Why Give a Damn:

There are profitable virgin markets serving poor customers all over the world just waiting to be tapped; however, is it immoral to create a business that earns profits selling to the poor?

The author of this post, Paul Polak, has brought 20+ million farmers out of poverty. His work is dedicated to designing products for the 2.6 billion customers who live on less than $2/day.

There are at least 7 billion different perspectives on morality, but the viewpoint I like best defines sin as the failure to reach your potential.  Tweet This Quote

By this definition we have at least 2.6 billion deep sinners – the 37% of people in the world who live on less than $2 a day. They are the future Steve Jobs’, Mohandas Gandhis, Madame Curies and Pablo Picassos who will instead eke out a living as drug dealers, child soldiers, prostitutes and destitute slum dwellers.

The three trillion dollars or more we have wasted in misguided development aid probably represent an even bigger sin. But it seems to me that the worst sin of all is our abject failure to achieve scale for the handful of projects that have produced measurable positive impacts on the lives of poor people.

How can we successfully achieve scale? It takes planning and designing from the very beginning, and the unleashing of powerful positive market forces at the locations where poor people are buyers and sellers. The only way to unleash those forces is to demonstrate to global businesses that they can earn attractive profits selling transformative products to poor customers. This is exactly what I have dedicated the rest of my life to accomplishing.

But, I am not an economist. How do some of the world’s leading economists view the prospect of earning sizeable profits serving poor customers at scale?

Is it immoral to earn profits selling to poor customers?

“No!” says Milton Friedman, the celebrated free market economist.

“…there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” Friedman believes that a marketplace of enterprises earning profit within the rules is the most powerful lever to improve society.

“Yes!” says economist and Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus.

“Poverty should be eradicated, not seen as a money-making opportunity.” Yunus believes that investors in social businesses should only get their money back. In my view, that adds up to a sizable interest-free subsidy, which is a constraint to scale.

Why do I believe that the answer to extreme poverty is to earn attractive profits serving poor customers?

The microfinance movement and the work of iDE combined have probably helped about 50 million extremely poor people move out of poverty. Even if we have helped 100 million poor people move out of poverty, this amounts to less than 4% of the 2.6 billion people in the world who live on less than $2 a day. This is pitiful!

I define meaningful scale as any strategy or initiative capable of helping at least 100 million $2-a-day people move out of poverty by at least doubling their income. We desperately need to find ways to bring to scale the few comparatively successful models for development that are available.

What are the common features of initiatives that have truly helped extremely poor people move out of poverty?

  1. They begin by thoroughly listening to poor customers and thoroughly understanding the specific context of their lives.
  2. They design and implement ruthlessly affordable technologies or business models.
  3. Energizing private sector market forces plays a central role in their implementation.
  4. Radical decentralization is integrated into economically viable last mile distribution.
  5. Design for scale is a central focus of the enterprise from the very beginning.

It is clear that all of these factors are integral components of a business system, but this takes us back to the original question: should it be a business system that enhances the livelihoods of poor people without making a profit for outside investors? Or should it make a profit for investors as well as the poor people who are served by it?

The only way for a business to help at least 100 million poor people move out of poverty is to follow the laws of basic economics.  Tweet This Quote

To me the answer is obvious. The only way for a business to help at least 100 million poor people move out of poverty is to follow the laws of basic economics, which means providing an opportunity for both poor and rich investors to earn what they consider to be an attractive profit from their participation.

I have no doubt that there are huge profitable virgin markets all over the world serving $2 a day customers waiting to be tapped. By the laws of economics, creating a new market requires taking a very large risk, but the reward should be commensurate to the risk. If the new venture is successful, all the investors – the poor customer who buys the product, the shopkeeper who sells it, the company employee who makes or transports the product or manages the supply chain, and all the financial investors in the company – should make an attractive profit.

Here is an example: Coal contributes 40% of global carbon emissions and releases millions of tons of heavy metals and other pollutants every year, worsening climate change and sickening people around the world. Properly carbonized biomass can be substituted for coal and co-fired alongside it in proportions up to 80%. The world’s farmers produce four billion tons of agricultural waste each year. If 100 million tons of this agricultural waste could be effectively and affordably carbonized in decentralized rural settings, a multinational enterprise finding a cost-effective way to make it happen could reach global sales of $10 billion a year within five to ten years. Such a company would not only provide attractive profits to investors willing to take on the substantial risk involved, but would furthermore double the incomes of at least 100 million $2-a-day enterprise participants in developing countries.

The only way a company like this can reach scale is with the financial backing of for-profit venture investments. And the only way to justify those comparatively high-risk, early-stage investments is if the company provides the opportunity to make exceptionally good profits if it succeeds.

