If you teach a man to fish…a trawler might still beat him to the catch

By Cath Taylor

Published 5 Sep 2022

Two men sitting on a wall in the mountains with some spinning yarn

Why advocacy really matters

No doubt you’re all familiar with the saying: “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day….  If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat forever.”


It’s a concept we all love – rightly – because it builds on the idea that people will make their own lives better if they’re given the chance. Modest amounts of capital and business training can help people start up goat rearing, chicken raising and roadside garden projects that are truly life changing.

But it doesn’t end there.

You can teach a man to fish, but it won’t stop a fleet of trawlers run by a multinational corporation from getting there first.

It won’t stop the warming of the ocean, making catch harder to find. And it won’t prevent the owners of the marketplace refusing to pay what is owed or hoarding the fuel and bait because of caste discrimination.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

There are some things that charity alone can’t fix.

“For most of us, charity or giving is a fundamental part of our response to human need,” says International Nepal Fellowship Australia’s CEO Ben Thurley.

“But some things will never change unless we challenge the systems and structures that keep people poor. And that doesn’t come about through charity alone. It requires people to speak with and for those who are affected by injustice and oppression. That’s the work of advocacy.”

International Nepal Fellowship Australia’s partners in Nepal foster income and livelihood opportunities, provide health and disability care, respond to disaster and prepare communities for the impact of changing climate.

But one of the most powerful things our partners do – and one of the least reported upon – is advocacy.

In many parts of Nepal in which we work, discrimination based on caste, remote location or lack of access to education means people are excluded from making decisions about their own lives. Injustice and oppression are living, breathing realities.

So when our partners gather communities together to learn about human and children’s rights, disability inclusion, gender equality and the services they can access through their own governments, it’s big news.

Many people are hearing these ideas for the very first time.

“Nepal has some fantastic laws – the Local Self Governance Act means that local communities should have a voice in planning and budgeting processes so that their concerns and ideas are considered,” Ben says.  “It’s a great law and very inclusive, but like a lot of laws its not always put into practice.

“Our partners dedicated themselves to raising awareness about the law and how it operated so that local people could advocate for their own needs. They ran week-long training courses with local communities, and the difference these made was incredible.”

Every community in which the training ran put in submissions to local government – and they got what they asked for. Improvements to a bridge, new drinking water systems, support for a health post that specifically cared for people with HIV and AIDS, disability stipends and family pensions… the changes at the local level were powerful.

“Everywhere we went the communities told us – this is amazing!” Ben recalls.

“They wanted everybody to know about it. Educating people to understand  and ask for their rights creates change far more widespread than just about anything else.”

Advocacy work doesn’t often provide the immediate, life changing stories of happy goats and families. But it’s powerful and necessary.

And it needs your support. When you give to an NGO, consider investing in leadership training, empowerment of women, girls and young people and advocacy work. It’s every bit as important as toilets, wells and goats.

To find out more about how you can be involved in challenging injustice and changing systems here in Australia, read more here