polak and Warwick estimate that 2.7 billion people in the world live on $2 a day or less. Most of these people reside in India, Africa, and Asia, including China; they define this population as “The Global South.” You can sense the authors’ feelings of unfairness at this situation. I agree.
MercyCorps works to build secure, productive, and just communities in some of the world’s toughest places like Somalia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, and Haiti. They recently shared a success story about small-scale irrigation in Zimbabwe that’s really a story about distribution.
In rural communities in India, the ratio of doctors to patients is 1:2000. That leaves a large gap in health services to be filled. A large but informal jumble of health care practitioners tries to fill the gap. Often, these practitioners are under-capitalized, under-trained, and disconnected from each other and from professional consultation with a doctor.
Here’s a marketing challenge for you: Build a billion-dollar business serving clients who
- Earn less than $1,500 a month
- Completed less than eight years of education
- Lack access to banking, credit, or financing
According to a paper on the Social Science Research Network, in 2012, 16 percent of the world’s population sent, delivered, or received an informal cash payment, or remittance. These people reside in Southeast Asia, and the individual money amounts transferred are small. So small, in fact, that financial institutions don’t bother providing services to support this activity.