We have two options:

  • One is to keep hoping that governments will come through with billions of new aid dollars, keep asking individuals to dig deeper for charity dollars, and hope that the low-or-no-profit venture capital space takes off and becomes a truly global phenomenon. We could plod along full of hope but low on results, celebrating increases in impact of fractions of a percentage point.
  • The other option is to blend the designer’s sensibility, the artist’s creativity, the ground-level aid worker’s understanding of local context, and the entrepreneurs’ dynamism and drive for success, and create profitable global companies that serve poor customers with products and services that help them rise out of poverty. We could unleash the full power of the greatest force in human history – profit – and start ending poverty by the hundreds of millions.

It would be immoral to do anything else.

Burning Question:

Do you agree with Milton Friedman, Muhammad Yunus, or with Paul Polak? Why?

Update: Please watch this video to learn my thoughts on designing the future corporation.

This article is being re-featured today as a special “Throwback Thursday” post. We loved it so much, we wanted to make sure all of our new readers had a chance to read Paul’s article, (and share in the conversation).

About the author

Paul Polak

Paul Polak

Dr. Polak is Founder and CEO of Windhorse International, a for-profit social venture leading a revolution in how companies design, price, market and distribute products to benefit the 2.6 billion customers who live on less than $2 a day. He is an author of The Business Solution To Poverty and Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers.

  • Ron Garan

    I agree 100% with the notion that successful business practices can lead to substantial poverty reduction worldwide. I also think this has been the missing link and why we still face so many problems after countless years of philanthropy.

    I do need to correct one assertion of the post though.

    I am the scientific and technical advisor to the Social Business movement and a personal friend of its founder Prof. Muhammad Yunus. Prof. Yunus does not condemn profit making businesses. He does not assert that businesses that serves the poor cannot make a profit. The quote from Prof. Yunus in the post is taken out of context. What Prof. Yunus is actually saying (backed up by the same article cited) is that he thinks it’s wrong for businesses to grow rich by preying on and taking advantage of the poor. It is true that Prof. Yunus defines “Social Business” as a business that does not pay dividend or give a return on
    investment and all profits go back into the social or environmental good the
    business was created to achieve. But this type of business is to be seen one
    of the many entrepreneurial solutions available to choose from across the
    entire spectrum of available business options. Prof Yunus is not saying that
    his definition of social business is the only option. The only thing that he
    does condemn is businesses that take advantage of the plight of the poor. Any
    business that serves the poor should have somewhere in their calculation the
    long-term benefit of their impoverished customers – they should not be viewed as a resource to be exploited. This is good business…

  • natebbeard

    Ron, would you say Paul and Yunus take inherently different business approaches to address poverty? If so, do you think the main differentiating factor in their approaches is found in the ROI of a project to the stakeholders directly involved in the business development process? There seems to be a fine line between profit and exploitation that make people wary when businesses get involved in previously classified social problems, but do you think producing some type of dividend or return to investors and leadership would create a stronger demand for talent and creative solutions in this industry?

  • natebbeard

    Wal-Mart is an interesting example and analogy I haven’t really scrutinized from a social initiative. Thanks a bunch!
    I’m not sure we have to steer or regulate capitalism though, and maybe this is purely a futile challenge of word choice because we’re all saying the same thing. I feel like self interest is indulged in by short term returns that ultimately hurt the individual in many cases – directly and/or indirectly. So could you say that instead of regulation, capitalism can be best utilized by a long run understanding and far reaching goals that directly benefit the individual? Maybe humans just have a flawed understanding of what capitalism is at it’s core and have attributed externalities to capitalism because of this lack of systems understanding? (This is mainly from John Sterman’s work at MIT – not my own words exactly :)

  • Morgan Dowd

    I think there are many businesses today that are reaping from the poor. However, it is moral to do so only if the benefits outweigh the cost. Taking away money for no reason is one thing. Using money for their behalf AND making a profit is another. I know their are companies that exist today with that idea of providing a product to help individuals reach a goal. Those are the types of companies I can stand behind!

  • katie yanke

    Morgan, I agree with you that companies that use their profits to help the poor is beneficial and something I stand behind too. It was definitely eye opening to learn how many people live on only $2 a day. Thanks for the article Paul!

  • Ron Garan

    Nate speaking for myself, I personally think it is OK to find profitable ways to serve the poor. Not only is OK, it is really the only sustainable path to poverty alleviation. What you do with that profit is a question. I also don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with distributing that profit to investors but I prefer to invest and I prefer to be involved with companies that use that profit to expand their operations (and the good they are providing) and use the profit to create more social and environmental good. There’s also no reason why companies that choose to act in this manner can’t pay competitive wages to their employees in an effort to attract the best talent.

  • Kait Harman

    This could be quite a debatable topic but everyone should be aware of each side of an argument. All though I believe it is pitiful to make only $2 dollars a day I do not believe we should not sell to poor people? A customer is a customer in my eyes. It is sad seeing countries, cities and people live in poverty but our world will never be equal. It never has and it probably will never be.

