It should be obvious to even a casual observer that products and services designed to be sold to customers living on $2 a day or less must be extremely inexpensive, achieving what Paul Polak and Mal Warwick call ruthless affordability. What’s not obvious is how to accomplish that lofty goal.
Design for extreme affordability rarely comes easily. Making anything workable and cheap may take years of careful, incremental adaptation and revision.
In the era of “appropriate technology” sparked by E. F. Schumacher’s classic book, Small Is Beautiful, well-meaning engineers and activists descended on poverty-stricken communities around the world with clever devices intended to make life better for the downtrodden. Few lives improved — in large part, because those clever devices so frequently proved to be far outside the means of the poor people they were intended to benefit.
The appropriate technology movement foundered because its adherents failed a basic test of practicality. However, their latter-day descendants may achieve little more if they think making things cheap is good enough. Products and services designed for the world’s poor also need to deliver value. They need to work, efficiently and consistently, under field conditions. More often than not, this will mean that an initial design is only the beginning. Trial and error is an essential process in addressing the needs of poor people.
Paul Polak and Mal Warwick’s award-winning book, The Business Solution to Poverty, highlights 20 “takeaways” that encapsulate much of the book’s essence. Today we have featured the tenth of those takeaways. Future posts will include others.