Beginnings in Africa
iDE's origins as a formal organization lie in a visit to a Somalian refugee camp in 1982. It was there that founder Paul Polak noticed a critical lack of transport limiting the economic opportunities of refugees who were relying on manual transportation for all commodities. Following the principle "in technology, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," iDE re-engineered the local donkey cart and interested local artisans in manufacturing one with a more efficient center of gravity, using abandoned car parts for affordability. The donkey carts were a success; more than 500 were sold, producing $1 million of net income for cart owners.
Scalable Success With the Treadle Pump
When iDE began working in Bangladesh in the early 1980s, we noticed a lack of access to water in rural villages, and believed that manually powered irrigation pumps could solve the problem and allow farmers to increase productivity. Through successful social marketing campaigns, iDE increased annual sales of manual irrigation pumps from 14,000 to 75,000 in a five year period. After that initial success, we identified a better solution in the treadle pump, which is more efficient and easier to operate than manual pumps. To date, more than 1.5 million treadle pumps have been sold in Bangladesh, creating 1.4 billion dollars in net additional income per year.
The success of iDE's first two projects confirmed our belief that simple, affordable technologies enable the rural poor to become micro-entrepreneurs, creating a path out of poverty that is both sustainable and replicable.
New Technologies and Expanding Enterprises
Beginning in 1995, iDE developed low-cost, small-scale drip systems for irrigating home gardens. In Nepal and India, 50,000 of these systems have been purchased and installed with income-generating results parallel to those achieved by the treadle pump.
In 1994, iDE started a coconut processing plant in Vietnam to help the thousands of small farmers that depend on coconut sales as their primary source of income. The plant is now locally owned and managed, employing 80 people and processing over $300,000 worth of coconut each year with 60 percent going to export markets in Asia and the Middle East.
Also by 1994, iDE had established five successful country programs in Asia. Beginning in 1997, iDE expanded efforts into Africa, where we currently operate in five countries. In 2006, iDE entered Latin America with a pilot program in Nicaragua; since then we have expanded operations to a total of five countries in the region.
Today, iDE uses a market oriented development model to increase the income of the rural poor by improving market access, increasing agricultural production, and creating sustainable local businesses. iDE's projects are country specific, aimed at increasing income for those living on less than a dollar a day in the most efficient and viable manner possible according to each region's unique opportunities.
To date, the hard work and vision of iDE staff throughout the world have helped more than 19 million people lift themselves permanently out of poverty.