Social entrepreneur Martin Fisher was named the Person of 2008 by OneWorld readers across the planet. In this spirited and insightful dialogue, Fisher challenges long-held orthodoxies on how best to help people out of poverty, discussing topics from the science of farming in Africa to the business models that work for the world's poorest families.
Martin Fisher. Â©Â Lemelson-MIT ProgramThe water pumps and other products bought from Fisher's company KickStart generate over $80 million of extra income each year for farmers in some of the poorest countries of the world. More than 350,000 people have moved out of poverty thanks to the products they've bought from KickStart.
In the dialogue below, Fisher shows himself to be not only an effective businessman and thoughtful humanitarian, but an engaging personality to boot.
Read it through top to bottom, or navigate the discussion through the following topics:
- On accessing KickStart's products
- On the reach and impact of KickStart's work
- On expansion/scaling up
- On the pumps
- On drip irrigation
- On the different countries where KickStart works
- On sustainability and effective models of development
- On water quantity and quality
- Advice for a budding globalist?
- On your motivations and sentiments
Enjoy the discussion, and please add your own thoughts in the comment section. For more background on Martin Fisher and KickStart's work, see his profile in the People of 2008 edition of OneWorld's living magazine Perspectives.
Martin Fisher: First off, thank you all for this wonderful award. There was an amazing group of finalists and it was an honor to be included amongst them. Thank you all for these great, thoughtful questions. I'll try to answer them as briefly and thoroughly as I can.
Miriam Mannak (South Africa): How can farmers access your pump? For it me (in South Africa) it would be easy, using Google and all. But how do you make sure farmers know of you and your company?
MF: Great question. You get to the heart of the hardest part of our work. Everyone thinks it's the design/invention of the pumps and other tools -- which is a challenge -- but the hardest part is to build massive awareness, understanding, and demand for the MoneyMaker pumps. The biggest part of our annual budget goes to marketing and sales. Our marketing channels are limited (like you mention, no Google for our customers). Our customers are very hard to reach. And as you can imagine, they are very conservative with their investment and very risk adverse. We have to have a strong and consistent physical presence in market centers and support that with as much mass media (like radio, newspapers, and billboards) as we can afford. Our customers need to have confidence in our pumps and confidence in KickStart as an organization.
We just launched a new marketing campaign "Farming is My Business" because we realized that we needed to do more than just sell our pumps, or even selling the "dream" of success, we needed to sell farming as a viable and profitable business. The results have been phenomenal since we launched that new message -- an 800 percent increase in sales.
Miriam Mannak (South Africa): How much do farmers have to pay for a pump? Can they pay it off in various months? If so, do you charge interest?
The Super MoneyMaker Pump. Â©Â KickStartMF: We have two models: the Super MoneyMaker, which retails for about $95, and the MoneyMaker Hip Pump, which sells for about $35. We don't sell directly to the farmers. They buy from a local retailer, some of whom do offer layaway or credit. We are working to institute a layaway program that would be available at all of our retailers.
joe iorahen (Nigeria): good evening sir.. i must commend your project. its worth being the oneworld person in 2008. so how does one get to see, learn how to use your products, and maybe buy them. i live in Nigeria. i hope to be amused with your products and ur services. Thanks
Ofori A. Acquaye (Ghana): Thanks for your works which is helping the poor. May I know where to get some of your innovative products in my country Ghana.
MF: Thank you Joe and Ofori. We would love to have operations in both Nigeria and Ghana. We see huge potential in both countries, but unfortunately we just don't have the funding to support an expansion into either country yet. But we are looking for a donor who can help us grow. In the meantime we sell pumps in bulk to organizations working all over Africa. You can submit an inquiry on our website: http://www.kickstart.org/products/how-to-buy/. Our team in Nairobi will get back to you.
Caroline Kouassiaman: Thank you for your hardwork and commitment to innovation! I'm really interested in the impact side of your work. On your website, you talk about sustainability of projects and working to make sure that the people you help out of poverty stay out of poverty. How do you monitor this and how do you measure this? If it costs $300 for KickStart to move one family out of poverty, how do you define poverty for them? (Is this the $1/day standard?) And, what mechanisms are you putting in place to keep families "out of poverty" particularly given the upcoming "tipping points" that you speak of? Do your M&E teams also look at other dimensions of poverty (beyond income) when looking at the impact of Kickstart's work, like improved access to opportunities and resources, ability for communities to be better advocates for themselves, etc.?
MF: I am glad that you are interested in the impacts, because that's what we care about. One of the reasons why Nick Moon and I left a big traditional "aid" charity, was because they seemed disinterested in measuring the real and lasting results of their work. So as we were building the model for KickStart, we built our monitoring efforts.
