Why Give a Damn:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. This is not enough for the men and women living in extreme poverty.

The author of this post, Paul Polak, has brought 22+ million farmers out of poverty. His work is dedicated to designing products for the Other 90% (the 2.6 billion customers who live on less than $2/day).

In 1978, India became a net grain exporter after adopting green revolution miracle seeds and rapidly expanding land under irrigation, yet 230 million people in India today remain malnourished, and malnutrition accounts for 50% of child deaths. How can it be that a country like India, which has produced a surplus in grain crops for more than thirty years, still has 230 million hungry people?

How can it be that India has produced a surplus in grain crops for more than thirty years, yet still has 230 million hungry people?

While increasing food production in India was successful in eliminating regular devastating famines, it did little to eradicate extreme poverty, which underlies chronic malnutrition. The fact is that the root cause of food insecurity is extreme poverty, not just shortfalls in food production.  When very poor people find ways to grow their income, they buy the food they need and the market finds ways to bring it to them more efficiently than disaster relief or food distribution programs. The most direct way to end food insecurity is to help very poor rural people increase their income from farming.

Farming SRI Rice in India

Most of the 800 million or so hungry people in the world today live in poor rural areas in developing countries and earn their living from one-acre farms. They are strongly motivated to grow enough rice, wheat or corn to feed their families for the whole year, but most of them don’t have enough land, or the right kind of land to eliminate their hunger. So they and their families live on one meal a day or less for three or four months while they wait for the next rice crop to come in. My colleagues and I at International Development Enterprises (IDE) have had good results helping small farmers improve their food production with simple strategies like poking a hole in the ground with a stick between rice plants, and putting a sustained release capsule of urea in the hole. Adopting new approaches like SRI (System for Rice Intensification) can help even more.

I have no doubt that at least 100 million of the 230 million hungry people now in India can end their food insecurity forever, if we have the courage to do it.

But even if they have enough land, water and money to invest in fertilizer to produce a surplus of grain, selling it on the market is a loser’s bet for a small farmer- crops like rice rarely produce net income of more than $200 an acre, and most dollar a day farmers only have one acre to work with.

If a poor one acre farmer in India is in a position to plant an acre of rice and sell it, he might earn $200 net. If that same farmer instead decides instead to grow drip irrigated,

A quarter acre of off-season vegetables can earn $1,000

labor-intensive off-season fruits, vegetable and, spices, they can regularly earn $1,000 after expenses from a quarter acre.  This is more than enough to buy all the food the family needs, and move out of poverty and into the middle class.

My friends at IDE and I have seen this happen thousands of times. To make it happen, it takes a whole new approach to small farm agriculture, new research to optimize it, and a last-mile private sector mass dissemination and training initiative.

If we have the courage to do it, I have no doubt that at least a hundred million of the 230 million hungry people now in India, and their brothers and sisters in other developing countries, can end their food insecurity forever.

IDE Visits Veronica’s Zambian Farm 

Burning Question:

What would you do to help impoverished people increase their income from farming? What’s holding you back?

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.

  • Pingback: Our Primary Challenge: Defeat Hunger and Achieve Food Security For All (2) | OCCHI PER VEDERE()

  • Collin Smith

    Thanks for writing. I would agree that this huge problem is not so easily solved or attainable. I think that it is a much harder solution to the problem, and not just by thinking of it, but actually implementing it.

  • Jansscor16

    Thanks for the article!! It was really great. I like the idea of teaching people better ways to accomplish their work. The effect that this will play on hunger and communities around the world is huge. I would love to help impoverished people, but whats holding me back currently is college. When I am finished I want to travel and help people in need when I travel! What would you recommend a college student could do to help, while in college?

  • Leahrebout

    This was a great article thank you for sharing it! It is so sad to think about what these families in India have to go through. We take so many things for granted like eating three meals a day, sometimes even more, when other people are lucky to get one. I love that they are finding new ways to help those suffering become more efficient and successful with their land! These new innovative techniques could be what brings them out of poverty and allows them to live a full happy life. What can other people do to help bring those suffering to a better life?

