Update March 13th: vote for the finalists here

We need your creative ideas to solve a problem: how to convince the world of the wisdom of giving directly. Will you submit to our proverb contest? 

Hi, we need your creative ideas to solve a problem: how to convince the world of the wisdom of giving directly. Will you submit to our proverb contest? 

The most common critique of giving cash without conditions is a fear of dependency, which comes in the form of: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.


We’ve tried to disabuse folks of this paternalistic idea by showing that often people in poverty know how to fish but cannot afford the boat. Or they don’t want to fish; they want to sell cassava. Also, we’re not giving fish; we’re giving money, and years after getting it, people were better able to feed themselves. Oh, and even if you do teach them skills, it can. be less effective than giving cash. Phew!


Yet, despite our efforts, the myth remains. 


The one thing we haven’t tried: fighting proverb with (better) proverb. That’s where you come in. We’re crowdsourcing ideas that capture the dignity and logic of giving directly. 

SUBMIT YOUR DIRECT GIVING PROVERB (and add your ideas to the comments too!)

The best suggestions are not a slogan, but a saying — simple, concrete, evocative (e.g.). Submit your ideas by next Friday, March 3, and then we'll post the top 3 ideas on Twitter for people to vote on the winner.


The author of the winning adage will win a video call with a GiveDirectly staff member to learn more about our work one-on-one. Not feeling creative? Share with your friends who are.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

As inspiration, here's a quote by Scottish stand-up comedian Frankie Boyle on how patronizing the teaching-to-fish idea is:


Give a man a fish, and he can eat for a day. Give him a fishing rod, and he can feed himself. Alternatively, don’t poison the fishing waters, abduct his great-grandparents into slavery, then turn up 400 years later on your fucking gap year talking a lot of shite about fish.

Strong disagree downvoted because:

  1. This blame-the-west narrative may alienate people (and I don’t think it’s a great explanation for poverty, but that’s debatable but also not the main point)

  2. This suggests the solution is simply ‘not doing harm/not getting involved’

Yeah, I mainly posted it because it's good comedy. That doesn't mean I think Give Directly should adopt it.
It's comedy, but it's also pretty spot on. My only nitpick is it should be 200 years, not 400 years. Not doing harm would be a big step forward in addressing poverty in developing countries. * Many developing countries are under crippling debt that forces them to forgo basic services for their citizens. Around half of this debt is taken out by dictators and never used to help the citizens of the countries responsible for the debts. . There are many instances where IMF and World Bank insist on collecting debts in full knowledge that the funds weren't used for the benefit of the citizens, and that doing so will kill many people through famine or lack of basic services. * As recently as last decade, governments were still paying money to former slave owning families as compensation for their financial loss when slavery was banned. Haiti is an iconic example. I can't think of an instance of large national government paying reparations for the harm it caused through slavery. Sure the West isn't to blame for everything, but it is far from innocent in the perpetuation of poverty.

When the UK outlawed slavery they compensated the slaveowners. It was a distasteful compromise, but [edit: contributed to] slavery being outlawed much sooner than in other countries (ex: in the US it took another 32y and a war). To fund these payments the UK government borrowed money, and paid it back slowly over time. Describing paying back the loans as "paying money to former slave owning families as compensation for their financial loss when slavery was banned" is very misleading.

Slave owners were also compensated in the USA. There were other reasons (cultural, political, economic) that legalized slavery lasted longer in the USA than it did in Britain. Additionally, the UK didn't borrow from random people - they allowed slave owners to convert the payments into annuities. The UK could have decided to stop paying these annuities at any point.
Jeff Kaufman
Almost none of them, no? It looks like this was DC-only and very late (1862). The annuities had become regular UK debt, though, no? And could be owned by anyone, not just descendents of slaveholders?
I absolutely misread that same Wikipedia article. My bad. As for the annuities, while they could have been sold, some may have still been held by the decedents of the slave holders. 
That seems almost aggressively misleading. "Some of this category of debt may have been held by these descendants, therefore it should have been invalidated", as you seem to be implying, proves far too much.

I think that disengaging from developing countries would be a negative, at least if we include trade, services, tourism and immigration/remittances (not sure if that should count under 'not doing harm')

But OK:

  • ODA is about $180 billion per year; about $50 billion to Africa link

  • Plus about 8 billion in private philanthropy per year

  • Africa's debt service payments are about $70 billion per year

  • If that debt was all forgiven it might do as much good as the ODA. So if 'not doing harm' means 'forgiving debt' you might be right. (But that is not what GiveDirectly is involved in.)