  • Tyler Steinmetz

    I agree with Mr. Paul Polak completely that we should use business practices that help reduce the poverty level around the world. I really believe that big corporations should not be receiving profits from the poorest people in the world, but in reality, someone must get paid. The investors should make a profit, but I really think that the poor people that are served by the companies should receive some of the profit as well. This is such a touchy subject to me because I really believe that we should not be earning money from people that are making under $2 a day. Sometimes this is the easiest crowd to sell to but I do not think we should take advantage of the worlds most disadvantaged individuals. How long do you think it will take to see companies such as Coca-Cola and Walmart to suffer from the same fate that GM had?

  • nvuong

    Aid, as it were, is not just giving people money to fix their problems. Aid should be teaching that man how to work to bring money home. Teaching marketable skills, and helping to develop serviceable communities. If people make profits while doing this, who cares?

  • Caitlin Donohue

    I agree with this article. I don’t think it’s bad or unethical to sell things to poor customers. They’re going to buy things anyway so why not be the one to sell it to them? One positive thing is making whatever they want/whatever other people have more affordable for them.

  • jack lomax

    it’ll never be equal with an outlook like that! lol
    But in all seriousness you are right. We have the POTENTIAL to be equal, but the level of greed in the world, and the lack of cohesiveness and common goals on a global scale means priorities aren’t “lets end poverty”, its more “lets see who can make the best phone” (when they are all the same anyway!) and “lets see who can make the most money”. It’s disappointing that we have the means and the potential to change the world, but we won’t. And that sucks.

  • Matthew McDonald

    In economics, the market decides. I believe the entrepreneurs who can make a profit should do what they do. However, responsibility needs to be had. I don’t advocate proliferating capitalism just so we can make more money. I believe it should be a responsibility of ours to create value in markets by helping the poor, rather than exploiting them. Then, the markets will grow.

  • WolfgramKA06

    Thank you for this article. It’s great to see that we can make a difference to the less fortunate by helping them live off of their $2/day. It’s difficult to understand how the economy is so misguided at times. My question to you is, how do you think your ideas of helping these “poor customers” over the next few years? Do you see innovations with technology or certain products that can help in a greater way?

  • schrammjm26

    This is a the best article I have seen on here for creating discussion because it is so controversial. If everyone had the mindset to take care of everyone then it would be realistic to eradicate poverty and allow everyone equal opportunity. In my opinion however this is nothing more than a dream. I obviously have a bias opinion because I was brought up with a family that provided me with more than enough in my life, live has also taught me that you cannot make everyone happy. I have learned to focus on helping those who I care about and have personal connections with and I would rather make a life changing impact on one person I care about than a microscopic impact on millions. I realize that this is selfish and maybe my perspective would change if I were in a position to help millions, when it comes down to business though, money will always be the bottom line. I find that there is a strong element of Darwinism in human nature and I believe it will always be there. Some people are gifted with the passion and resources to help millions but the majority of the world will be perfectly content with helping the people that are closest to them. There will always be a cost to any business and more times than not those in less fortunate positions will end up paying the price. This is simply the price that must be paid to evolve as a race. Every other species aside from humans are still in existence because the strong come together through primal instincts to ensure their survival. From a logical and non-emotional standpoint this is what humans should do for the betterment of the human race. From an emotional stand-point this would be morally wrong and irresponsible. There is no clear right or wrong here.

  • jeffrey schilling

    Not only is it imoral, but in gods eye aa true sin against humanity itself, and that is why this world as we know it is headed straight to hell in a handbasket and just as well since nobody seems to want to speend a damned red cent to make it more livable planet!!!!!

  • aulm92

    Matthew, I was trying to put my thoughts into post when i came across your post. I really think you hit the nail on the head, it is our responsibility to create value and help the poor and by doing so the markets will grow and everyone will profit.

  • Max Rude

    This is what I believe also. We can still sell to a poor customer if we can take pride in what we are selling. Why would anyone be morally wrong to sell an item of worth to a customer who needs/will buy it regardless.

  • amykahl8

    I think that if someone was targeting poor people to sell his products to in a dishonest way that would be very immoral. However, since you want to provide them with business opportunities and help them move out of poverty, this is obviously a positive thing. My only question is how exactly can you get them to trust you?

  • Leija2014

    I agree with your comment! We are all consumers, so why not be the one to sell them products. I think the true sin is making money and not giving back. If I made so much discretionary income from the poor, I would donate to their charities.

  • amandatwolf

    I can see how business operations in poor areas are a controversial topic. Ultimately though, I see no reason why it would be inherently immoral to cater to a poor market. Ultimately, it’s the buyers choice if they decide to purchase something and providing a poor target market with a good that could potentially improve their lives seems like a positive thing. Of course, context is important to consider as well. As long as the business isn’t exploiting the people or doing anything to make their living standards any worse, I see no reason why this would be immoral.