  • Ashley Nicole Rietbrock

    Paul, thank you for sharing this article with us. I thought I was mind
    opening to think what this families have to go through to get food on their
    dinner table at night. I think people take for granted what we have that we get
    to eat 3 meals a day and don’t really realize that so many people in the world
    are going hungry. I think the IDE is a great idea and is very helpful for
    people in India and other countries. I like how they are coming up with many
    different way of helping countries with the land and everything I think it is a
    great idea. It also, can bring the new techniques can help get out a poverty
    and everybody can enjoy the full happy life that they deserve. I just have one
    question to ask how can other people help with other countries that don’t get
    much attention for those who are suffering so they can have a better life?
    Thank you again I really enjoyed this article.

  • Samantha Smith

    Finding a new approach to small
    farm agriculture will become very beneficial to many people who are
    malnourished. I think that many people forget how valuable a simple back yard garden
    can be, not only can these soil concepts be used in India to serve the
    malnourished but also in your own yards at home. I hope that IDE does save the
    100 million lives it can save. It is not okay that 230 million people go
    without 3 meals a day. You have a great goal.

  • kolinjk29

    Thank you for sharing this great article. People take for granted all the food that is available for us and still seem to put so much to waste. We take for granted having a fridge full of food and being able to eat three meals a day when their are other people in parts of the world are starving and would do anything to enjoy a hot meal with their families. I think that IDE is a excellent idea and would be very helpful for people in other countries. The techniques used could be very beneficial in helping poverty stricken communities get ahead. Small farms and communities should get the chance to do so and have the motivation to succeed if the opportunity would arise. The question that I have is how can you make sure that everyone is given the same opportunity as another? How can we make sure people aren’t taking this for granted?

  • clemonsel02

    Dr. Paul Polak, first of all thank you for opening my eyes to the article. I found myself thinking about how much I personally take for granted my food and how much I get to eat. Then I think about how there are people in other countries working their butts off to make as much money as they can from nothing. I never thought about it the way that you have presented it, that it is not the food that they need necessarily but the training and help to see that they can profit more from other more income crops. This is where the money that people send needs to go to, it needs to go to provide more agricultural materials so that someone can sustain a good income and have a larger profit than just a couple more meals in a year. This could mean the difference between a week of more food or a lifetime of more food. I completely agree with what you are doing and I think that more people need to see this side of making a difference. I was wondering, how did you get started in this program? How did you think of the change in the way you viewed what country truly needed?

  • stangleram13

    Thank you, Dr. Paul Polak, for your insight. I do agree on the work you are doing over there. It is inspiring to hear this going on in the world. I am sorry never heard this company. They do nice work. This is useful knowledge I can take with me. Is your company like network for other companies

  • justin bowers

    This article was really humbling. I know that I take for granted how much food I’m able to eat in any given day and don’t realize that people and families around the world are eating one meal a day for 3 months. That’s unfathomable. I like the idea of growing food that will bring in more money than just rice. It’s a great step forward that could earn many poverty stricken families almost 4 times the amount they would normally make. How could someone like myself be apart of IDE?

  • LevenhagAL14

    Thank you for this article, it’s always appreciated to have insight into how other cultures operate. I’m at a position in my life where I know a decent amount about the food shortages in other cultures, however articles like this really open my eyes to the severity and how different it is in other places that aren’t as well off. I’m curious though, as quoted in the article “If we have the courage to do it…” What do you mean by that? What do we need to have the courage to overcome? I understand the economic shortfalls, but are you suggesting that there is something socially holding us back?

  • Katie Ackerman

    Great article, you have a number of good insights here. I think the idea of farming out-of-season, or rare crops to increase income in poverty stricken areas is a particularly good idea. I think that some places don’t grow certain crops because they have never had the chance, or have never been introduced to them. Implement a way for a rice-driven community to grow other crops, and you start offering a whole new way of income, and life.

  • Kendra Larson

    This article was an eye opener for me. It is so sad that small counties, such as India are not getting enough food to feed all of their people. This is something that not many people think about, and its quite frustrating. I work at a restaurant and there are so many people that waste their food. It drives me crazy when I see all this food being thrown away and people don’t even acknowledge that there are people starving in other countries. It is something that I think has become a huge issue. I think that this country needs to step up and help these people. What can us in the united states do to help these people in need? Thank you for sharing this article.