I'm not sure this is a good idea. 

  • It seems possible that the individual interventions you're linking to research on are not representative of every possible intervention about skill development. 
  • Also, it seems possible that future interventions may integrate both building human and economic capital to enable recipients to make changes in their lives. Ie. Skill-building  + direct cash transfers. 
  • Also, it's generally uncertain whether GiveDirectly will continue to be the most effective or endorsed donation recommendation. I say this given changes in how we measure wellbeing (admittedly, a topic with frequent updates to opinions and mistake corrections being made). 

Why potentially reduce the effectiveness of those future interventions by launching this campaign? 

Thanks Madhav - you make some good points  hadn't thought about it that way!  There's even mixed evidence already that cash transfers + skills training might be just as good as cash itself so your point has current not only future evidence. I think the media world moves so fast though that I doubt Givedirectly will damage future ideas through this campaign.  Personally being in the development world the "teach a man to fish" mantra drives me crazy so I'm broadly in support of it getting dismantled even if it does hold some truth.... "Who cares if you give the fish, the fishing class, the rod or the boat - what matters is that it works" This is Givedirectly crowdsourcing free advertising
I presume the "cash +skills" has less cash than the "just cash"? If not I would be strongly surprised if the "cash + skills" isn't considerably better.
Yep evidence is mixed, but cash + skills (or financial training) in some studies has been more cost effective than cash alone. Not always giving the same cash equivalent in both arms (which is a shame), but estimating cost effectiveness from outcomes https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304387818305522
Can you share a study that says cash is better than cash + skills? I looked but didn't find one (but may not have looked thoroughly enough!)
https://today.ucsd.edu/story/cash-transfers-more-effective-than-workforce-training-in-improving-lives-of-rwandans?utm_campaign=202302%20Earthquake%20relief&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=247271411&_hsenc=p2ANqtz--4Ubp9HDIIaaKoTgAcZebQoRzDVoVwjTSK7akgJ8czlHi9fc-DQ92EvyJePPb5wISD_6jeWzAzpDKycTcxYLcHSaMFWQ&utm_content=247271411&utm_source=hs_email from the original givedirectly above - look down near the bottoom of the article. There are others too I'm pretty sure. Evidence is mixed on this one.
I suspect that the effectiveness of the integrated cash and training interventions will depend heavily on the type of training provided.

What's wrong with the "People in poverty know how to fish but cannot afford the boat" that you used above? I think that's great.

"Give a man money for a boat, he already knows how to fish" would play off of the original formation!

Devils advocate. He's right! Why don't we just buy them a boat instead!?
Because if he does not choose the boat, he may not use it. In other words: The man might not need a boat but a fishing rod or some other tool not for fishing and will know the best what tool he needs to buy the most.

I'm really excited to see what this competition produces!

Small suggestion - I think changing the prize/incentive would be good - I think non-altruistically motivated people who could produce good slogans might not find an educational video call a worthwhile prize. I personally wouldn't be motivated by this prize (and I think people on this forum likely won't be either, although they're obviously not a demographic which needs much incentive to help GD)

I Have to throw this in: my friend's response when I sent him the post this morning. "Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Video call a man and he’ll say “what the hell am I supposed to do with this??”"

Yeah I think the choice of incentive is really bad and even a little patronising, assuming we'd want to chat with someone from Givedirectly - surely Givedirectly deal in cash, stick to what you know ;)

"Not everyone wants to fish: give the dignity of choice" lacks a certain snappiness and isn't really a proverb but other than that I think I've smashed it

You smashed it bro, love it :D :D :D 

Alternative idea: we could try using memes?


As one idea:

Yonatan Cale
Another idea:
btw isn't this a reference to Hemingway's the Old man & the Sea?


