Non-Profits & Scalable Solutions

I was struck by a recent article in the Economist about Vinod Khosla, in which Khosla says:

“I quickly realised that any non-profit activity I could do would be no more than a drop in the ocean. Most non-profit organisations are completely ineffective. That’s when I decided that I needed to look for scalable solutions, which meant self-propagating solutions, which meant capitalist solutions. Proving the capitalist tool as a solution for poverty is high on my priority list.”

He pulled together my thoughts on working in the NGO sector in Kenya. The good news is that organizations like HISG already get this, and are orienting their whole organization towards it. The bad news for me is I think the biggest gains come from areas where people who want the greatest benefit for the least advantaged are ill-prepared to compete: Google revolutionized search technology and is creating a revolution in business productivity with their free Google Apps accounts for organizations below 50 users; Apple created a revolution in the SmartPhone industry that pushes innovation to the far reaches of the Globe. So far we've seen the most dramatic gains in information technology, but the big question for me is whether we can see similar far-reaching gains in other industries.

Can we have more impact through mass-produced products, or knowledge?