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April 18, 2014

Symposium speaker Paul Polik: Commerce can help and bring millions out of poverty

NORMAN — How to harness the power of commerce to address social and environmental challenges in sustainable ways was the topic of discussion at the University of Oklahoma Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth’s fourth annual Social Entrepreneurship Symposium.

Titled “Socially Focused Design,” Paul Polik, author of “Out of Poverty,” was the symposium’s featured keynote speaker.

Polik discussed his belief that commerce can bring millions out of poverty; the challenges his innovative projects have faced; and several key points to designing products that can create networks of enterprises and measurable impact.

“We treated poor people as customers instead of recipients of charity,” Polik said of his work with International Development Enterprises (iDE) in Bangladesh, which has helped bring nearly 20 million of the world’s poorest people out of poverty through innovative product design and distribution. “Charity does not bring people out of poverty ... the farmers I spoke with, the poor people I’ve spoken with say they are poor because they don’t have money. I believe them.”

Polik then described his “Don’t Bother” trilogy, which follows three rules: 1) designers must talk in depth to at least 100 poor customers; 2) the product must pay for itself three times in a year; and 3) designers must be able to sell 100 million of the product. If these three rules cannot be complied with, then Polik said “don’t bother.”

“We need brave companies, a revolution in big business. A change in values is past due,” Polik said.

Polik said design is the process of creative problem solving. In the book “8 Keys to Zero-Based Design,” Polik goes in-depth into how various keys can bring about measurable impact by bringing people out of poverty. Some of those keys include listening, ruthless affordability, scale, transforming the market, last-mile distribution and aspirational branding.

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