  • Caitlin Donohue

    Yes, that’s a good idea to do as well. Possibly even give to a charity that somehow touches the people you are selling too. That could build a great relationship!

  • kalscheuar30

    At first I wasn’t going to read this article because it looked long. However, I really dug the title so I continued. I thought it was awesome how you acknowledged that people in poverty have the potential to be successful but instead living their lives as drug dealers, child soldiers, etc. That’s the reality, from first hand experience I know what it’s like being a dealer, thief, and con due to lack of money and opportunity. Is it immoral to earn attractive profits from the poor? Yes, if you’re some a$$hole only looking to benefit yourself. That my friend is a way you’ll get robbed at gun point, or have your house broken into :). However, your approach is beneficial to everybody and is beyond admirable. Taking the time to listen to poor customers and doing something to help them, that’s anything but immoral. It’s immoral not to help them. How are people going to get out of poverty (legally) with out an opportunity!? My question is did you originally approach this in order to do good AND help the poor? I read your whole article but I’m curious, what was your TRUE originally intention?

  • eeki

    fine but let´s talk about profit sharing. who wins?

  • lex_alwaysMIA

    I agree, what was the true intent of this article? When you read an
    article or hear issues addressed to the poor, there is no positivity
    about it. Poor neighborhoods and communities are blamed for higher
    taxes, property values decreasing, and other discriminative attributes.
    If you put anybody in a situation and it’s based upon survival, you see
    these actions. In the United States, everything revolves around money,
    power, and respect. The rich will continue to gain while the poor is
    penalized for their financial status. Great article, I hope your intent
    was genuine.

  • masterdan55

    Thanks for posting this article! Had some good insights and was brought out some good conversation within my friends. People in poverty need all the help they can get. What is the first step to helping communities in a poverty ridden area?

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  • Steven Bichler

    This article made me think in new ways. In one hand it is very businesses right to make money, thats what they are meant to do. However their are certain morals that you just shouldn’t break. I stand on the fence on this issue, all sides have very valid points as to why theirs make sense.

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  • evillarr6

    I don’t have any moral opposition to earning honest profits from those in poorer areas. No one is forcing people to buy goods/services from these new businesses. Also, creating businesses in poorer areas could increase job opportunities for those struggling.

  • Murugi Kaniaru

    This is an interesting question to consider. I do not believe it is immoral to sell to those in poor communities because the nature of the free market is buying and selling. However, I do believe it is immoral to exploit a community group if one is aware of the financial state of that group.

  • anujaya

    I don’t think there is anything immoral about profiting from a poor group of people as long as you’re doing it honestly. Honestly in the sense, selling products and services at a reasonable cost, treating the customers with respect, and not causing significant turmoil in the communities you operate in. But these are things that a business owner should think about when selling to the top 1% as well. It’s just good business ethics.

    Also, I like the quote, “We should let some people get rich first,” by Deng Xiaoping. The way most countries have developed, the poor get richer and rise to form a middle class as the previous middle class and upper classes move up and get even wealthier. Is it perfect? I don’t think so. But, from everything I’ve seen, that’s how economics and people work.

  • Bangyan Zhang

    With my opinion, I think it is not immoral. However, helping people, improving their life, bringing something really useful for those people. Those are the critical purpose for companies to earn money. Profits is business. But if we can bring happiness to those persons who are poor, it is an amazing business as well. Earning money and bring happiness. It should be business.

  • Paul Townsend

    I agree with the author of this posting. I believe that both the business and the poor are to profit. The poor cannot be helped unless the business is sucessful. If an organization keeps putting out and giving out but nothing is put back into the business like profit, in the long run the business will fail and there will be no more help for the poor.

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  • cdcraig

    While I don’t necessarily believe it’s immoral to bring in high profits from poor consumers, I do think that it is definitely the opposite of what a business should be doing. As a large business with potential to affect your consumers in either a very good or very bad way, I would only assume, and hope, that they would want to do most anything possible to influence their customers in a very positive way. With this being said, they should either fully educate their customers of what exactly their product is, if it’s not a necessity, as well as only gear their marketing campaigns to those who can afford to buy what ever they want.

  • hirthjp18

    I agree with you Ron. I think its an effective way to actually help the poor. Its been done in the past by mass producing items at a cheaper price so the poor could can afford. Not only did it make money off the poor but it better their way of life.

  • thomas kearney

    I don’t think it is immortal to earn honest points. I think the fact that a lot of people have come to the realization that we won’t ever be able to end poverty completely can make people become discouraged. I do think that there are a lot of people who still want to make a difference and still devotes a lot of effort into trying to lessen the effects of poverty in society. I think the more people that join this effort the less people will starve each and everyday.