  • masterdan55

    This article was great! Its shocking how so many countries don’t have food to sustain the needs of the hungry. Working at a fast food joint we throw away tons of food. Only if we could give to people who could actually use it. World hunger is a huge problem in the world and needs to be fixed. As a whole the worlds needs to help this progress. What do you think is the first step to doing this?

  • Jennifer Lynn

    This article is very eye opening because I had no idea of the staggering number of people in poverty in so many countries. I think as a whole we can all help these farmers gain wealth and help their families to be more well off. I would challenge people everywhere to read this post and think about an impact that they could potentially make. What is the best way to start a fundraiser or charity for these countries?

  • Tammy Hartmann

    “How can it be that India has produced a surplus in grain crops for more than thirty years, yet still has 230 million hungry people? ” My question is I don’t
    understand why people continue to have more children if they are so hungry. Paul, thank you for this article. I intend to share this article with people who throw away leftovers. I often secretly incorporate leftovers in meals for my family without their knowledge, to avoid any power struggle or complaints. 🙂 Is there a book that talks about how to be creative in using leftovers for meals?

  • Alivia Holman

    thought this article was touching because most people take for advantage of
    what they have but don’t look at others and realize how good they have it. The decrease
    in food supply among other cultures is a low priority for us in the United
    States to really understand because we never run out of food goods and we know
    that other cultures and countries struggle. The struggle for other countries
    does not impact people in the United States because they want to keep their
    money for themselves. Do you think that if a small portion from our farmers’
    food went to a low poverty farm area we could have the death rate decrease?

  • ghilonipt09

    I think the best way to start a fundraiser is to start it up yourself and make packets and get advertisements out there to the people. The more people that are notified the better off you will be! I believe poverty is ina lot more countries than most of use think.

  • Jen McKiernan

    This is such an eye opening article. It is crazy to think that so many people live on one meal or less every day. I know for a fact I take always having food readily available for granted. Thank you for the work you do to help these countries. It is very inspiring to see people like you reaching out and doing what you can to improve the lives of these people.

  • danac501

    Thank you! I wanted to read this article because I love to help people. When I see someone in need I want to do anything I can to help. It deviates me by the number of people that are malnourished in India. I am glad your company IDE it helping small farmers to create income to feed their families. I like how this is domino effect/paying it forward. After I graduate college I would like to put my money to good use and help the people that are suffering. What is some ways I can do that besides donating to a charity? any ideas?

  • yencheskcj27

    What an eye-opening article. Just reading 230 million people in India are malnurished just hurts to the core. I certainly appreciate that there are companies like IDE who are trying to help with this problem. I especially like how IDE is showing them how to produce food and income for themselves, instead of just raising money to give them food. It is like the old saying at the opening of the article about teaching a man to fish instead of simply giving him a fish.

  • Natasha Tynczuk

    Wow! It is eye opening to know how many people are malnourished in India, which makes me realize how much I take my food for granted! I think that farming off-season crops in order to supply more income to families is a great idea! Simply giving people food will not help in the long run at all, so a self-sustaining idea like this is great.

  • Alex Prailes

    This is so eye opening for me! It just makes me feel so sad how many people are malnourished. It really makes me think about my job as well. I work at a restaurant and I’m able to see how much food people waste while going out to eat. Seeing how much wasted food from just a couple people’s dinner makes me really sad to think that there are people out there that are malnourished.

  • Trista Radloff

    Yes I agree! With it being Thanksgiving today I think about the people who aren’t able to stuff their stomachs so full they can’t move. Then I think of what our world would be like if, instead of stuffing our faces on a thankful day, giving to those who don’t have as much to be thankful about. It definitely makes me sad to think how wasteful some people are when there are so many people in this world that need so much.

  • hirthjp18

    This is very interesting to see happening in the fight against hunger. These small farms are a great idea but it obviously had it wholes. Its great to see that we are finding solution to help bring more income for these small time farmers. If theirs a will and a way. This bring me hope to see what else they can do to help poor farmer and ending hunger.

  • Luke Drumel

    What a moving article, I’ve known India has been struggling significantly for years and years that hunger was an serious epidemic. I appreciate that you are trying to get others aware of this situation and actually makes a difference to people who deserved to be cared about. Thanks you for the post!