We get a guarantee form on every pump we sell through a retailer. We get the name and general location of the user, and all of these go into a database. From this we select a random group of recent purchasers and we send a team (a man and woman) to go out and find these people and interview them.
It's tough. There are no addresses or Google Maps for rural Africa. We get the closest landmark (school or church) and start our search from there. People may live 10km off the main road.
Once we find them, we sit and have a long conversation with them about their farms and family. We find out what crops they are growing, how much area they have under cultivation, and ask how much they made in farm income over the past year. We'll verify this information by asking the questions in a few different ways to ensure the information is accurate.
We then go back 18 months and 36 months later and repeat the process.
It's from this that we get a statistically valid view of our real impacts. Of course, the main measure of our success is the increase in household income as a direct result of our pumps. But, we also gather a lot of information on things like children in school, social standing, and family health. I think some of our most powerful impacts are the ones hardest to quantify, but the ones we hear often -- increased marital harmony, sense of pride and accomplishment, positions of leadership within a community, and the profound relief of a parent knowing that they can feed and clothe and educate their family without struggling.
Which gets to another point in your question -- defining "Out of Poverty." Quantifying this in dollar figures is tough because the cost of living can vary so greatly from place to place. We use this FUNCTIONAL definition:
A family has enough money to meet all basic needs for all family members -- food, shelter, clothing, basic medicines and healthcare, AND
Has enough to put ALL their children in school, AND
Still has money left over to invest in the future.
It's that final point that's important. The extra cash at the end of the day is what allows families to move up. And this is what inspires me every day. Our farmers don't reach a plateau and stop, they keep climbing. They expand their farm businesses, they diversify and invest in creating new income streams. They buy cows and start dairies, start hatcheries and egg business, buy maize mills, and even start transport businesses and build rental housing. They send their children on to secondary schools and colleges. And they build new houses, plant trees, and buy solar panels. This is how we know they stay out of poverty. They keep reinvesting.
I am proud to say that we have one of the best impact monitoring efforts in the sector, but it could still be better and improving, and broadening our effort is one of our big projects for the coming years.
Jeff (Minneapolis, Minnesota): Your work is really incredible, and your results speak for themselves, but what about all the people living on less than $1 a day -- surely they could not afford to buy one of your pumps. And there are over a billion people living at that level worldwide -- nearly 20% of the world's population. Wouldn't it make sense to price the pumps on a sliding scale, or even make them free for people who absolutely can't afford to pay anything?
MF: Actually Jeff, they do find a way to buy pumps! Most of farmers are living on about $1 a day when they start -- family incomes of about $500-$700 per year. But they are still able to save or borrow enough to buy a pump -- nearly 83,000 have so far!
Using the MoneyMaker Hip Pump. Â©Â KickStartI appreciate your concerns about affordability and barriers to entry -- we care deeply, too. But giveaways are not a sustainable solution to the problem. We developed our $35 Hip Pump to provide a powerful and affordable solution to people who can't afford our $95 Super MoneyMaker, and people are responding very positively to it. We are looking at layaway programs to make it easier and safer to save, and we are working with MFI's to develop a credit scheme that works for agricultural equipment in rural East Africa. (The Grameen model of microcredit does not work for rural farmers in this region and with funds from the Gates Foundation both Opportunity International and BRAC are searching for new models better suited to the needs of rural East African farmers -- but so far micro-finance is not widely viable or available.)
The reason that we don't give away our pumps comes down to two issues -- effectiveness and fairness. Trust me, we are not being dogmatic about a market economy here. If giving our pumps away was better in some way (cheaper, more effective, more efficient) we would do it. But I learned painful lessons that it is not better in any way. You can find out more on our website: http://www.kickstart.org/what-we-do/why-we-sell/.
Marie Roisson: Congratulations for your working. Are new projects forecast in other countries?
Julia Schrenkler (St. Paul, Minnesota): On the KickStart Web site I see the organization works in Kenya, Tanzania, and Mali. Can you talk about plans to expand the reach? Have other organizations used this model?
MF: Thanks Marie and Julia. We would love to be in a lot more countries. We have plans to add as many as two new country programs per year but, at this point, we have not yet found the funding we need to get a new country started.
"When we started in 1991, the idea of using private sector models toaddress poverty was still heresy. Now it's the Social Enterprisemovement."There are a lot of places where we know we could be successful, i.e., Uganda, Ghana, Zambia, Rwanda, Mozambique, even Ethiopia. A country needs to be stable, have a private sector economy, and the climate, soil, and water conditions where irrigation makes sense.
