The Norman Transcript


April 18, 2014

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



Polik said to listen to those in poverty means more than hearing words, and a designer should take in the surroundings to correctly assess a problem.

“It’s really listening with your whole soul,” he said.

When describing ruthless affordability, Polik said a designer still has to create something of quality that adds aspirational value to customers, but specific cost targets and identification of key cost contributors are necessary.

“Design around each point by finding acceptable tradeoffs,” Polik said.

Polak is currently the CEO and founder of Windhorse International, a social venture leading a revolution in the way companies design, price and distribute products to the poor.

Windhorse International is working on four projects: Sunwater, which is working to provide affordable electricity in rural areas and is under beta tests in India; Green Coal from biomass roasted in thousands of village kilns; Success International, which will provide affordable education to poor areas; and Spring Health, which will provide affordable drinking water to scattered rural areas.

Polik said Spring Health is the farthest along. Spring Health uses an electro-chlorinator to purify water. It costs $250 to treat 80,000 liters/day compared to a reverse osmosis unit, which costs $5,000 to treat 4,000 liters/day.

Polik said a disadvantage to the electro-chlorinator is it won’t remove arsenic from water, but arsenic in non-drinkable water is not a large problem.

Spring Health has installed water purifiers at kiosks in India so kiosk owners can sell the water.

As part of aspirational branding, Polik said his team creates ceremonies when a kiosk begins to sell water. They have a professional theater team perform plays about the importance of clean water, they test the area’s drinking water so community members can see what’s in their water, and they have people create a buzz by going door to door in large groups to sell the water.

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