Paul Polak: Always curious, always learning

Paul Polak. Photo by: The Out of Poverty Team

Most people retire at the age of 65. Paul Polak, however, is not most people.

The former psychiatrist — Polak holds a medical degree and was a practicing psychiatrist for 23 years — founded iDE in 1982, an international nonprofit that uses market-based solutions to address poverty. The organization claims to have lifted nearly 20 million $1-a-day, one-acre farmers out of poverty by making low-cost irrigation technology available and giving them access to markets for their crops.

After a “painful three-year process,” Polak left iDE — a company he ran for 25 years — but not to retire. In 2007, Polak founded D-Rev: Design Revolution, a nonprofit design incubator for technologies targeting customers living on less than $4 a day.

Just a short year after, and applying the lessons learned from iDE, he then founded the first of what Polak calls “frontier multinationals,” for-profit companies that aim to address basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid by selling products that are cheap enough for $2-a-day customers to purchase and install. There are now three such companies  — Spring Health, Transform Energy and SunWater.

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About the author

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    Aimee Rae Ocampo

    In her role as editor for business insight, Aimee creates and manages multimedia content and cutting-edge analysis for executives in international development. As the manager of Development Insider, Devex's flagship publication for executive members, she is constantly on the lookout for the latest news, trends and policies that influence the business of development.