“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

We’ve all heard this proverb before. It’s an approach that many development organizations have adopted – giving knowledge is more sustainable than giving things.

When I took D-Lab (an MIT class focusing on appropriate technology development) with Amy Smith, she questioned this proverb. What if there’s no river nearby? What if the fishing rod breaks? What if he doesn’t like fish? These are all considerations that are not addressed by the proverb, and are possible places where the model can fail. Thus we need a reformed approach to designing appropriate technologies, accounting for maintenance, resources, user wants, etc.

But I mentioned yesterday that I believe just reforming our current development practices (or components of these practices such as technological design) is not enough. We need a reformed approach to development as a whole. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I believe the answer lies in using business models and social entrepreneurship. Thus perhaps Ashoka founder Bill Drayton’s modified proverb is the most appropriate:

“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”

(Photo from Istanbul, Turkey, 2009)