Forget Teaching to Fish. We Need Access to the Pond.

on April 16 | in Celebrate Clarkston | by | with No Comments

Photo of pond behind fence

Used with permission: Creative Commons license.

A wise man who had suffered greatly for sacrifices made during the civil rights movement once remarked “You’ve heard that ‘if you teach a person to fish you feed him for a lifetime.’ That’s a damned lie. You’ve got to give that person access to the pond if you want to feed him for a lifetime.” I’ve been reminded of those words often in my community development work, specifically in the context of economic development here in Clarkston.Sure, it is important for individuals to receive training, that they “learn to fish” so as to provide for immediate family needs. However, the ability to feed ourselves for a lifetime is found in our individual and collective ownership of labor and in the shared ownership and control of resources and systems that impact our lives. Such resources and systems are the ponds of our communities. Only through ownership and control of such resources and systems can true, sustained access be realized.

This type of access is part of the Clarkston entrepreneurial accelerator known as VilCap Start.  Entrepreneurs participating in the program have sacrificed their evenings, invested innumerable hours, and fully engaged in weekly training and planning sessions so that they may, one day, wade into the waters of economic self-determination. I see the impact of such access in the elation of shared stories of new customers gained.  I see it in the pride and growing confidence found in new skills and concepts learned. I see it in the participants’ weekly, collective, anxious anticipation of the unknown overcome by sheer determination to understand and excel. I see it in the way each of the participants refers to “my business,” and the way those assembled emphasize the word “owner” when they introduce themselves.  Indeed, I see it etched in the focused gazes of those entrepreneurs gathered each week to listen, to learn with and from one another, to share, to support and encourage; to swing wide the gate between them and the ponds of true economic opportunity.


 -Chris Thompson
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