Sunday, January 20, 2013

Solving poverty by teaching to fish

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

This is the message of a fascinating new approach to helping the poor. It is not as obvious as it sounds, at least to the sorts of people who typically devote themselves to remediating poverty.

Lately I have been describing it as the "third place." There is traditional charity — such as building a well or a school. Then there's micro-lending where entrepreneurs take out a loan to help grow their business. Our approach focuses on funding "micro-consignment models," which is a unsexy word for an "Avon approach" to ending poverty. We support social enterprise "Avons," or nonprofits who have a business mindset. They provide the tools and the training to community leaders, and those leaders go on to become profitable entrepreneurs by selling their goods or services to the community.

One example is our program in India with Water for People. An average of 38 percent of wells are broken in developing countries, and they often break within the first two years. Often times there are simply no spare parts, tools or trained mechanics to fix it. So we are helping Water for People train and support members of the communities to become well mechanics — $550 can train one mechanic to maintain 50 wells for 5,000 people in their community. We sponsored 176 mechanics last year, so that means approximately 8,800 wells in India will now be properly maintained and functioning, giving about 880,000 people access to clean water.

Read more about the Adventure Project.

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