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Remembering Dr. Paul Polak, A Pioneer in Social Innovation

We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Dr. Paul Polak. Paul has been a friend, adviser and inspiration to our program. A revolutionary and pioneer in the field of social innovation, he worked tirelessly throughout his career to end poverty and through his social enterprises has improved the lives of over twenty million people. His legacy will continue to inspire the work of the design community and improve the lives of countless people in some of the poorest parts of the world.

As news of his passing spread throughout the department, our students and alumni reflect on the importance his work played in their own careers.


“As anyone who had the honor of being taught by Paul knows, he was a visionary. I saw firsthand the lives of people he changed in rural India, and am so inspired by the impact he created in that community. He not only defined my understanding of social entrepreneurship, he has solidified my purpose in life. I can’t thank you enough, Paul. I will miss you.”
– Pragya Mahendru, ’17, whose thesis, Wealthier With Water, was inspired by Paul’s work.


“Paul Polak was an inspiration to many, in many ways. For me, his work defied industry and discipline in a way that broke the bounds of any one industry. Simply having the knowledge that someone else was working in a way that didn’t exist before, and innovating at a systems level, and then implementing the work! Showing up and making it happen!

I found Paul’s work at a time when I wasn’t sure it was possible to continue working in design the way I wanted to. His projects internationally reminded me how little it matters whether the work has been done before, or if every single person believes in the vision.

The projects I’ve known and am familiar with of Paul’s are playful, impactful, and full of life. The work is making serious changes without taking the process too seriously. He created systems and experiences for many that define human-centered better than most. The world has lost a great mind and an incredible person, my heart truly aches for his family and friends who knew him.”
– Stella Liechty, ’21, current first-year student and this year’s recipient of DSI’s Paul Polak Scholarship.


Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to his family and friends.

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