Social Business

Productivity tools designed for the poor

KickStart, a non-profit based out of Kenya and San Francisco, is taking an innovative approach to fighting poverty by inventing tools optimized for delivering productivity for the world’s poor.

I met KickStart’s CEO and Co-Founder, Martin Fisher, a few months back at an education event sponsored by Seattle Social Venture Partners. Martin has spent most of his career living in Africa working with various different NGOs focused on development initiatives with Africa’s poor. He became very frustrated that despite working very hard and trying to be creative, he just didn’t see any material results in their efforts helping the poor out of poverty. He came to the conclusion that the development community was missing out on the basic fact that for the poor to become independently and sustainably non-poor that they needed to be able to earn income. No income = continued poverty. Handouts, while often life-saving in the short-term, aren’t a long-term solution. And development agencies are addicted to handouts.

KickStart’s first invention was a very efficient, low-maintenance, low-cost manual water pump which they named the MoneyMaker. This pump was designed for micro-farmers (the majority of farms in Kenya are less than 2 acres) at a low enough price point (a couple of hundred dollars) and an incredible return-on-investment … up to US$5,400 profit in the first year! How is this possible? Basically, the manual pump enabled micro-farmers to feasibly irrigate their fields resulting in a transformation from a single, subsistence crop per year to 3-4 “cash” crops per year. They have since introduced improved versions of the pump which enables farmers to reach deeper wells and to irrigate larger fields.

They claim that your donation of $200 will help one family out of poverty permanently.

I challenged their assumption that they needed to subsidize their products so much. If there really is such an amazing (only 1-2 crop) payback, why don’t they finance the full cost of the pumps with microfinance. Martin said they are looking into this possibility.

I think this is a very interesting social venture enterprise. I’m impressed with their focus on building (and selling) helpful products to some of the world’s poorest in order to help them help themselves out of poverty.

3 thoughts on “Productivity tools designed for the poor

  1. Martin Fisher also presented at a Stanford Engineering event last year, called Solutions for a Shrinking Planet.I was very impressed, and am glad to see that his organization continues to grow!Ryan OrrCollaboratory for Research on Global Projects


  2. I am under the impression that it is not the actual cost of the pumps that is subsidized, but the marketing/advertising efforts in order to convince farmers that they are worth buying. They also need funding in order monitor the impacts of the pumps.


  3. natalia, you’re correct. The issue is that it is not a financially sustainable model which is very disappointing because the product appears to have an amazing ROI which means that it should be financiable at its full cost (including marketing, distribution, etc. not just COGS). Kickstart has struggled to find microfinance partners in the markets they are in. It sounds like they are missing a big opportunity here to get the product into more people’s hands.


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