Development professionals know that the biggest single challenge to ending poverty is scale. Since the beginning of the global war on poverty more than sixty years ago, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of projects and programs have been launched with the stated goal of reducing poverty. Collectively, the record of this massive effort must be rated a failure: while the percentage of those living on destitution-level income has indeed fallen over the decades, the tragic fact remains that there are more people today living in dire poverty — nearly three billion — than the total population of Planet Earth in 1950.
Clearly, some of those thousands of anti-poverty initiatives were successful. If those that showed promise had received the needed support to go to global scale, today’s reality might be less grim. That they haven’t gotten that support is self-evident. Future efforts must be built on this understanding if the human race is ever to eradicate poverty. That means taking selective aim at those aspects of poverty that affect enormous numbers of people around the globe.
To achieve true scale, pick a problem that challenges the lives of a billion people.
Why a billion? First, because there is no dearth of problems with that reach: lack of access to safe drinking water, lack of access to electricity, lack of irrigation for small farms, lack of financial services, and dozens of others. Second, because any venture that’s successful can reasonably aspire to achieve a ten percent market share, thus helping transform the lives of 100 million people. Only by thinking on such a global scale can we harbor hope of addressing the needs of the 2.7 billion people who live today on $2 a day or less.
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 twelfth of those takeaways. Future posts will include others.