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Basic human needs, meet Business 101
Our story

iDE creates income and livelihood opportunities for poor rural households.

The bottom line is improving the lives of our clients: the rural farmers and small businesses that are among the world’s poorest. The impact we report is rooted in reality and the data is readily available to anyone. This is our method of ensuring that the investments—in money and in time—made by our donors, the rural entrepreneurs we are working with, the customers they are serving, and our staff are having real impact.

Farmers. Homemakers. Marketers. Technologists. Advisors. Teachers. Managers. Entrepreneurs.

iDE is a global effort that spans offices in 14 countries, encompassing 4 social enterprises, employing over 1,000 people directly, and indirectly enabling many more through our market-based approaches in agriculturewater, sanitation, and hygiene; and finance.

We work to solve poverty

When Paul Polak founded International Development Enterprises (iDE) in 1982, his idea that business was the solution to poverty was new and untested. Thirty-four years later, Paul’s concept has been proven not only by iDE but also by the increasing number of established and new organizations that have embraced this approach.

1982 - Reinventing the donkey cart

iDE's first project emerged from Paul Polak’s visit to a Somalian refugee camp in 1982. Paul noticed that the refugees were carrying wood, water, and food by hand or with a very inefficient cart pulled by a donkey. Using abandoned car parts for affordability and working with displaced blacksmiths in the camps, Paul modified the donkey cart so that it had a more efficient center of gravity, enabling it to carry more weight. He then assisted the blacksmiths in selling these improved carts to other refugees, on credit, for $450. With the new cart, a buyer could earn $200 a month, paying back the loan with interest in 2.5 months. Five hundred carts were sold, producing more than $1 million of net income for cart owners in one year.

the 1980s - Pumping it up

The problem in Bangladesh in the early 1980s was the lack of irrigation in the dry season. Although some farmers had obtained diesel pumps from the government, they charged their neighbors high sums instead of making the water available at a reasonable rate. iDE believed that manually-powered irrigation “treadle pumps” could solve the problem and allow small-scale farmers to bypass the “water lords” and increase their productivity. In a five-year period, iDE increased annual sales from 14,000 to 75,000. As of 2015, more than 1.5 million treadle pumps have been sold in Bangladesh, creating $1.4 billion in net additional income per year.

The success of these projects confirmed iDE’s mission that simple, affordable technologies enable hardworking rural households to become micro-entrepreneurs, creating a path out of poverty that is both sustainable and replicable.

The 1990s - Market expansion

iDE’s initial successes demonstrated that entrepreneurs were everywhere, including refugee camps in Somalia and small farms in Bangladesh. Given the right technology and access to open markets, these struggling populations could increase their income and rise out of poverty. Over the last three decades, iDE has expanded its footprint to engage with local markets in more than 11 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

From carts and pumps, our technology and service solutions have expanded to include drip irrigation kits, Farm Business Advisors, private enterprise engagement, collection centers, market facilitation, improved latrines, clean water filters, and micro-finance options, to list only a few.

1995 - The rise of WASH

iDE’s entry into designing solutions around water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) began in 1995. Staff in Vietnam noticed that households were elevating the treadle pumps in order to capture water in buckets, which they could then use in their homes for cooking and cleaning, as well as to irrigate household gardens. Realizing that a hand pump would be more useful, iDE designed a more inexpensive, easier-to-install model, resulting in sales of over 64,000 pumps. This caught the attention of the Vietnamese government, who wanted to know if iDE could achieve similar results with latrines.

Not only was iDE successful in selling latrines, our new process for designing, marketing, and delivering latrines was adopted by the Vietnamese government, as well as many organizations working to improve sanitation coverage. And our success with household irrigation pumps and latrines led us to realize that clean water was a prerequisite for our customers to be able to improve their livelihoods, which gave rise to our current full-sector market approach to WASH.

From Vietnam to Cambodia, then Bangladesh and Nepal, and now to GhanaBurkina Faso, and Ethiopia, the approach of developing markets for sanitation and clean water has brought WASH solutions such as improved toilets and water filters to nearly 4 million individuals so far, and the adoption trend hasn’t crested yet.

Today - From products to services

Along the way, iDE has learned that the key to market-based solutions to poverty isn’t any specific technology. It’s how that technology—right-sized, resource-smart, and affordable—is implemented in a particular region, market, and client base that determines its success and sustainability. We have developed an entire service suite for ensuring market viability, including partnerships with local providers, knowledge and training in the use and maintenance of technology, and ensuring the availability of necessary inputs. We’ve also identified the need to extend credit to low-income populations so they can afford to adopt technology and other life-changing products.

In order to continue to be a positive force for progress, we at iDE have constantly challenged ourselves to learn from the past and to seek out new technologies and interventions in every place in which we do business.

We work by following a set of beliefs

Our beliefs are best summarized in a series of simple statements that guide our daily actions.

  • Poor women and men have the right to a secure livelihood.
  • Markets are the most powerful force for significant, widespread and lasting impact on rural prosperity.
  • The rural poor are customers, producers, and entrepreneurs.
  • We listen to and learn from the people we work with.
  • We value innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • We are results-oriented, aiming for significant impacts for large numbers of people.
  • We strive for economic, social, and environmental equity and sustainability.
Our expertises
  • Africa | East
  • Africa | Middle
  • Africa | South
  • Africa | West
  • Americas | Central America

Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Zambia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Vietnam, Honduras, Nicaragua

Get in touch
Denver, Colorado, United States, United States of America, North America
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, United States of America, North America
London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom, Europe
Dhaka, Bangladesh, Bangladesh, Asia
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Burkina Faso, Africa
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Cambodia, Asia
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Africa
Tamale, Northern, Ghana, Ghana, Africa
Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Honduras, North America
Maputo, Mozambique, Mozambique, Africa
Lalitpur, Nepal, Nepal, Asia
Managua, Nicaragua, Nicaragua, North America
Kabulonga, Lusaka, Zambia, Zambia, Africa

Get in contact with us and send an open job application by showing your skills and work experience. Many thanks for your interest!