Teach a Man To Fish, Writ Large (Repost of Newsletter from Leila, please use “Sign-up for Updates” section to subscribe at bottom of homepage)

Hello, there!

Happy 2016. I’m writing to you because you subscribed to my personal newsletter. Thank you!

I’ll try to send these at least once a week and discuss my challenges growing Sama and Laxmi and my thoughts on social justice, technology, and social business. They’ll always be written by me. You can unsubscribe at any time using the link below my signature, or contact me at leila@samagroup.co.

For starters, I thought I would share something that’s been on my mind a lot.

Americans are obsessed with donating stuff. Even if that stuff isn’t really helping poor people. We see a person suffering, and we think: she needs a meal. He needs a blanket. The barefoot family needs shoes.

But when we give meals, blankets, and shoes, people don’t escape poverty. In fact, they tend to stay in it. After decades of food aid to sub-Saharan Africa, most Africans are still extremely poor. Why is this? It’s because food doesn’t solve poverty. It’s a stop-gap.

We know this. We’ve all heard the “teach a man to fish” slogan. We all know that giving people income is the most obvious and sustainable way to move them out of poverty.

So why don’t we implement this on a broader scale?

What if we rewarded companies based on how many jobs they created among disadvantaged communities that might otherwise be the recipients of aid or welfare programs?

What if there were tax breaks based on the number of veterans a company hires, or the number of people who were previously below the poverty line?

What if we thought of businesses as true agents of social change, rather than cause marketing vehicles, and rewarded them for doing the work of social service agencies and paying a living wage to marginalized people? More businesses would become social businesses — they’d take a hit on profit in order to achieve more social impact. We’d have a third, powerful category of business emerge — deeper business — and we’d see entrepreneurs lining up to enter this space.

Cause marketing is dead. We need to think beyond One for One type models, even though they’re better than what came before them. I wrote a post on this recently for Laxmi, and described why impact sourcing is so much more powerful than One for One donations as a strategy for changing lives.

A few years back, a longer critique appeared on WhyDev covering the challenges of One for One.

I also shared this thinking in a few articles last quarter, in case you missed them:

Jessi Hempel in Wired

Laura Arrillaga Andreessen in The New York Times T Magazine

Maria Konnikova Hamilton in the Pacific Standard: Bringing The Poor Into the Digital Economy

The only way to make poor people less poor is to put cash in their hands. The best way to put cash in their hands is through a job. Our team at Sama wrote a paper on this, comparing work to cash transfers, and found that work provides longer term benefits than a handout.

What do you think?

All my best,


ps. Here are the last few blog posts I wrote. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook for updates.

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