The huge potential of [catalytic] inventions—and their universal appeal—struck me when I sat next to civic entrepreneur Martin Fisher at a dinner and listened to him explain his international program KickStart. Fisher unleashes entrepreneurship in communities by designing and selling new technologies that help people start their own businesses. His approach does not involve aid in the traditional sense. Fisher understands the important role that entrepreneurship plays in wealthy economies and believes that with help, “self-motivated private entrepreneurs” can play a similar role in developing economies.[1]

Fisher and his partner Nick Moon began their discovery with a clear understanding that their target audience—the rural poor in Kenya—were predominantly (80 percent) small-scale farmers who made just enough to survive. They also established that although land and skills were abundant in Kenya, farming that relies on seasonal rain is prey to periods of overabundance and waste followed by periods of scarcity and hunger. Irrigation would allow small-scale farmers to “spread out the production of food to meet the demand, increase incomes, and sustainably reach food and income security.”[2] Fisher and Moon used these discoveries to design and then manufacture and distribute effective, affordable ($34 and $100) foot pumps for drawing water from the ground. The farmer, with his own labor, pushes on the pump he has stuck into the ground to water his crops.

KickStart’s 135,000 pumps have helped latent entrepreneurs start up more than 88,000 businesses after the users grew enough crops not only to feed their families but also to become wholesalers. These enterprises lifted more than 440,000 people out of poverty in Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, and other countries.[3]

KickStart, offering a one-year guarantee, underwrites the risk of the up-front capital for small-scale farmers to buy the foot pumps. Fisher and Moon anticipate that the market will eventually grow to the point where the industry will be profitable, attracting the private sector, without the need for any subsidy. Technology in this instance unlocks value by treating individuals as latent assets rather than victims. Individual ownership, coupled with changes in production systems, allows those in poverty to enjoy a better life… Fisher built his inventions after spending time and sharing experiences with the people who would subsequently benefit from the technology.

Demonstrating a commitment to improved performance, KickStart closely monitors its customers’ progress, allowing Fisher and Moon to continually adjust their product and marketing efforts.


Excerpted from "The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good" by Stephen Goldsmith

[1] Martin Fisher, e-mail message to author, June 25, 2009.
[2] Ibid.
[3] KickStart. “ About KickStart. ” KickStart, – we – do/impact/