As to Julia's question on the model -- yes, others have, and we are thrilled when they do. For example the Mulago Foundation built their Rainer Arnhold Fellows program to help social entrepreneurs develop sustainable social enterprise models that produce lasting impacts. A number of their fellows are using frameworks similar to ours, and we continue to work with early stage social entrepreneurs to help them flesh out their models. In addition we built our private sector market-based model based on our studies of both failed and a few successful development projects and for example IDE is an organization from which we learnt a lot.
But when we started in 1991, the idea of using private sector models to address poverty was still heresy. Now it's the Social Enterprise movement. So it is very gratifying to see these methods adapted to a wide range of geographies and sectors -- including health care and education.
Boston student: Congratulations on this award! What are your thoughts on how MoneyMaker pumps and other affordable technology can get into the hands of even more people who could use them? Have you considered partnering with other large NGOs, private companies, national governments, or multilaterals like the UN or World Bank in order to increase access to KickStart's technologies?
MF: Yes, indeed. About half of our annual sales in the past two years (and a total of more than 30,000 units to date) have been sold to other NGOs (and UN agencies such as the WFP and the FAO) who use them in their programs. We've ramped up production to meet this large and growing demand. We can ship to anywhere in the world -- so if there are any other NGOs who think the MoneyMaker pump could help with their efforts, let us know. You can submit an inquiry on our website http://www.kickstart.org/products/how-to-buy/. Our team in Nairobi will get back to you.
Cookee Belen (Guyana): My kindest thoughts for all the good your company has achieved and intended. What are the plans, if any, to increase the percentage of the farmers in Africa to whom your product can be made available? This is both in terms of expanding market reach and making your product more accessible and affordable to a greater % of your target market. Many thanks and blessings!
MF: Thank you, Cookee. The ways we plan to expand are to reach more people in countries where we are already operating, to grow into additional new countries, and to continue to work with NGOs worldwide.
Lowering the barrier to entry is a big goal for us. While the $35 Hip Pump is a great entry point, we'd love to lower the cost, so we can sell it for $25. We are working hard to develop an effective financing mechanism as well as find new and more effective ways of marketing.
We are still a small organization -- only 260 people total in four countries (just five of us in the U.S.), and these are BIG projects, but we have now sold over 115,000 pumps and are making progress on all fronts.
Boston student: Do you have ideas for growing your impact beyond the pumps that KickStart can directly sell through its retail network?
MF: Interesting question, and there are a few ways I can interpret it, so let me offer a couple of answers:
We reach beyond our own borders by selling our pumps in quantity to other NGOs working worldwide. We also have a few private sector wholesalers/distributors in countries like Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi and Zambia -- where we don't otherwise work.
"We reckon there are 40 million families worldwide who could use pumpslike ours. The big limitations in our growth are time and money."As we reach out to the next group of "adopters," we expect that the average increase in income will fall (we suspect that these later adopters will be less entrepreneurial), so we are considering adding some additional services (like basic farming advice) to help these farmers earn the maximum return on their investment.
Boston student: How big can KickStart get through its own growth? Isn't your own growth rate necessarily limited? Do you think you'll reach a tipping point with this technology, and if so, when?
MF: Yes, thank you for asking this. We do think we will reach a tipping point and, for us, that means we'll reach a point where sales really take off, and there will be broad understanding and recognition of this new technology. Two very important things will happen when we reach this point. First, we'll be able to reduce our marketing cost and sell our pumps at a full profit. Those profits will be reinvested in developing new markets and new technologies. But more exciting is that every family who uses a pump to create a business will do so without requiring a single additional donor dollar. That's pretty world-changing!
We are probably about five years from this point in Kenya and a bit further in Tanzania and Mali. We are also proving in an experiment -- with intensive marketing in a small region of Kenya -- that we can greatly accelerate knowledge and sales of the pumps thru more intensive promotion activities.
As to limits of our growth? Yes and no. We reckon there are 40 million families worldwide who could use pumps like ours. The big limitations in our growth are time and money. We could do a lot more with a lot more money. Money "buys" additional staff, which would increase the "time" we have. Over the past few years, we've transitioned out of our startup mode where most of the planning and decisions and management were done by Nick and me. We've brought on a lot of excellent senior managers, but time is still scarce.
We are also greatly extending our reach thru our sales to other NGOs and players around the world.
Leila (Virginia): Congratulations on winning OneWorld's Person of the Year! Do you have any plans for expanding KickStart into other industries, such as textiles, manufacturing, etc.?
