July 19, 2010

TEACHING MEN TO FISH:

African experience converts a socialist (Jay Ambrose, July 18, 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Martin Fisher was a socialist. It didn't work. He gave it up. He became an entrepreneur, someone selling a product. This did work to the tune of improving the lives of a half million African farmers, something worth noting at a time when free enterprise is in desperate conflict with Obama-style statism.

Told on a recent PBS "NewsHour" and related in more detail on the Internet, the Fisher narrative is about an extraordinary altruist taking his Ph.D. in applied mechanics to Kenya and struggling to relieve poverty through such means as building free, large-scale water projects. When later checking progress, he found there had been none.

His efforts had come to almost nothing.

So Fisher and others in a nonprofit organization known as KickStart rethought what they were doing. They decided the African families mainly needed to get more cash in their pockets and began inventing and selling cheap, sturdy, simple irrigation pumps that could make family businesses bloom.

These efforts came to something big.

"I went over to Africa as a socialist and came - after about five or six years of hitting my head against the wall, became a small-c capitalist," he said on PBS. The large-scale irrigation programs weren't successful, he said, because they killed "local initiative" and "the local private sector." Something else: "People don't really appreciate things that they get given. They don't use them fully."

"If we buy something," Fisher said, "we're going to make sure we use that thing, and especially when you're poor."



MORE:
Martin Fisher: 2008 winner of the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability (Winners' Circle, Lemelson MIT)

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 19, 2010 6:35 AM
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