Help is not always helpful. There’s a difference between a hand up and a hand out. And the sayings keep rolling. “Teach a person how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Give him a fish and you feed him for a moment”.

As a person who believes in this concept running Sustainable Water as a limited company and not a charity did not make sense to a lot of people. It made sense to me!

In the case of water, the charity model is not working for people in developing countries. The premise of a charity is that the people you are working with are charity cases for various reasons.

In contrast, I believe that they are capable people who need a hand up. Why? Because I am one of those people. I got a hand up not a hand out! It is my belief that everyone wants to fulfil the highest, truest expression of themselves.


Unfortunately, AID has created a culture in Africa that makes people want to be saved from themselves. The mzungu (Swahili for white person) is cast as the saviour in this regard. Since so much aid has originated from the mzungu, most people revere the mzungu. Most foreigners who have visited African nations will attest to the fact that they have been treated like gods and sometimes to the detriment of the locals.

This has perpetuated the notion of a desperate Africa needing the benevolence of the West. Evidenced by the anecdotal images that portray a suffering Africa that is incapable of escaping violence or poverty without the intervention of the West. The appeals run on the adverts always have one thing in common: desperation and people are moved by empathy. On the flip side Africans have bought into it too. Words create reality. If you keep telling people you can only come so high. They will never break that ceiling.


The issues raised does not mean that AID and volunteer work should be abandoned. Rather a shift in understanding that the people charities work with are not objects of charity. They are resourceful citizens who are able to stand on their own two feet with a little help. Essentially a hand up!

  • This means that long-term commitment is necessary in order to ask the right questions. To discover whether you are addressing a symptom of an issue or the root cause of the issue. This determines where AID is directed. Quick wins lead to broken pumps.

  • Incorporating the community into the solution is key. This gives them a sense of ownership. When implementing Sustainable Water projects, all ground work is done by the community. This makes establishing water guardians easy as they take care and ensure the sustainability of the solution after installation. This leads to long-term change, justice and structural change.


Those who run are Africans who know without a shadow of doubt that they are capable of so much more than standing on their two feet. Once they get the hand up (AID), they run and along the journey they transform their communities.

“When I want you to succeed more than you do then I am enabling you not helping you”. A marionette is a puppet controlled by wires often resembling a human. It can only stand when the wires are pulled taught. The wires are analogous to current AID programs. Once deployed people can stand. However, the test for AID programs becomes: If it is removed does development collapse? The aim is for people to move independent of AID. That is sustainable development!

Do not hesitate to contact us to discuss a possible project or learn more about our  work.
Ingenuity Lab, Ingenuity Centre
University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG7 2TU