Inventors innovate to meet the need’s of the world’s poorest.

Friday, February 3, 2006

David Hume wrote in 1742 that “legislators and founders of states” had to be ranked as superior to inventors in terms of their benefit to humanity; the inventor’s work might “increase the commodities and enjoyments of life,” but without sound government this would mean little.

Hume might have wished to reconsider had he lived to see some modern-day legislatures – or certain of today’s inventors, particularly those who apply brilliant pragmatism to improving the lot of the world’s poorest.

For the more than two billion people who subsist on less than $2 a day, the inventions churned out from First World design labs – the iPod, the PalmPilot, even the personal computer – are, for all their genius, almost unimaginably irrelevant.

“Ninety percent of the people who design things are addressing the problems of the richest 5 percent of people in the world,” said Paul Polak. His International Development Enterprises – a nonprofit entity with U.S., Canadian and European funding – combines bootstrap technologies and the powers of markets to help the poorest, particularly subsistence farmers.

“You have to stand the Western design process on its ear,” he said, to engage in “a ruthless pursuit of affordability.” And so it is coming to pass.

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Source: International Herald Tribune (link opens in a new window)