Out of Poverty and into the Market Place

Over the last two weeks, on two separate occasions I have been in conversations with clients, whose essential challenges deal with the commercial models that allow for seemingly good product ideas, to experience market success. Both clients, coincidentally create mobile products and services for rural and low income communities, and surely enough a cursory survey of available mobile products and services will indicate that the gap between a pilot and a successful product or service is large. During our conversations, we discussed some of the inherent reasons for this that often results from a diverse and varied ecosystem or stakeholder-ship, or a dependency on the social sector or the government sector for market roll out. From many of our consulting activities and other conversations with clients, it is evident that companies are accepting that there exists a market at the peripheries and bottom of the pyramid. They have even made efforts to understand this market, and develop products and service solutions based on this understanding. Answers to questions about implementation and commercial models however hang high.


Perhaps the mandates of the companies spoken of above, isn’t necessarily to bring people out of poverty, however, they seem to echo author of Out of Poverty, creator of the treadle pump, and founder of the International Development Enterprises, Paul Polak’s basic conclusion, that government subsidies and support for the rural poor often make things worse. In his book, Paul Polak, outlines twelve steps that he used to arrive at product and service solutions to extreme poverty. A shorter version is often referred to as the ‘Don’t Bother Rules’

– if you haven’t had conversations with at least 25 poor people before you start (don’t bother)
– if it won’t pay for itself in the first year (don’t bother)
– if you can’t sell a million of them (don’t bother)

Many, including the Stanford Social Innovation Review, have stressed the importance of Paul Polaks book for designers and social entrepreneurs, but is there something in there that larger companies are missing out on? The essence of what we do at CKS adheres very closely to the first rule – speaking to at least 25 customers. The second two, we hope to explore over the following months, perhaps using the don’t bother rules, for a different purpose, that of lifting some of the great product and service ideas we encounter so often, out of poverty and into a sustainable market place.

About Namrata Mehta

Namrata Mehta or @littlenemrut, is Director of Innovation at the Center for Knowledge Societies, New Delhi. She has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Delhi University, and a postgraduate diploma in Experimental Media Arts, from Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore.
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