  • ReneeBinder

    This article gives me a lot of mixed feelings. I’m not sure how I feel about making a profit at the expense of the poor. I think its great to help the poor out and help them to a better life, but I’m not sure someone should be getting rich doing it. I see Walmart brought up in the comments below. What they do I don’t completely agree with because of how they treat their employees. Many mixed feelings.

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  • pouls29

    You can’t get something from nothing. Not being able to make a profit in efforts to help the poor seems illogical to me. If I wanted to help eradicate poverty, I would need something to sustain myself, let alone those that depend on me. If I can’t make any money while serving the poor, then I too become poor and dependent, and that helps no one.

  • pouls29

    I can see your point about the expense the company incurs in order to go to market. However, if the employees were treated “better”, would that make Walmart a more palatable company to support? If a company can produce goods/services that the poor can take advantage of, while bringing them out of poverty, and provide a good source of income for the employees, then I have no problem with the company leaders becoming rich.

  • pouls29

    If there is exploitation going on, wouldn’t that mean fraudulent business practices were going on, therefore the company would be penalized or closed? If the product/service being provided truly benefits the customer(the poor), then I see no exploitation going on independent of the financial state of any group.

  • Matt48085

    I personally think there are different situations that require different approaches to businesses and charities. If your sole mission is to feed the homeless, then I don’t think you should be a for profit entity. On the other hand, if you supply a good for the poor and you distribute said good you will need a sales force, logistics, inventory, suppliers etc. and they all have to be paid. Being a for profit company that serves the poor is not by definition a bad thing as long as they are not exploiting the poor for extraordinary profit. If capital is needed to expand the company and provide their product to more households I see nothing wrong with turning a profit to continue growth. My example would be oil companies in the U.S. versus Goodwill, they both service the poor (not just the poor, but as part of their market) but Goodwill uses it’s profits to expand their stores and provide employment for people with troubled pasts and the homeless. The do what they do to help people. Oil companies mean while get huge tax subsidies from the government, and yet were posting billion dollar profits while the economy crashed in 2006-2008 and people were loosing their homes and cars. That to me is wrong.

  • Bryan Parrish

    I was going to use a similar analogy to yours, and I do agree with you on most levels. Big oil is forcing all other competing out of the various markets, or just making it illegal to use (such as hemp) while claiming they provide discounted services for the impoverished areas. Where I differ with you is Goodwill. They are a for-profit organization, and the CEO makes six figures many times over. While they do provide the services you stated, they also exploit the poor and use them as a way to gain donations that are then turned for a profit. It is a great business model though. They get lots of free stuff, so they never have to purchase any inventory, and they sell all they get for pure profit. If you were to look into their tax records, you would see them earning a great deal of money, and only give a very small percentage back to those “poor” communities they claim to service. To me, this is highly immoral, but such is capitalism.

  • danphaw

    The only in which people have demonstrably been lifted out of poverty in this world has been through attracting business investment with the promise of making a profit. The article could have stopped at this statement.

    “To me the answer is obvious. The only way for a business to help at least 100 million poor people move out of poverty is to follow the laws of basic economics, which means providing an opportunity for both poor and rich investors to earn what they consider to be an attractive profit from their participation.”

    African economist Dambisa Moyo wrote a book years ago called Dead Aid that described how aide to Africa has actually increased poverty.

  • joconne4

    In a way, I can see how businesses serving the poor can help. Sure it means them using what little money they have, but if the system is set up right, that can help build them up. If there was a segment of the market devoted to offering a range of products and services at viable prices for those who make very little money, quality of life would increase in general. I would say one of the biggest factors that keeps some people from elevating themselves in life are the needs for basic necessities. If you cannot live a comfortable enough life, how can anyone focus on anything beyond just getting through the day?

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  • GSonDUBS

    I personally don’t think it will bring as many people as they claim out of poverty, it will help but at the same time, I believe this will create the effect of “Rich get richer, poor get poorer.” In all honesty, I don’t think it hurts to try and I think it’s a reasonable idea/theory.

  • awither1

    I agree with you, to me I feel like the richer will get more rich just as you said and the poor instead of becoming more rich, will become even more poor.

  • conner_faulkner

    I dont believe it is immoral to make a profit. It might be able to create a better infrastructure and take the area out of poverty.

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  • Shae Moyano

    I agree with Milton Friedman when saying, it is not immoral to earn profits selling to poor customers, because that is the chance some people have to not be poor the themselves. They worked hard to get what they have and what they most likely sell is for the rich people. It is for the people who need help with things. If poor people didn’t have a small business to sell stuff and make money then everyone will be poor. And I also partially agree with Muhammad Yunis. People do need to be educated with poverity but I don’t think it means to not sell to the poor.