MF: We moved into irrigation in the mid-1990s because we saw that it offered the greatest potential for business and income generation for the largest number of people (80 percent of Africa's poor are rural farmers). We've basically just scratched the surface and that's why we'll stay focused on this for the foreseeable future.
But we would love to see other industries and sectors pick up our model.
Miriam Mannak (South Africa): I have traveled Africa extensively and currently living in South Africa. What I have often seen is that donated equipment, whether it be tractors or machinery, falls in disrepair and stays in disrepair because people have no idea how to fix and maintain the equipment that they were given.
I was wondering: How are the pumps maintained? Are you training local people?
MF: Miriam, I am so glad to see this comment. My initial experience in Africa was the same -- broken down pumps, tractors and windmills and generators. It was that experience that made me, as an engineer, want to really understand why these efforts failed, when they sound so good (i.e. My club is giving a tractor to a village!).
It made me realize that we are all the same no matter where we live. It's the tragedy of the commons -- if "everyone" owns something, then really no one owns it. No one has the responsibility to care for it. Communal ownership sounds lovely, but it does not work unless there is a way to extract the resources for maintenance (like property taxes providing for the upkeep of a local playground).
This is why our pumps are designed with a number of hard-and-fast criteria. They are designed for individual ownership. They are designed so that they can be maintained without ANY tools. And they are designed so that the parts that will wear out can be easily and cheaply replaced.
A retail shop that sells MoneyMaker pumps and replacement parts. Â©Â KickStartFor instance, the piston cups on our pumps will eventually wear out. Because we have a permanent retail outlet in the community, a farmer can go to the store, buy a new set for a few dollars (remember they are already making good money, so this is not a hardship) and replace them with their bare hands.
We try to design so that these efforts are as intuitive as possible. The pumps come with an instruction manual. We have reps at the store who will demonstrate. We even have a customer service line people can call (a cell phone will be one of the first things people buy when they have the means).
Remember in the countries we work we have over 450 retail outlets that sell our pumps and spare parts so they are available in every market place, town, and city.
Miriam Mannak (South Africa): Hi Martin, it is Miriam again. I just realized that while being in the DRC in December, I have seen one of your foot pumps. It was at Jacaranda farm in Lubumbashi. It is a small world :)
MF: Hey, great news! I am not surprised. For a number of years people have been coming over the border into Zambia and buying from a retailer there and taking them back to the DRC. And we have more recently established a few new dealerships actually in Lubumbashi.
Carlos Arango (Switzerland): Hello Martin and congratulations on your award winning and the remarkable work you have been doing. I am an irrigation engineer with years of experience in Latin America, the mediterranean basin, middle and near east. Browsing the web and having learnt more about Kickstart and treadle pumps, I miss the link to drip irrigation in your activities, why is it so? I am sure you know about the efforts of IDE, IDEI, SDC of Switzerland and the SIMI network; wouldn't it be interesting for your efforts to go drip irrigation for small scale farmers? Please elaborate! I wish you and your organisation a successful year 2009.
MF: Thanks Carlos, this is another question we get asked a lot. Drip may make a lot of sense in the places where you've worked if water is very scarce. But for the vast majority of our farmers, drip does not make as much sense. First of all, there is the additional cost of drip. It is still even with IDEs efforts pretty expensive. It's also kind of "fiddly" requiring training to install and a lot of time and maintenance. And, it still requires a pump to get the water out of a well and pump it into an above ground container to get the pressure head required to make drip work.
When our farmers first start out, they have a few things in abundance, notably time and labor.When our farmers first start out, they have a few things in abundance, notably time and labor. And most of them have access to a permanent water source -- a shallow well, river, pond, spring, etc. So one person operates the pumps and another walks between the rows of plants with the outlet hose. It is a very efficient use of water. Not only is it directed where it is needed (not flood or channel irrigation), because it's human powered, they don't use any more water than is needed.
When they have a little more money, and have some higher value activity to attend to, they might invest in some sprinklers, or just hire some neighbors to do the watering.
In my mind drip is only appropriate in situations where water is either in very short supply, very hard to get, or very expensive to get. If you are pulling water from a deep well with a bucket, carrying water a long way to your field, using a rain catchment with limited water, or paying for water delivery. Otherwise, if you have an adequate shallow water source to irrigate from and a good pump, drip is an expensive and difficult to use add-on.
And surprisingly drip does not always even save water. As I explained above, our pump's very efficient "pressurized hosepipe irrigation" allows the water to be sprayed directly on to the crops or delivered straight to the roots of the plants. And when I was recently examining low cost drip systems in India I found they were using as much water per acre as our pump farmers.