  • Cossioj14

    Having these small farms is an unbelievably genius idea. You can spread ending hunger and bringing poverty up at the same time. It really is sad when you see just how much hunger impacts the world and I think as americans we take this for granted sometimes.

  • byrnesbk24

    What a great way to utilize the little amount of land some of these families have. Teaching people a different way of doing something to better themselves and there families is awesome. Sometimes people just don’t have the knowledge of any other way of doing something. Its usually tradition or something passed down from generation to generation and it may never change. Sharing knowledge is the best, especially when it helps other in such a way like this.

  • Abby2017

    Places where there is a food shortage as we all know is very bad and it is sad. I like how the article mentions the fact that even if the people grow food it depends what kind. It is better if it does have nutritional value food. Health is very important to having a good life. This is a good awareness article and it is really sad to know that there are malnourished people this impacts not only them, but the world.

  • Alex Marski

    I never like reading or hearing about things like this that happen around the world but they are unavoidable as we all know. the numbers as I read them shocked me with 230 million hungry just in India alone! it is very sad that these people work for nearly nothing each day. what is more sad that people in the United States know about what is happening and seem to turn a blind eye about it. I will never understand why the government or other organizations wont provide food year around to save lives but instead we spend money on space exploration or millions of dollars spent on websites and advertisements each year.

  • JakeEllis7

    The problem that I have seen over the years of learning about underdeveloped countries and rural areas, is that if they are living day to day off of little to no income. While having such little income, they are very unlikely to take any risk financially. They are uneducated and do only what they know how to do. So when it comes to growing a tiny amount of what they can afford, they make that work. They don’t have any desire to spend their time doing and learning anything else because that will take away from the time they are using to make or gather the food they do have. For these poor rural areas, the need is a solution for poor farmers to invest in a profitable farming alternative. It has to be guaranteed, cost close to nothing, and take as little of their time as possible to implement.

  • Jcwilson480

    I think it isn’t so much that the farmers don’t want to learn new methods as they just can’t. Like you said, they just don’t have the time. Taking the time to learn or try something different could mean the trade off between that and eating that day. Maybe these efforts can’t be guaranteed. But, maybe they can be backed so if the farmer is still struggling he can be then partially reimbursed.

  • JakeEllis7

    That would be a very good trade off for them, I would think. But there really is no way of knowing. You can only hope that they could see that if they invested a little time that the payout would be worth it in the end. Just depends on the farmer ultimately and what the risk is worth to them.

  • leeana liska

    I agree with your post! I think it’s great that people are able to teach different ways of doing things while still being able to pass down traditions and knowledge. Its great that people can learn ways to be efficient and pass that down to their family and friends.

  • SkylerZahner

    It is sad that in these countries there is not enough time energy or money for these people to work and have vast amounts of farms as a way to make money. Instead these people get by through making only the crops they will need to survive and not wasting energy or money on other things to do with farming that would greatly benefit them. With lack of money it is almost impossible to help these people because they do not see the benefits in growing food for profit and other things of this nature.

  • Brooke Bower

    It’s sad to think about people going without a meal, and it’s awful that the cause is poverty. I think it is important to help these people and come up with an innovated way to improve and increase there crop productions. But as I think about this, some farmers may not want to try new methods. What if they try a new method and it fails. Then they don’t have a meal and lost money that they already don’t have. I hope someway, somehow we can find a solution for this problem.

  • Sarah Kasiurak

    I agree with this article as well! It’s great that people are still able to pass down traditions and knowledge using different ways of doing things.

  • wegener61

    Basically in order for an impoverished Indian to live without hunger, they should just grow their own food, while trying to find work or another source of income? I like the idea, and I think it could work, but that is a lot on your plate, not to mention the growing seasons and the fact that food is not grown over night.