  1. "Give a person a hammer, and they can build a house. Give them money, and they can build a home."
  2. "Giving cash is like giving a seed to a farmer, it allows them to plant and grow their own future."
  3. "Teaching a man to fish is important, but giving him the resources to buy a fishing net and boat is just as crucial."
  4. "Cash is not dependency, it is empowerment. It allows people to make their own choices and shape their own future."
  5. "Giving cash is not a handout, it's a hand up. It provides the resources needed for people to lift themselves out of poverty."
  6. "Empower people with cash, and they will teach others how to fish."
  7. "Cash is like fuel for the engine of economic growth. It allows people to invest in themselves and their communities."
  8. "Giving cash is not a one-time fix, it's a sustainable solution to poverty."
  9. "Cash is not just a means to an end, it's an investment in human potential."
  10. "When you give cash, you give people the freedom to determine their own path and create their own success."

Random thought, when thinking of cash transfers my mind sometimes jumps to George W. Bush's "Just send them cash" speech in response to the earthquakes in Haiti. It comes across as kind, pragmatic and urgent, and at the same time appreciative of people having the idea to do other things, like sending clothes or food. 

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Give a man some cash, and he will teach himself how to fish.


Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Give a man some cash, empower him for a lifetime.

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Give a man some cash, make his best dreams come true

Give a man some cash, put his wisdom before yours

A better proverb does sound helpful!

On how you've structured this, though, it would probably be a better fit for the forum if you indicated ideas in comments are also welcome? Advantages:

  • We can talk with each other about the relative merits of our ideas

  • Voting can give information about reception

  • A post with comments is more likely to elicit additional comments

Great idea! edited to encourage posting down here too, in addition to through the form. 

Poverty is not having the means to climb out of poverty. 

You can explain ladders to a man in a hole all you want, but until you give him one, he cannot climb out. 

We give, therefore they can.

I'm actually surprised you guys want to kill the "teach a man to fish" proverb. 

The key message of the proverb seems to be that we should be increasing the capabilities of those in hardship so they can lift themselves out of hardship and be self-sufficient. I never read it as advocating for teaching skills specifically.

Furthermore my understanding is that increasing the capabilities of those in hardship so they can lift themselves out of hardship and be self-sufficient is GiveDirectly's goal. You guys don't want to give money to the same people for the rest of time do you?

Not a submission to the contest, but years ago I supported an NGO in Kenya working with the Luo community. 

The NGO was called Teach A Man To Fish.

The Luo are famously good at fishing. 

The local Luo people didn't complain about the apparent condescension of working with an NGO called Teach A Man To Fish when they were actually very good at fishing.


They wanted the money they could get from the NGO!

Ok, my best idea is to highlight a Marxist theory of labor vs. capital at the small scale. I know this sounds very high brow but I think a distillation of it could work?

Give someone a loaf, they can eat it.
Teach them to bake, they can join the labor market and work hard to feed themselves.
Give them money for an oven, they can own the means of production.

A man in a hole needs a ladder, not climbing skills?

It´s no direct "kill", still:

Dear Lord, I know some billion people are hard working yet still can´t afford enough food or water. Please, please, please: Let this be a problem, which can be easily solved by a good teacher. I don´t want poverty to be a money-problem. I mean, if that´d be the case, I would still keep my money, I wouldn´t change my behaviour, but I´d feel bad about it. So nothing would change, except me feeling bad. As you are a good lord, you sure don´t want that, right? - Oh, and please: These people are waiting for this good teacher for some decades now. Would you ask Santa if he could give him a lift? 

Give a poor person a wish, and she will wish for money. You may think this will feed her for a day, but data shows it will feed her for a lifetime.

Any suggestions to improve this idea? :) 

I haven't reviewed other comments, yet, but this reminded me that many years ago President Lula  said (I think during an interview or debate, while running for  a second term) every fisherperson knows that, when one goes fishing, it's necessary to bring along the proper equipment - and  a prepared meal or snack to sustain the time and effort the fishery might take. You don't fish hungry, much less starving. I can't find the precise source because any google search gets full of other irrelevant materials - actually, there are too many sources linking Lula and his policies (Fome Zero, Bolsa Familia, etc.) to this proverb, and his team has often tried to reformulate it in ways like "we'll give fish PLUS teach fishing". But I think nothing trumps this old extended metaphor (and the way it was phrased really made it seem like the credit belongs to him - but that's the talent of a populist, to display the wisdom of the avg Joe). Btw, "Lula" means "squid" in Portuguese,  a delicacy for fisherpeople- maybe another evidence of nominative determinism?
Roberto Magalhães
"A wish for money can spark a fire of self-sufficiency, and direct giving provides the fuel to keep it burning bright." When we grant a wish for money to a person in need, we give them a chance to create a brighter future for themselves. It's not just a handout, but a hand up towards self-sufficiency, and a commitment to empowering individuals towards greater independence.

