Paul Polak

Podcast Interview

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BFP: What do you do?

PP: I create global companies designed to reach 100 million customers who live on two dollars a day, generate ten billion a year in sales and earn attractive profits.

BFP: What is the best part about your job/project?

PP: It’s incredibly exciting addressing problems that most people think are impossible to solve.

BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?

PP: Attracting investors. Surprisingly many social venture capitol investors are not ready to make high risk early start up in investments in companies than can make the most transformative scalable impact if successful.

BFP: How have you overcome these challenges?

PP: In addition to attracting investors that can make transformative scalable impact, there are many challenges. The first is that the design has to fit the needs of customers who are often in remote rural villages. The answer is so simple that people don’t want to do it – go the the village, talk to a lot of the customers there and find out what they need.

The second challenge is designing products that are cheap enough and effective enough to be attractive to two dollar a day customers. I have described the ruthless pursuit of affordability and what that it takes to get there in my book, “Out of Poverty”.

The third is being able to cross the last five hundred feet in distribution. Spring Health the drinking water company I’ve started has figured out how to do this (more on how to cross the last 500 feet can be found in this blog post)

The Fourth is how to reach meaningful scale which I define as reaching one hundred million customers for each company.

The Fifth is aspirational branding. Poor customers have hopes and dreams even more than rich customers and without effective aspirational branding you can’t reach scale with two dollar a day customers.

BFP: If someone wants to do what you do – where do they start?

PP: Go to where the action is, talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they have to say and learn everything there is to know about the specific context of the problem.

BFP: What do you hope to get out of being part of this community?

PP: To see more businesses that are are profitable and help hundreds of millions of people move out of poverty.

Editor’s Note:

Thank you to Paul Polak for taking the time to do this interview.

For the past 25 years, Paul has worked with thousands of farmers in countries around the world—including Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe–to help design and produce low–cost, income–generating products that have already moved 17 million people out of poverty.

For more information, visit or follow Paul on Twitter (@OutofPoverty)

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This Member of the Week interview was conducted by Natasha Ncube BFP Community Manager. Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.

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