  • milleram97

    It’s so sad the amount of money that we waste here in America. Go to a middle school and you’ll see more put down the drain because kids don’t want to eat their veggies.
    I used to work in Milwaukee and saw an immense amount of it as well with those who are on government subsidies. Why do we not care about the things that come easy, and those that take more effort we grasp with our lives?
    There are people dying daily throughout the world from malnutrition and sickness, yet here we are in one of the most privileged countries and we squander that without thought, and take without gratitude.
    In the case of India, something must be done to get them out of this unending cycle of poverty so that they can live healthy lives-the most essential need. I think having them grow foods that can reap bigger profits is a great idea, but waiting around for the right growing season for specific crops may not be the only solution. I honestly don’t know what the right one may be but if people are more educated about other ways to get out of food insecurity and options that are available for them.

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  • Anniep1023

    As an American, I am extremely lucky. If I do not like a certain food or have had too much, I can throw it away in the nearest garbage without giving it a second thought. However, people in other countries around the world do not have that luxury. In fact, throwing away edible and valuable food would be a sin. I think that this initiative has the possibility to change the predicament these people are in. By reforming crop and farming techniques, these countries have the ability to produce more food, which will help the economy as well. I look forward to seeing the progress that this initiative has made in the future.

  • Warhawk88

    This information is staggering. It is unreal the amount of food that we throw out each week. If food is getting a little old in the fridge we just clean it out and start all over again. I cant help but just feel terrible for these people around the world that suffer from starvation. I think this program is a fantastic idea and the projections of getting at LEAST 100 million of the 230 million people that are very poor to move up to the middle class, would be astonishing if they could make that happen. I agree that we cant just give these people the food they need. We need to educate them and teach them how to grow food. If they know how to grow it themselves they will be able to sustain themselves. I really hope this plan works out for them.

  • Warhawk88

    I think this program is heading in the right direction. If we can help and teach people how to grow more food efficiently and effectively it will help drag them away from hunger. There is nothing wrong with giving food to people, but i just think we have been looking at it all wrong for too long. Giving food to people in need is only a temporary solution. It isn’t helping them escape poverty. Educating them on how to be able to sustain their own farms and giving them the tools to be able to grow more crop is a lot more valuable in my eyes. Look at what we have done here in America. We have companies that develop new hybrid seeds for grain each year. Look at the difference between the size of maize 50 years ago to today’s present maize. We just need to help give them the resources to do the same.

  • HutsonZW

    I agree that the only way we can help people get food is to teach them how to grow it just like the saying of give a man a fish he eats for a day and teach a man to fish and he feeds himself for life. But also with teaching them how to farm they would also need some land to do so.

  • HutsonZW

    This is one of the saddest things in the world knowing that there are people out there that are killed from hunger when there are places that have an overabundance of food. There has to be a way that we can help at least most of the people get away from this problem and help less people die.

  • Nathan Tessar

    I fully agree with you! It is disgusting on how much food we throw away. I worked at a grocery store and all we did was throw away food left and right and I felt horrible doing it. I like this idea too that we can feed at least 100 million people. That’s a ton of people and a accomplishment itself. By teaching them and educating them on how to grow food will help them better manage there food quantities and feed more people in the long run. Great article.

  • McKennaKJ29

    Thanks for writing this. The information is eye opening! Not many people realize just how huge a problem food insecurity actually is. While there are methods of limiting it, putting them into practice large scale can be more difficult than they are on paper. Hopefully it can be put into practice and remain sustainable to feed lots of people!

  • Ryan Dow

    This is so eye openning in more ways than I can think. Planning for to put something in place is hard, but actually putting it into place is another story.

  • Bjackson5

    I always enjoyed how learning something is more valuable than being given something. Although this can create for impatience in some circumstances, when it comes to ending hunger this theory is very beneficial. If more people understood how to produce, grow and cook food hunger would inevitably minimize.

  • Great article thanks for sharing. With the amount of food that we waste here in America, malnutrition and food insecurity are from the average persons thoughts. We’ve been needing to even focus more on toning down the amount of food we consume while people on the other side of the world are fighting to find a meal on a daily basis. That’s why I think this article is good because it may open some peoples eyes who don’t know the serious struggle these people are going through.

  • Thank you for this. Very few people realize the severity of hungry and how many people are affected. I will remember these fact to educate others.

  • You’re right, the majority of the US are not struggling to find food, but there are still thousands that can’t. They are just as homeless, hungry and hopeless as those in 3rd world countries.

  • This is true, but I think its somewhat if not much easier to come by some type of food here in America.