  • pouls29

    I would agree with you in hopes that the intentions of businesses beyond making a profit were to benefit mankind. I think therein lies the challenge; to identify those companies masquerading as do-gooders where their products can indirectly affect society negatively. For example, the tobacoo companies. How long were they marketing to the public about their products when they knew the health risks associated with their products.

    But I believe that it’s not the business’s responsibility to determine if the consumer “needs” their product or not. It’s the consumer’s. Part of the business’s strategy should know and understand the market conditions as it relates to their product. If there is a demand, they should provide the product/solution. If not, it wouldn’t be the best decision to push to market.

  • january26throwaway

    Apparently, society in general doesn’t think it odd to produce the majority of products by underpaying poor people. Its hard to say though, since in any capitalist society, profit is essential and one man’s profit is another mans’ loss. The current markets really rigged though. There’s no competition, and it has made us all poor.

  • Bill Alsobrook

    Emotionally I can identify with Yunus, but that is it. When actually operating in reality and logically, Yunus’ ideas, like communism, simply cannot work. Think about this logically for a second, you cannot eliminate poverty in this world…it is an impossibility. Even if EVERYONE in the world were to have a minimum salary of $1,000,000 USD per annum, the poverty level would also jump proportionately, ie now instead of $20,000 a year being the benchmark for poverty the number would increase to 1.5 million. We could all be multi millionaires but this would be an artificial title.

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  • Jeremy Rhone

    I agree with this. If the product or service benefits the poor, then this benefit can help bring them out of poverty. Polak mentions that the idea should be a step towards doubling the $2/day income. If this can be achieved, then the economy of the entire area can improve. I have no moral dilemma with making a profit if I’m providing a means for such changes. I feel that the difficult part of enacting this would be the distribution system needed to reach the masses, so there’s potential that the payback period could be fairly long.

  • bdelbian

    Ron, you have made some great points. I also agree that it is OK to find profitable ways to serve the poor. There is a saying that goes along that talks about how you cannot help others until you have helped yourself. Despite how much we may wish it was not so, these people that make a profit out of helping the poor, so so because they also need to make money in order to survive. If they are not making a profit, then they will end up living in the same conditions as those that they are trying to help. That would defeat the ultimate purpose of these social entrepreneurs. The point is not that they are making a profit. The point is that they are trying to create something for these people that is more affordable and sustaining than the products that may already exist out there. Yes, it may come with a price, but that is what it takes in order to keep expanding and helping even more people in similar situations.

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  • ali Alamri

    I’m enjoying reading this article

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  • Alex Marski

    I don’t think it is an immoral thing to do. although I do think it is immoral to take advantage of uneducated poor people and trick them into scenarios where they think they will make money but don’t understand the concept of what is happening. I see this a lot with life insurance agencies going to lower income families and selling them life insurance that they cant afford and taking advantage of their money that should be invested in someplace else.

  • http://www.onyxcoffeebar.com/ Blake Trafton

    I agree that aid is not the answer as it only treats the symptoms. This is intriguing that Capitalism could concur extreme poverty. Until I just finished reading this article, my thoughts were quite the opposite. I thought that capitalism perpetuated poverty. You mention that hiding in the ranks of extreme poverty may be the next Steve Jobs. That may be the case but what about the rest?

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  • january26throwaway

    Poverty is a billion dollar industry. As far as morality goes, in general, it is wrong to profit off the work of others. If that is not happening, then it is probably not immoral.

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  • Nlund1

    I agree with Paul. Help everyone in the investment. Why not?

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  • Alex_C_B

    The only way of assuring quality and consistent goods for the poor is to have a business handle it (not a government). Their profits will be a constant incentive that a government program would lack. It’s win-win, except the company is winning more. It’s about the best we can hope for

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    On the Navajo Reservation, border towns are filled to brim with pay day loan centers and furniture credit stores like Aarons, here’s the problem, unemployment is rampant on the reservation. They prey on the poor to profit. It’s sad to see.

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  • wegener61

    Depending on the product, ethics are very objective. I think it is highly unethical to sell basic necessities at a high cost, while luxury items are for those who can afford them. Of course no person can determine where they are born, and that affects their ability to leave the impoverished area. Marketers need to scrutinize their products and demographics to determine the ethical reasoning for selling items.

  • Radaya123

    There is no harm in making money off of the poor however the crime or “sin” is when that money obtained is does not directly impact the poor people. If you have a company that needs a community to invest in itself to excel in life fine but if you use the poor to make money and give the workers close to nothing then one’s morality is in question for instance sweat shops, specifically Nike.

