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 “A billion customers in the world,” Dr. Paul Polak told a crowd of inventors in 2007, “are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house.”

In an interview to The New York Times, Dr. Polak, a former psychiatrist who now runs an organization helping poor farmers become entrepreneurs, said the world’s cleverest designers cater to the globe’s richest 10 percent, creating items like wine labels, couture and Maseratis.

“We need a revolution to reverse that silly ratio,” he said.

About five years ago, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, presented an exhibition honouring inventors dedicated to “the other 90 percent,” particularly the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.

One of the simplest and yet most elegant designs tackles a job that millions of women and girls spend many hours doing each year — fetching water. Balancing heavy jerry cans on the head is backbreaking work and sometimes causes crippling injuries. The Q-Drum, a circular jerry can, holds 20 gallons, and it rolls smoothly enough for a child to tow it on a rope.

 “The No. 1 need that poor people have is a way to make more cash,” said Martin Fisher, an engineer who founded KickStart, an organization that says it has helped 230,000 people escape poverty. It sells human-powered pumps costing $35 to $95.

Pumping water can help a farmer grow grain in the dry season, when it fetches triple the normal price. Dr. Fisher described customers who had skipped meals for weeks to buy a pump and then earned $1,000 the next year selling vegetables.

“Most of the world’s poor are subsistence farmers, so they need a business model that lets them make money in three to six months, which is one growing season,” he said. KickStart accepts grants to support its advertising and find networks of sellers supplied with spare parts, for example. His prospective customers, Dr. Fisher explained, “don’t do market research.”

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