Social entrepreneur aims to get people out of poverty quickly

November 5, 2012 9:00 AM

Alicia Duplessis Jasmin

Martin Fisher, co-founder and CEO of KickStart, opened his Tulane lecture with a question. “What’s the No. 1 need of a poor person?” The answer, seemingly too simple, is “to make more money.”


Martin Fisher served as the distinguished speaker of the fourth annual NewDay Social Entrepreneurship Series. He has spent much of his career finding ways to incorporate his engineering know-how into solving global poverty. (Photo by Guillermo Cabrera-Rojo)

Fisher, whose talk was part of the  NewDay Social Entrepreneurship Series, told of his time in Africa building water wells that would eventually break and remain unrepaired, becoming a haven for scrap thieves.

“We learned over a period of six years that implementing group ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest place, is hard. And we also learned that we needed to sell products to the entrepreneurs instead of giving them away,” said Fisher. “Giving away products creates dependency, it’s never fair, and it isn’t sustainable.”

After studying the relationship between technology and poverty in Kenya as a Fulbright Scholarship recipient, Fisher and Nick Moon co-founded KickStart, a nonprofit that develops new technologies used to establish small businesses. They began inventing tools that would not only serve as a means for escaping poverty, but also a means of improving the lives of others in the community.

He is currently marketing a manual irrigation system at a cost of $100.

“In the peak season, usually when rain is heaviest, farmers sell their crops at low cost because they need to get rid of everything before it spoiled,” said Fisher, noting that developing countries are largely without electricity. “In the drier seasons, everyone was hungry because the crops weren’t plentiful, and what did grow was very expensive.”

Farmers are now selling year-round, can afford schooling for their children and are able to employ others.

Stanley Day, co-creator of the entrepreneurship series, says, “we do this series so that successful social entrepreneurs can share their experiences, philosophies insights and advice with the next generation.”

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