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    After reading the title of this article I felt conflicted within myself what I believed the answer to question would be. As I began to read I migrated more towards that generating profits in developing countries can assist the struggling 2.6 billion people in poverty. Although I completely disagree with Friedman and his statement “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” This statement was completely disheartening to see to someone who believes strongly that businesses must have strong social responsibilities to society, environment, and the world as a whole. This article did convince me that in order to actually do something instead of sit on our butts and wait for a solution to poverty; we need to create products that instantly improve standards of living for these 2.6 billion people. Being a developed country we value profits and generating revenue and if that is what we need to do to make the idea of providing products to developing countries appealing, so be it! It is a win win and I honestly believe it will improve the unfortunate 2.6 billion people, it be be slowly but it will happen.

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  • http://batman-news.com/ Willie

    I don’t think it would be immoral per say to make a profit off of the poor. If it is a service or item that is needed and priced affordably for a person in their economic situation, I don’t see a problem with it. The problem is much bigger thjut one company it’s, companies and individuals all over the world that hoard profits

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  • milleram97

    Overall, I think this is a great article without the first paragraph that seems to overly generalize about what people will do with little income. Sure, prostitution happens a lot, but just because you’re poor doesn’t mean that that’s what you’re going to turn to.
    But, that isn’t really the topic at hand, so I digress.

    In regards to the morality of making gains by clients who live off of $2 and below daily, I don’t see it as a major problem-depending what your motive is. If the byproduct of helping other people live healthier lives, be productive, or get out of the cycle of poverty that leads the business to a large profit, then go for it.
    On the other hand, if what a company is doing is the opposite or causing the customers to not have any improvement, than I do not agree that it is the right thing to do.
    Furthermore, I think that it’s important for any company to try to make their customers lives easier in any regard, and that if there is large payback from it, that they should use some of that money to pour back into their people. This may be a stretched wish, but once you reach a certain point in profit, I don’t think the numbers will bring you any more happiness than before.
    Just because you’re good at strategizing and implementing ideas doesn’t mean you should be punished for it, which I think is in the heart of any endeavor.

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  • Thomas Miller

    I had mixed feelings about this post as I was reading it. At first I thought it would be immoral to be making money off the poor, but after reading how making profits off of them could possibly benefit them, it started making more moral sense.

  • Thomas Miller

    Makes sense to me

  • Thomas Miller

    I was back and forth with it, but the potential gains seem to be pretty great

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  • Jonathan C

    Personally, I find the “moral” element of this article unhelpful. While the definition of morality he uses is nice, ultimately no one is a moral person by that definition. Maybe I’m too much of a pragmatist, but it seems to me that the question should be, “Will earning attractive profits from poor customers be an effective strategy for their upward financial mobility?” (I’m guessing if you’re on this site you’re hoping for at least some positive social impact, rather than the poor just breaking even.) That question is much clearer–If it’s a yes, obviously it’s a good thing to do.

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  • Alex Tomaszewski

    We live in a society where some big businesses earn profit by preying on the weak. A company that establishes a business model with fundamental values that benefits the product or company, shareholders, supply-chain and the impoverished is not an immoral venture to delve in. The statement made at the end of this article “It would be immortal to do anything else” I agree with entirely. I think it’s time for change and that change should begin with the people who we so easily let slip through our fingers in a selfish attempt to better our own best interest, to create power and wealth.

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  • epmcinty

    I honestly do not see any immorality or issues stemming form this innovative, economic approach. Statistics estimated that this has brought 100,000,000 people out of poverty. While this may be a small 4% of the average, near 3 billion living in poverty- I do not see any other approaches making such an impact like this. Yes, it is important to be looking for ways to terminate poverty for good like stated by some economists in the article, but there is nothing wrong with making profit and helping business investors, if it is making such a positive impact on the poor as well.

  • kgallaher

    I totally understand your point. It seems we should be much more interested in upward mobility than just breaking even. Really interesting! I think it’s important for entrepreneurs to look out for the poor and find ways to help those in need. If they are only concerned by their own self-interest it will only hurt them in the long run.

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  • nbaker3

    I have to be careful here as my moral beliefs are based in theology. That said, I think it is obvious to nearly everyone that immorality can be best summed up as “missing the mark”. The trick is that all of us do our best so the issue is not how hard we work. The question is our priorities. Do we prioritize correctly? Do we even know what our priorities are? You have to know your value and what you are passionate about before you can correctly prioritize.
    As for how that concept applies to this article, since immorality is summed up as not prioritizing correctly, we first have to look at what a business should do. Since that is going to be different for every person based on their belief or lack thereof, the solution is not possible in this context. I’ll give an answer from my Christian viewpoint anyways. Businesses have power because they have money/capital/power therefore they are stewards of the earth and are meant to preserve the earth and its inhabitants. Poverty is really an issue of economic disparity. In other words, the rich and powerful keep their money in ivory towers so the poor have no access to it. If a business wants to abide by Christian morals, they would appropriate their money for the development for work opportunities for the poor without micromanaging their lives. Plain and simple: most businesses are immoral because they prioritize gaining wealth over stewardship.

