Book Review - Out Of Poverty

Out Of Poverty by Paul Polak

The author begins with a brief introduction of his farming experience with strawberries in his early years & ties it back to how hard farming as a business is.

The first chapter offers his 12 step common sense & direct problem solving philosophy & gives an insight into his simple but measurable approach.

He then opines the three myths that the west seems to suffer from about poverty eradication (Charity, Increasing national economic growth & getting large multi-nationals to set up businesses in these countries) in the second chapter.

Author does a strong criticism on why massive global efforts such as UN's Millenium Development Goals with significant investments have failed as well as dissects CK Prahlad's "Bottom of the Pyramid".

Chapter three covers why the author thinks the only way to eradicate poverty is by improving the agricultural income of "less than an acre" farms in a businesslike / market driven manner, & introduces 'Krishna Bahadur Thapa', a poor Nepali farmer who is revisited almost in a case study like manner in the rest of the book.

Business & design challenges in serving the "base of the pyramid" are covered next as he discusses affordability, lower initial investment, faster time to value & offers successes such as Treadle pump, cheaper drip irrigation kit etc.

The author highlights how underserved some of these markets are. He then discusses design issues & a "don't bother" trilogy about how not to design products for this customer base.

In an essay like manner, chapter five 'from subsistence to new income' continues with the 'Thapa' family & their status quo situation. It touches upon why it is important to boost the income of entrepreneurs like him & also includes a brief historic overview of grass root enterprises.

"Affordable small plot irrigation" continues with the "Thapa" story & how the entire drip irrigation idea came to fruition. This interesting discourse demonstrates how ideas from frontline are nurtured, tested, prototyped & implemented.

The author discusses this topic in context of other countries such as India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Zambia etc. & highlights the need for solutions in this space.

Chapter seven is almost a product development / marketing lesson for these entrepreneurs, where he highlights how these farmers can get the "most bang for their buck" by growing crops that are labor intensive & timing them to market for maximum returns.

He also talks about other innovations such as "Monsoon Tomatoes", fertilizers / manures from animal & human excreta, crop rotation & integrated pest management. Channel management, marketing / distribution & strategies to move up the value chain are covered next as he talks about day to day challenges with access to marketplaces, market inefficiencies, lack of knowledge & information on alternatives for trading the produce items.

The author explains how to create channels & mutually beneficial parties to market & promote products & services for this segment.

He cites few pertinent examples such as decentralized (on site) processing of Brazil Nuts to organic Pineapple trades where other non profits have achieved success.

Slums are covered next as the author talks about Dharavi in India. He discusses their socio-economic impact & how they can be potential incubators for new opportunities. He cites an example of Neerja International, which trained Jaipur slum pottery manufacturers to create blue pottery & has successfully commercialized it. He elaborates on how these entrepreneurs can be supported.

Chapter 10 transitions from social aspects of sustainability to the environmental impacts & makes a case for how poverty eradication assists with sustainability in terms of biodiversity, global warming, population growth, health & education, and espouses the author's grander vision of how other seemingly unrelated problems that we face today are related to poverty.

"Taking action to end poverty" is a call to arms where the author suggests what we all can do for poverty eradication. He discusses macroeconomic & global policy level changes to ensure fairness of UNDP assistance & to prevent corruption / misuse of funds.

He also explains what we what we all can do as individuals, poor people, institutions (Universities, Not For Profits), Multi-Nationals, Designers & introduces his next organization, D-Rev or design revolution.

The final chapter ends on a bitter sweet note as it informs the reader of sudden demise of "Krishna Bahadur Thapa". In a case study like manner, the author does a comprehensive job of explaining just how incredible is the economic success of the "Thapa" family as it moves out of poverty. He acknowledges that while this is not typical, it is exemplary & inspirational of what others below the poverty line can strive for.


1. Author does not cover how he made the transition from being a psychiatrist to creating IDE. This makes it harder to understand how one can participate in this cause, even if one wanted to.

2. While the book is a great food for thought, it seems to be more focused on the destination rather than the journey. At times, it reads more like a journal which may be intentional, but this inconsistency gives the reader, a rather half baked impression.

3. Author's disagreement with major organizations such as the UN feel like a rant at times, as he only criticizes them without putting forth any concrete suggestions for bigger issues such as infrastructure (development of roads, bridges, dam development, power generation, healthcare & educational programs).

An inspiring book that makes one think about the greater good that can come out of poverty eradication & how we can all be a part of it.

Here is a link to the publisher's website