  • I feel like being an American has given us a sense of entitlement. If we can get past our own pride, we can see that others are hurting.

  • The food that we consume is grown. Not overnight, but in a way that makes it easier to get large quantities of food in a short amount of time,

  • You’re right. But if quantity of food is the issue than that means that we are neglecting the more important parts of food consumption. If we are focused on quantity and how we can get the food more readily, then we need a new way of t.

  • I think quantity is more important in this situation, the more people that can be fed the better even if its a little nutritionally compromised.

  • Elaminsj25

    I like that you used the quote “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Just giving these people food without helping them find a way to eat tomorrow is pointless. Although feeding someone for a day is gracious, that one time is not going not going to stop them from dying of malnutrition. We need to find ways to help them feed themselves.

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  • ximena vivanco

    I agree with a few of the comments below. Examples of food insecurity can also be found right next to us. There as parts in the U.S where healthy and affordable food are impossible to consume. It’s not always about quantity of food in this case, but the way it is distributed, according to private firms and their strategy. When talking about the global poverty, then quantity comes into mind. There should be ways to not only teach them how to grow their own food for themselves and families, but how to produce larger quantities for efficient prices and increase their marginal revenue.

  • Cristina Chidiac

    This is an amazing article.
    Polak truly has an understanding of what needs to be done to accomplish the
    goal of solving the much larger issue of food insecurity. Sure you can provide
    assistance to those impoverished rural areas of the world, but it is only a
    temporary solution. What happens once the food provided runs out? This article
    accurately shows that there is more to long-term disaster relief than simply
    providing food. It is about changing the lives of those poor individuals
    entirely. Providing better products or equipment to improve the farming systems
    of those individuals in poor rural areas serves as a long-term solution. Not
    only can Polak’s ideas help increase access to food, but it also helps poor
    famers in rural areas generate income to support their families. New farming
    methods are also something that can be taught to farmers, and therefore
    increase their knowledge of farming practices.

    Polak’s article truly illustrates the importance of educating people and implementing plans to achieve larger goals. People cannot always rely on others, especially when it comes to obtaining the basic necessities of life. Those poor individuals who Polak
    strives to help have been forced to rely on others for food. If those
    individuals are taught how to grow food more effectively and given the means to
    do it, they will not need to rely on other countries for direct food assistance. Increased
    knowledge of agriculture and better access to the resources to grow food will
    end food insecurity in those areas, and thus make major improvements to the
    overall state of the impoverished nation. The nation’s standard of living will
    also improve. Polak’s article is a true representation of the phrase, “knowledge
    is power”. With knowledge of farming practices and better access to farming
    inputs, farmers in developing countries will be able to find the power to better themselves and their families, so that their families and nation may evolve in a positive

  • Jorge Callaos

    “I have no doubt that at least 100
    million of the 230 million hungry people now in India can end their food
    insecurity forever, if we have the courage to do it.” That quote is
    simply incredible. Many of us look at all the social problems in the world and
    think that they are too difficult to overcome, at least in the near future. Too
    many people look at the social problems going on in the world today and don’t
    take the time to research and find out innovative ways to fix them. The current
    system that is in place right now is clearly not working, so why don’t the
    people that have the access to research and funding come up with new innovative
    systems that can help eradicate social problems such as world hunger?

    Polak’s article clearly
    shows how important it is to educate people on how in order to make big changes
    that help fight social problems such as world hunger we must rid ourselves of
    the system in place and create a new one that works more effectively. “If a poor one acre farmer in India is in a position to
    plant an acre of rice and sell it, he might earn $200 net. If that same farmer
    instead decides instead to grow drip irrigated, labor-intensive off-season fruits, vegetable and, spices, they can regularly earn $1,000 after
    expenses from a quarter acre. This is more than enough to buy all the
    food the family needs, and move out of poverty and into the middle class.” This
    might seem simple to us, but poverty-stricken people don’t have the education
    or the accessibility to resources and research to figure out new systems like
    that one.

    Ignorance might
    sometimes be bliss, but not when it is causing 230 million people to go hungry.
    We must take on our social responsibility and help these people, because in
    this case, knowledge really is power. It’s just that those 230 million people
    can’t get that knowledge on their own.