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  • shelbysterling

    I agree with what you said about Nike and not compensating the worker fairly. At the same time these workers are choosing to work here, and clearly Nike is proving many jobs; if workers aren’t being treated correctly they always can move jobs. They haven’t, so that must say something about the job availability as well as these workers not caring about their own rights. I agree with the approach in this article, to create companies that help reduce poverty. I just don’t really see how “making money off the poverty struck” makes much sense seeing as people in the United States have free will and aren’t forced to buy any of these products. They are choosing to.

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  • jfaulkner35

    could not agree more with Milton Freedman. Finally someone who understand that goverment and/or non-profits aren’t the answer to all the worlds problems. Economics has a way of being applied to just bout every situation in life and to solve so many problems which are currently just being solved with band aid like fixes from trillions of government dollars just being wasted because there is no incentive for this money to be put to the best possible use. There are not dozens of investors interested in the outcome of this money. Competition has and always will create better results.

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  • conner_faulkner

    The pros outweigh the cons in this instance.

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  • l2yza

    I agree with the author, it is not like these people are being forced against their will to work.

  • DavidMizelle1

    Making a profit isn’t immoral. In order to a business to remain active and supply necessary goods a profit must exist. There is a difference between price gouging and earning a profit which can help with expansion and create jobs – a point I think the author does a wonderful job of illustrating,

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    We Americans have free will but the sweatshops in which Nike operate from politically, in some instances, economically, or intellectually, do not have free will so they do not have the final say over the jobs they work nor the amount of money paid for the job. It is not just Americans buying the good, a Nike item(s), but the seller, Nike, the makers, sweatshops, transporters etc. The money made in the community is not given back to the community and that is the problem.

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    I completely agree! There is a difference in taking all that they have over investing in something that will help them in the future. Companies should pay their workers what they deserve. I’m sure people knowing that they don’t is hurting their brand and not letting it go to the full potential and that is something that could happen ultimately so you have to be careful.

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  • Sara_Kay0316

    Making cheep items in bulk is important because they are more accessible to the poor. It is worse on the environment because of a lot of products are disposable, but there will be a downfall to everything.

  • JefferyDeLaunay

    Well said. It is not immoral if the business is not conducted immorally.

  • maxfunny

    Nike is a great example of this but is there ever a way to end that “sin” or will companies like Nike run wild and still make Hugh profit gains and be loved and endorsed by stars. I feel like Nike, Walmart , and other large out sourcing companies will always be over looked by at least by some.

  • McKennaKJ29

    There is no reason that making money off the poor should be viewed as immoral. As long as it isn’t exploitation, but merely business, then it is fair game. In the free world market that we live in, everyone is a potential consumer. To suggest that it is immoral to sell products targeted to people with low incomes, is ludicrous. Morality is relative and business is business. Consumers make their own choices.

  • Elaminsj25

    I can agree with what you are saying. I just think that there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the fact that certain places have a lower standard of living. If Nike is paying workers in a shop $4 a day or so to make a pair of shoes that they will sell for $100 a pair and make huge profits on, it seems unfair or immoral. But if the $4 a day is enough for them to live on and giving them a job versus them having no source of income then I see no problem with it. I don’t know, it’s kind of a touchy subject.

  • Steven Hass

    I feel like this is a case of “the rich get richer” and if you were to just look at it morally, it doesn’t seem right that these companies target the poor. If you look at it from a business stand point and not focus on where the money is coming from directly it make sense.

  • Steven Hass

    I agree because it’s not like they are forcing these poor people to buy the products. They may be targeting them, which is a business strategy, but ultimately it’s the consumer that decides whether to spend their money.

  • McKennaKJ29

    I completely agree. It would be a different story if it were a product that was necessary for survival and the corporation was intentionally keeping prices higher than the true market value.

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    Overall this is an interesting take on the matter. This is not one sided and provides an all around bases.

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    I definitely agree with you. I also thought I knew the answer right away, but after reading this article, I can see why it’s important and it makes sense to create products that help a large part of the world escape poverty. I’m just hoping these companies stick to their mission and they don’t become blinded by the profits. I found Friedman’s statement, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” disappointing because there is so much more to a business than profits. Business is also about sustainability and improving the lives of others.

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    I agree with both economists, but I would like to get a little more specific with my response. All humans have basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, sanitation, education, healthcare. Those who live on less than $2 a day have less access to these basic needs than those with greater income. In my opinion, its immoral to earn a profit from serving these basic needs to the poor. Earning a profit from providing education to the poor should not be allowed. The poor need these things to help them get out of poverty. On the other hand, there are things that are not necessary to human life. I think these items could take as large of a profit as the seller wants, or as large as a free market would allow. I think these items should have such high costs that the poor couldn’t afford them even with savings, so that the poor could focus on the basic needs of human life so that they could break out of poverty.

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