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There is an old development proverb that says “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime”.

It’s called capacity building, helping people to be able to help themselves, so that they don’t need our help any more. It is the difference between ‘aid’ and ‘development’. Of course in a disaster situation (earthquake, storm, flood, war) people need feeding. They need it urgently, and there is no way they can do it for themselves. That is humanitarian aid. That is the response we make to the war in Syria, the cyclone in the Philippines. However when the disaster has passed people need to be able to get back on their own feet.

There is another whole layer that needs to be added to the metaphor. Beyond the need for food come multiple other needs, even for the most basic of lifestyles. Medical care. Education for children. The chance to have a stronger, drier house. Clothes, books, tools. The list can go on. The point is that a cash income is needed for all of these.

The next step beyond subsistence is economic development, teaching our ‘man’ to farm the fish, and have a surplus to sell, so that he can have an income to pay for medical care, education, a corrugated iron roof, safe water supply, hygienic toilet, etcetera. Actually, experience tells us that it works better for the whole community if you teach the woman, not the man, but that is another article!

Microfinance is the first step in economic development. These are the micro loans that can set a family up with an income generating activity that can transform their lives. Again, experience shows that not everyone can manage their own business, while others have the ability to grow a business into something that will give their neighbours work as well.Banzaid's Chandpur TCDC project has done a lot of work with village savings groups to enable them to set up micro-businesses.

The next step up is the SME (small to medium enterprise). Development that builds small to medium size businesses based in and targeting poor communities will give families employment that will not just feed them, but will enable them to get medical care, education and all the rest.

Business based development is an exciting approach with potential to transform communities. Through Marketplacers, NZBMS has well established businesses working for local communities. Banzaid has also been working on business based development. Our projects include the Solar Lighting project in Bangladesh (in partnership with Dimensions Ltd, a Marketplacers company) and the BU Kofi Company Ltd in partnership with the Baptist Union of Papua New Guinea.

Written by Paul Thompson

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