So while low-cost drip is certainly useful in situations with scare and expensive water there is still a huge potential for farmers to use pumps without the expense and complication of drip.
Anonymous OneWorlder: Have you noticed differences between countries in what is required to help people get enterprises off the ground?
MF: Not really. What we've found is that the poorest people in the world are amazingly entrepreneurial. Once you convince them that our pumps are a great opportunity, they do the rest.
When we expanded into Tanzania, we were told that a long history of socialism had killed any entrepreneurial spirit and that our model wouldn't work. They were wrong! So many years of waiting for the government to deliver made people hungry for an opportunity to take care of themselves.
We were told that we couldn't work in Mali -- far too poor. And yet we are thriving there, too.
Jennifer Chesworth: You received my vote for the OneWorld Person of the Year award, so obviously I admire your work.
I would like to hear your thoughts about water quality and quantity issues. Obviously, your technologies for irrigation are truly helpful. Does your company see any problems in areas employing your technologies, especially in regard to future reserves, of over-use of water or of potential lack of sufficient water in the future? Do you see any potential pitfalls in regard to pressure for water for irrigation via adequate amounts of clean, potable water? If so, how do you anticipate addressing these problems? Although for farming it's difficult to recycle water, in most farm product and food processing systems recycling is possible and advisable. Does your work include water recycling systems and technologies? Also, I am wondering if you are familiar with the work of Ocean Arks. It seems as though your two organizations in concert could offer some synergistic solutions to the problems of water quantity and quality in arid and in contaminated areas.
Thank you for your life's work.
MF: Jennifer, a lot of good questions here, so let me break them out...
Efficiency and Supply of Water
Our pumps pull from surface sources or shallow aquifers, and both of these are recharged by the annual rainfall. Because our pumps are human powered, there is a built-in limitation to over use. And as explained above, the "pressurized hosepipe irrigation" ensures that the watering itself is very water efficient. So no one pumps any more water than they need!
There is no doubt that climate change is affecting Africa. The rains have not stopped, but the patterns are changing, which is creating real problems for farmers. Water harvesting is already common in some areas and will likely become more important for more people in the near future. We need more work on low cost and effective ways to catch rainfall and to slow surface run-off to give the rainfall a chance to percolate down into the aquifers.
Competition for Water Rights
I think your question is about farmers pumping dry an aquifer that provides clean drinking water. Like I said, there is a limit to how much someone will pump. The shallow aquifers are replenished by the rain. And such aquifers do quite often get deeper in the dry season and closer to the surface in the rainy season. And certainly pumping any extra water from them may accelerate this effect. But since our pumps only reach 7 meters depth any water from a deeper depth could still be used with a bucket for drinking water. Farmers with wells dig them on their own farms and with manual pumps it would take many hundreds of people drawing from the same aquifer to cause a permanent lowering of the aquifer.
In addition well water is not necessarily the first choice for many farmers. Many will have some surface source they can use without the expense or work of digging a well. These are often muddy, brackish, or otherwise suspect as a source of drinking water, so that cuts down on competition as well.
Water Quantity vs. Quality
We often get included in the drinking water sector because we make pumps. But for us, water is the fuel for the economic engine that is agriculture. Our pumps can certainly be used to provide potable water, and many of our farmers say that it's like having piped water, but that is only a secondary benefit.
Kenya, using water carefully. Â©Â Pact, IncBut to those who are committed to providing clean water, I say this. A very poor family is very unlikely to spend the money to dig their own household well -- even if they have to walk 10 km to fill their jerry cans every day. Unless they have a good way of making money the opportunity cost of the saved time is simply too small. And even the purest drinking water from a protected well will have little health impacts if the family does not have enough water for basic sanitation. If you don't have enough water to wash your hands it is very hard to stay healthy.
But give the family an economic incentive to dig a well (use the water to irrigate crops for sale and increase your income), and they will find a way to dig the well, get water to grow food and make money, have enough water to wash their hands, etc. more often and have more and cleaner water to drink.
For guidance on drinking water issues, I turn to my friends at Aquaya. These guys are brilliant!
donsayre, insideiso.com, (New Mexico): You have written that most international development efforts focus on easing the consequences of poverty instead of offering a means to develop a way out of poverty. You suggest these are failed practices. What alternative models do you propose? What would it take to apply these models elsewhere in the world?
MF: I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but if an organization's claim is to "end" or "alleviate" poverty, and the best they can do is a lessening of a burden, then they are failing. If an organization says "we want to make global poverty a little less awful," then lessening a burden is a success. The failure is in the mismatch of the stated goal and mission and outcome.
