Paul Polak and Mal Warwick’s award-winning book, The Business Solution to Poverty, highlights 20 “takeaways” that encapsulate much of the book’s essence. Today we feature the fifth of those takeaways. Future posts will include others.
Poor people have to invest their own time and money to move out of poverty.
Poor people living in villages or slums in the Global South rarely receive any lasting benefit when outsiders tell them what they must do to escape from poverty — giving the lie to the old saw that “If you give a man a fish, he can feed himself for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime.” As a practical matter, the NGOs that put this cliche into practice almost invariably end their lesson to poor people by giving them fancy fishing rods. Sure enough, those fishing rods tend to meet the same fate as the disused wells or empty schools that other NGOs have built.
If poor people — in fact, most people — invest their own money in tools such as fishing rods or tube-wells or drip irrigation, the chances that those tools will be fully used are vastly better. And if the effort of using them increases a family’s income, it’s equally likely that the effort will continue, or even increase.
This is the fundamental assumption in which market-based solutions to poverty are grounded — an assumption that has been proven true again and again and again through the years.