Give cash. Cos not everyone wants to eat fish.

Can we submit more than one idea per form or should we do a new form for each proverb suggestion?

Scott Smith
I was wondering this too. If you haven't found out already, submit one per form (after submitting you will be asked if you want to submit another).

I just want to write that I really appreciate how you've set this up.

I see a lot of EA essay contests that offer large cash prizes for the best essay. This strikes me as insane for a movement founded and based upon the principle that we should fund only the best interventions based on RCTs and good evidence. Where is the good evidence that essays are a cost-effective way of improving the world? Where is the justification for these huge cash prizes?

Winning a video call seems far more appropriate, in line with the potential work done / value created, and selects for submissions from people who care enough about GD (and are aligned enough) that they're actually interested in such a prize.

Not everyone wants fish. GiveDirectly

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime - if he can afford a fishing rod.

"A fishing rod is no use in the fields; seeds are no use at sea. But with cash, the fisher can buy a rod and the farmer can buy seeds."

Thansk for this. Right now, I just wanted to remark that I loved the prize here.
There've been many contests in the EAsphere awarding awesome financial prizes... while for many people here, I guess that being doing something great (and then receiving props for it) is incentive enough.
(Perhaps you should call this "innovative proverb maker of the year"

Mock submission:

Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll have to buy all of the lures, tackle, and rods you taught him how to use.  #capitalism #25%offyour1storder #overfishing

Submitted my real suggestions through the form...

"Some poor people have plenty of fish. No poor people have plenty of money."

Here are some attempts:

  1. "Apt is a tool that fits all hands." (Emphasizes the wisdom of avoiding overly targeted interventions.) Or perhaps, "Apt is the ladder that anyone can stand on."
  2. "A seed well planted sprouts a forest." (Emphasizes that money is an investment, not a short-term benefit.)
  3. "Within the owl's tree is what only the owl can see." (Emphasizes that recipients have special knowledge about what's good for them.)

A rough formula for generating these might be this:

  1. Figure out the specific message/insight you want to convey. (The contest instructions l
... (read more)

Something along the lines of.... "Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Give a woman some cash, and she'll pay for her kids' education and their fishing rods."

But, like, snappier.

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Give him money and he can buy a fishing boat.

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Give him money for a fishing net or a nice plow, that'll help more.

They know what they need. They just need some money for it.

Whoever lacks a dollar knows best how to use the next one.

Maybe simply add a question, like for a school essay:

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” If this were true, how many decades ago do you think would extreme poverty ended worldwide?

I already know how to fish, but I’m not quitting my job, because I want money. Do you want to take your salary in fish?

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

Forget fish. Just send cash.


Popular myth says "teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime".

But 200+ studies say "give a poor man cash, lift him out of poverty".

Let's stick to the research.



Teach a man to fish, feed him for a year (maybe).

Give a poor man cash, lift him out of poverty.

Give directly to empower rather than to be in power

Give a man a fish, it may rot in transport. Teach a man to fish, he may have other more practical skills already. Give a man cash and he can buy whatever is most useful for himself and his family.

(The idea is to highlight key benefits of cash in a way that also maps plausibly onto the fishing example. I'm sure the wording and examples here could be improved; suggestions welcome!)

Yet, despite our efforts, the myth remains. 

How do you evaluate whether or not the myth "remains"?

Teach a man to fish, they'll still starve in the jungle.

Money begets money

Or, and this is a bit more of a slogan:

If you want your money invested wisely, find the person who needs it the most.

Whatever you give a man know that you are just a tiny bit of his life. He is struggling with giants. Try to be the most helpful tiny bit you can, but manage expectations.


Using Givewell research it's not exactly easy to come up with a snappy proverb. 

But I thought using a rhyming approach, you could build one. Preface a snappy rhyme with a factual sentence.

Example sentence:

People don't spend our transfers on booze or cigs. They spend it on food, assets and to improve their earnings. 

Add on 1, 2 or 3:

  1. Direct cash transfer is the right answer.
  2. Don't be weird and funny, just send them the money.
  3. Sending them money will make their life sunny. (not too happy with that one)

Instead of: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime," I suggest:"Give a woman access to a farming ecosystem that supplies affordable, high quality produce"

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities