Today an image popped up on my Facebook feed which made me laugh and also prompted a host of memories about long-gone charity marketing campaigns that are still, somehow, with us today. The image (right) was a parody of a memorable and (once-) inspiring OXFAM campaign PSA which you can view on YouTube.
The modern parody amused me with its wit and to-the-point satire of the bank bailouts, but the lasting impression I had was that OXFAM deserved a lot of credit for creating a campaign that summed up the charitable zeitgeist and imbedded itself in our collective consciousness.
They had taken a simple English proverb – “Give a man a fish, and he’ll feed himself for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll feed himself for a lifetime” – and sold an entire philosophy of International Aid praxis to an audience still hooked (sorry) on the LiveAid/Comic Relief mode of throwing money at a problem.
The Aid community has moved on now, but it was an important development in its time. The echoes are still with us today. There is even an entire charity founded on the concept of ‘teach a man to fish‘.
Lastly – on the question of the origin of the phrase – lazy bloggers attribute it to Confucious, Jesus or whomever they can think of; I discovered through Wikipedia, that the saying is attributed to Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie (1837-1919) in her novel, Mrs. Dymond (1885). In conversation, a character says:
He certainly doesn’t practise his precepts, but I suppose the Patron meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.
Who says obscure novelists can’t influence society, even if it is 127 years after publication?