Sunday, October 9, 2011

The man, the myth, the legend!

Now where to begin?  In true form, it's been almost a month since posting but the good news is we're halfway through the semester, WOOT!  Instead of the usual whirlwind recap, I'll focus on a particularly exciting event we were able to partake in last Friday.  The MBA program I'm in is called Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise (GSSE).  It evokes many of the same reactions I got when explaining to people I was going into the Peace Corps.  "You're doing what? ...Why?" or "I hope you make as much money as that degree title sounds like."  I've gotten over the pitying looks.  As IF I could do anything to save this world caught in a downward spiral, right?  Well, turns out, some of us can.
The happy GSSE crew and speakers

The GSSE community had the opportunity to hear some pretty inspiring folks speak a few days ago. Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE) and author of Out of Poverty along with the current CEO, Al Doerkson came to share some perspectives about development and IDE's place in that world.  While Paul holds to some steadfast rules (the "Don't Bother Trilogy") I don't necessarily agree with, such as "If what you design can't pay for itself in a year, don't bother" he makes some of the most logical connections between business and the developing world I've every heard.  The way Paul and Al rattled off market numbers was astonishing.  As a wise not-so-old professor once said, "Paul is 78 and could kick all our asses".

Evolving as a professional and engaged individual, this program is pushing me to see the things I agree with and highlights some that I don't.  I think it was Obama's mom who said something to the effect of "Sooner or later you have to be for something rather than against everything".  

Giving potential venture feedback
The day started with some background on IDE and where the idea came from (Paul's head).  He's a psychiatrist by training, spent some time investing in real estate, and realized after traveling through many developing countries that a good chunk of the world has some serious needs BUT they had some disposable income to address them.  The rest is history, peppered by Somali donkey carts, drip irrigation systems, water purifiers and more.  IDE sells products to make people's lives easier in a manner that is affordable and less intrusive than traditional products.  Seriously, leave this blog now and go the sites I linked above!  They don't apply blanket answers but adapt their market strategy to each country, city, and village situation.  

Lettin' us have it!
The most exciting part of the day for me was when we were able to let fly questions we had about the projects we will be presenting at the end of this month.  Our class goal is to pick the most viable projects from a crop of ventures and carry those forward over the next 18-months and maybe beyond.  Paul and Al asked us real questions about the nitty gritty details.  What an opportunity to ask these men, who have been in the field for decades, about our ideas.  It was humbling and energizing all at once.  These were questions investors or really anyone would ask.  Our ideas are solidifying but we're still in the research phase for the most part... This is the irrigation project in India I keep mentioning.

It was a fantastic day.  Paul signed all our copies of his book, many contacts were exchanged and, I think, a good time was had by all.  I'm sure this is not the last I'll blog about these guys and IDE, their ideas and practices resonate with me in a very big way.  As Paul says, "There is much to be done."