Nick and I built KickStart to overcome some of the basic and profound failures we found in both the philosophical approach (seeing poor people as victims) and practical effort (community owned assets, giveaways). We are not the only ones with this world view, but I'd say we are in the minority in the development world.
We need to get past our love for the "cool and clever" and the "warmand fuzzy" to find those efforts that are doing proven, cost effective,sustainable and scalable things. As we say at KickStart, "Real Good.Not Feel Good."There is too much of "us" giving "them" what "we" think "they" need. Like a fish farm given to the nomadic Samburu people in arid northern Kenya (true story!). Or worse, "us" giving only what "we" want to give regardless of what's needed. (What? Your young men are unemployed? Sorry the donors want a women-only training program).
You ask what it would take to change this. Very little and an awful lot.
It would not be hard to demand as funders and implementers a rigorous and unvarnished connection between mission, model, and measure. You want to reduce malaria? Great. But don't tell us about your success based only on the number of bed nets you gave out. That tells us nothing. Go out and measure the proper use of those nets. Measure the pre and post incidence of malaria and prove that you are cost effectively reducing the number of people suffering and dying from malaria.
Likewise, I challenge the microfinance community to stop measuring their success based on the repayment rate of their loans. They say that their borrowers use their money to start profitable businesses. Great! How profitable? And who else is being displaced by their success? Moving from $1/day to $1.50/day is an increase, but is it getting people out of poverty or just making it a little easier for them to survive? Making life easier is certainly a good thing but it is not the same as lifting people out of poverty. And if everyone is doing petty trade and some get loans to increase their businesses -- what happens to those who don't? We need to look at these types of questions in more detail.
We need to get past our love for the "cool and clever" and the "warm and fuzzy" to find those efforts that are doing proven, cost effective, sustainable and scalable things. As we say at KickStart, "Real Good. Not Feel Good."
Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation and I wrote the following paper on how to tell the difference: http://www.kickstart.org/news/2008/03/real-good-not-just-feel-good.php.
donsayre, insideiso.com, (New Mexico): Sustainability -- the term has yet to hold a common definition; in fact, I chair the Sustainable Systems Working Group of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (U.S.) currently holding a global conversation for 1) the current, 2) correct, and 3) complete definition of sustainability and sustainable development. You live them, breathe them, pump them both into thousands of individual lives. Your input and a dialogue with you, your colleagues, your customers and clients are welcomed and invited -- the world could use a valid meaning we agree on, arrived at by global consensus.
MF: That is a useful goal. "Sustainability" is one of those words that means something different to every person who uses it and, unfortunately, that has blunted and dulled its meaning.
I don't think that it is necessarily bad that one word changes its meaning based on context but it does lead to a lot of misunderstandings.
Will the people who have been helped, stay helped? Or will the benefit go away when the donors do?From an environmental perspective, it is about the consumption of resources. When a funder uses "sustainability" they usually mean "when will you stop asking me for money?" Both are fair and valid issues. It is unfortunate that they use the same term.
In my view, the most important question to ask about "sustainability" is about the lasting benefit and impacts of an effort when there is no more outside/donor funding. Will the people who have been helped, stay helped? Or will the benefit go away when the donors do? And can other people who live in the same geographical area also avail themselves of the solution without additional costs? And it turns out that there are only four different ways in which this can happen -- see the paper referenced in the previous question.
Renee K. (Washington, DC): Your water pump, solar stoves, water purifiers are among the new technologies I am hearing about now. Are you getting support from NGO's, the World Bank etc. seems that technology on this scale makes a lot more sense than massive dams and hydroelectric projects that are being proposed for East Africa. What can I do to help these small scale, manageable efforts grow?
MF: Thanks Renee! I am not sure we offer an alternative to massive hydroelectric dams or other major infrastructure projects such as roads and ports -- which are certainly still needed to fully develop a country's economy. These types of projects still require large scale support from the World Bank and Bilateral donors -- but certainly the world still needs to learn how to make this kind of support more effective and more corruption proof.
However, KickStart is providing an alternative to community irrigation and water schemes. I built and ran one of the largest rural water programs in Kenya before I founded KickStart. But unfortunately, it did not take long for the majority of the systems we built (community wells/pumps, protected springs, etc) to break down. And Africa is literally littered with hundreds of thousands of broken down community water points. It is the "tragedy of the commons" that makes community systems so hard to maintain -- why should I maintain it if you are going to use it, and why should you if I am?
Kenyan farmer Maurice Simatei has dramatically improved his family's standard of living since purchasing a MoneyMaker pump. Â©Â KickStartWe are providing a way to develop a dynamic and entrepreneurial middle class -- who start and grow highly profitable family businesses. They invest in and maintain their own water systems and they make money doing it. No country has, or can, develop without a growing middle class and growing small businesses. All we do is make the tools and equipment needed to start highly profitable small business, commonly known and easily available, to poor but dynamic farmers.
It is also important to remember that not all small scale technologies are the same. And not all are useful just because they are small. As I learnt in my many years doing this work a poor person in Africa's number one need, is (just like a poor person anywhere) "a way to make more money." And unless a technology can help them meet that need it is unlikely to be widely accepted. So for example solar stoves are usually promoted so that "we" can help "save the environment" in developing countries by stopping people cutting down trees, and also save women from spending so long collecting firewood. They are not promoted so that a poor person can make more money (or even "save money" -- since the majority of the poor don't buy firewood) by using a solar stove. These other goals are worthy, but the facts are a problem. Solar stoves cost money for a poor person to buy and maintain, they only enable them to cover a small portion of their cooking needs, they require that they change their diet and eating times, and unless there is a way to spend the time they save "making money," the "opportunity cost" of the labor they save is usually very low. In addition, it turns out that firewood collection for cooking rarely involves cutting down and killing whole trees. So the vast majority of solar cooker projects have not worked well.
Fuel efficient charcoal stoves on the other hand (they burn 40 percent less charcoal) are a very useful technology and have really taken off. People buy charcoal, and by spending an extra $1.50 on an improved stove they can "save" a lot of money each year. In general the poor are willing to spend a bit to "save money" and a lot more to "make money." Irrigation pumps enable a buyer to make a lot of money and create jobs in their communities.
But you do get to an important point -- scale. A lot of people don't think you can reach large scale with small, individually owned technologies, but we are proving that you can.
We do work with other NGOs, supplying them with pumps for their programs, but getting funding from big guys like the World Bank, bilaterals, and even some of the larger, more traditional foundations has been very hard. They like our pumps but don't "get" our model. We had one bilateral head tell us "we love your results, we just don't like your methods." As if one occurred without the other.
That's why I said to Don earlier -- to make a change requires very little and an awful lot. For instance, within the agricultural sector, we find very little understanding that water is an "agricultural input." Efforts continue to focus solely on agriculture as a way to fill empty bellies, with very little attention paid to the transformative economic power of small-scale farming.
How can you help? Spread the word. Learn to tell the difference between "Real Good" and "Feel Good," and don't be shy about pointing out the difference to others. And if and when you can, help organizations who are doing good work with donations to increase their impacts.
I am not trying to be confrontational, but poverty in Africa is deeper and wider than it was 40 years and trillions of dollars ago. Isn't it time to agree that the old ways are not working? Isn't it time to demand proven and sustainable results and to get behind the projects that can produce them?
Anonymous OneWorlder: Your intervention may be better than most, but why is any intervention necessary. Africans are creative in the most difficult circumstances available: surely, all that's needed is the right economic and political environment, then they'll do the rest for themselves?
MF: That question goes to the very core of our philosophy. The poorest people in the world are NOT victims. They do not want or need us to rescue them. They are the hardest working and most entrepreneurial people in the world. They have to be just to survive. Their number one need is a way to make more money, and if we provide the opportunity they will do the rest.
But your question is about the order in which these changes will come.
If you are starving and I am a politician, I can buy your support withsmall bag of maize flour. But if you have enough money to feed yourfamily, your loyalty won't be so easily bought.I know it's easy to read about the corruption and civil wars in Africa and think that it is hopeless. But let us all remember where the U.S. was 40 years after independence -- ending one war and heading toward our own Civil War.
The reality is African nations have only nominal democracy. It is very easy for a ruler to stay in power when they can buy a vote for a dollar. If you are starving and I am a politician, I can buy your support with small bag of maize flour. But if you have enough money to feed your family, your loyalty won't be so easily bought. You'll start demanding better roads and schools and clinics. And if I can't buy your vote with pocket change, I'll have to be more responsive to your needs to keep my job.
That's why we think that an entrepreneurial middle class needs to come first and better governance will follow.
And also remember that in the developed world the governments provide us with all sorts of subsidies as well as a favorable economic and political environment. The government builds and maintains roads, infrastructure, electricity and communication grids, the Internet, etc. And the governments here give tax breaks and subsidies to support all types of businesses from the Internet, to bio-technology, to solar -- and more recently to virtually every sector. The governments here also pay for quality education (both schools and higher education), research and development of all kinds, major farm subsidies and all sorts of small and large business assistance programs, etc. etc. Not to mention social security and Medicare and other social safety nets.
