Arizona is the New Kenya

07/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Tomorrow I leave on a holiday, so I don't have time to write thoughtfully about the race-baiting in Arizona or about small-minded politicians who pander to our fears and hatreds.

If I had the time, I would say something about mean-spiritedness and mob rule.

If I had the time, I would encourage the Mexican government to airlift its citizens out of Arizona so, as the hotels and restaurants closed for lack of workers and the crops rotted, Americans could learn a hardball lesson about globalization and the interconnectedness of humankind.

If I had the time, I would draw an analogy to the tribal political warfare which exploded in Kenya a few years ago. But I don't have the time, so, instead, here is an upbeat story from Kenya. It is the one I wanted to share with you before Arizona went crazy.

At 55 years of age, Nick Moon is charmingly candid, well-spoken, thoughtful and, by virtue of conviction, calm. I mention Nick's age so you can place him in the life arc of social change. He is no dewy-eyed youth activist getting his first taste of village-level economic development. As the veteran co-founder of Kickstart, he is a clear-eyed realist about creating economic change in the developing world.

Nick's life work exposes the nitty-gritty of anti-poverty programs. No clichés, no ideologies in search of poverty, no hype. Just hard lessons learned from hard work.

Kickstart sells durable, functional and well-designed water pumps to farmers, so they can increase their crop yields and end the back-breaking work of hauling water by bucket. To date, Kickstart proudly claims 136,000 pumps sold, 440,000 people lifted out of poverty and 90,000 new small businesses launched (think nurseries, small farms, etc.).

Roughly 50 percent of Kenyans live in poverty. A Kenyan farmer who buys a Kickstart pump typically increases income tenfold.


The pumps are people-powered. No need for fuel or electricity (and no air pollution either). They are easy to move around a small farm and, even more importantly, easy to store at night so thieves are unable to steal these valuable tools.

The foot-operated, and generally more useful, pump irrigates about two acres and sells for $100, but requires a one-time $250 donor subsidy. The subsidy pays the daunting marketing and overhead costs. As Nick Moon pointedly notes, "People can't ask for or buy a product they have never heard of."

Of the $100 per pump sold, $85.00 is the basic manufacturing cost (think job creation in China), $15.00 for the Kenyan sales force (think job creation in Kenya) and $15.00 for Kickstart (think R&D for new, cheaper pump models).

Therein lies an insight about the often naïve expectation that good social entrepreneurship necessarily equates to operational sustainability, profits for shareholders and easy paths to scalability. Kickstart pumps achieve all the "good" metrics -- income generation, job creation, environmental friendly, long-term economic growth, preservation of farm families -- but they are not financially sustainable, let alone profitable, for Kickstart.

For lack of water, huge areas of Africa are uncultivated. Indeed, 95 percent of African agricultural is rain-fed or, starkly truthful, at the mercy of erratic rainy seasons.

According to Nick Moon, to feed 9 billion people by 2015 will require doubling global food production. With subsidized pumps, Africa could move from not feeding itself to feeding the world.