Designing an Alternative to Poverty

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June 20, 2011; Source: The Denver Post | Paul Polak, founder of the Colorado-based nonprofit, International Development Enterprises (IDE) is a businessman with an eye on poverty. His initial idea for IDE came in 1982 when he was in Somalia at a refugee camp and observed that an absence of efficient transportation was limiting the economic opportunities of local refugees.

His subsequent work re-engineering that community's donkey cart system and working with local artisans to produce a more efficient business model raised $1 million in net income for local cart owners. In the years since, with a mission of creating income opportunities for poor, rural households, Polak and his IDE colleagues have developed a range of technological solutions for agricultural problems including: a treadle pump; a rope pump; a drip irrigation system; a sprinkle irrigation system; a water storage system; a multiple use water system and a ceramic water purifier. The organization estimates that it has provided 19 million people throughout the world with tools to lift themselves out of poverty and raised over $1 billion.

As a way to extend an international conversation about the development field and IDE's contributions to it, in 2007 the Smithsonian Institution's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum launched "Design For The Other 90%," an exhibition that highlights the work of "designers, students, professors, architects and social entrepreneurs from all over the globe" who are devising "cost-effective ways to increase access to food, water, energy, education, healthcare, revenue-generating activities and affordable transportation for those who most need them."

The Denver Post reports that after traveling throughout the world for the past four years, the exhibition now makes what might be its final stop in Denver on July 8. A.G. Vermouth, marketing and communications director at IDE, is hoping that the show gives residents a chance to engage more directly with development work going on throughout the world.

"We'll be relying heavily on social media for this, and we'll be livestreaming the programs and probably taking questions over a Twitter feed," he said via email. In light of the popularity of this exhibition, the Cooper-Hewitt has already developed a follow-up: "Design With The Other 90%: Cities," which will open at the United Nations headquarters in New York.—Anne Eigeman