In Africa the governments have very little tax revenue. Only 7 percent of the labor force in Kenya is employed by the formal private sector and pays income tax, and even import and export taxes are limited. So even the best run and best meaning governments can't afford to provide all the support that is needed to build and develop a thriving economy. So they do in fact still need aid.
And what we at KickStart use the aid for is to overcome "market failures." We develop technologies and develop the markets for them so that we can provide opportunities to dynamic and entrepreneurial locals who can buy the technologies, start businesses, get ahead, and develop their countries. We don't provide "giveaways," only "opportunities." And once we have finished the "market development" and our technologies are as commonly known as bicycles and sewing machines, the local private sector will continue to make money selling the technologies and no more donor funds will be required at all.
Jon: Martin, Congratulations on all the people you have helped and making this world a better place!
I am a freshman in college in Minnesota. I'm not sure what i want to do with my life except i'm interested in traveling and making a difference in the world. I'm at a loss as to what to study. Any suggestions? What was your path like? Thanks and best of luck in the future.
MF: Hi Jon! I love your goal. Just know that you make a difference in the world in whatever field you chose. You don't need to be on the front lines. I think if you study what you love and do what you love, the rest will come.
For me, I grew up in an academic family. My dad was a physics professor at Cornell and both of my brothers followed him into the "family business." I rebelled by studying mechanical engineering, first at Cornell, then Stanford. I was really fortunate to have a lot of foreign students as friends, many from the developing world, and learning about their lives really intrigued me.
In a panic about the real world looming ahead, I went to Peru to trekin the Andes, and it was there that Ireally encountered developing world poverty first hand.But by the time I was just about to finish my Ph.D., I realized that the more education I got, the more limited my options became. I could work for big oil, defense, or go into academia. And really none of these appealed to me. In a panic about the real world looming ahead, I went to Peru to trek in the Andes (another great love of mine), and it was there that I really encountered developing world poverty first hand.
Of course, I was looking at the problem through the lens of an engineer, so I was thinking about technology and how the rising tide of technology had not lifted all boats. It made me wonder if poverty was a design problem.
I had found my life's calling in the Andes and rushed home to apply for a Fulbright fellowship. I wanted to go back to Peru but did not speak Spanish. I flipped through the book and saw that they spoke English in Kenya and really, that's how I ended up there. I was supposed to stay for 10 months and came home 17 years later.
What to study? Well, a traditional pathway would include agriculture and economics (preferably with a global focus). My pathway was engineering. The social enterprise pathway would be business, and certainly having a good understanding of finance and marketing would be important. And seek out international students and faculty, you'll learn a lot from them.
Miriam Mannak (South Africa): By the sounds of it, your project is a saving grace for many farmers. But what do you gain out of all this, apart from the OneWorld award?
MF: It is always nice to be recognized for your work. But I want to say that there are 261 paid staff who work for KickStart who have worked very hard to generate the impacts that we've achieved to date. In particular I started KickStart with Nick Moon and today he is in charge of our operations in Africa. And without him none of this would have been possible.
The real satisfaction comes from meeting a family who previously hadalmost nothing, and now, after buying an irrigation pump, is properlyfeeding their family, sending their children to school, building a newhouse and investing in their futures.Having the ideas is the easy part. Putting them into action takes a lot of work. Our numbers to date are a real testament to the commitment of our entire team.
You certainly can't get rich, but you can with enough hard work make a living doing this type of work. But the real satisfaction comes from meeting a family who previously had almost nothing, and now, after buying an irrigation pump, is properly feeding their family, sending their children to school, building a new house and investing in their futures.
Miriam Mannak (South Africa): What has been the greatest challenge / set back so far? And the greatest reward?
MF: It's always hard to be ahead of the curve. Nick and I were chased out of a large NGO for our radical ideas. We had lots of critics and even more doubters. Even now, our greatest supporters are not the traditional supporters of this kind of work in Africa. Our best supporters are looking for world changing ideas, and we are grateful to each and every one.
It took us over 10 years to really hit our stride and to build to a level of impact that made people take notice. It would have been very easy to get discouraged and demotivated along the way. I think what kept me inspired was the thrill of invention, innovation and discovery, and even more so, to meet many of the entrepreneurs using the tools that we designed and hearing their stories.
When I go out to the farms, the farmers don't say "oh thank you for saving my family." They say "this is the business I built. Let me introduce you to my son who is now in college, my daughter who is now in primary school." Their pride in their own accomplishments is what keeps me -- and all of us at KickStart -- pushing forward.
Miriam Mannak (South Africa): I am a writer for a international development publication. Would you be willing to be interviewed by me?
MF: I think I just was! But yes, of course, it would be a pleasure.