Fishing For Trash: Sometimes the Solution is Really Simple

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When Jaime Lerner, three-time mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, two-time governor of Parana State, and serial entrepreneur, was faced with dirty rivers killing the fish as well as the livlihood of local fishermen, cleaning up the river became one of his top priorities.

“When a fisherman caught a fish, he could keep it,” said Lerner at the global panel discussion of renowned city leaders and mayors during the New Cities Summit 2014 hosted in Dallas, Texas. “But when he caught trash, we paid him for it. So the fishermen started catching trash. And that cleaned up the rivers, which led to more fish for the fishermen to catch.”

Imagine that.

Paying fishermen for trash.

Lerner took an environmental problem caused by the bad habit of local citizens and turned the problem on its head. Instead of passing stricter laws or using the heavy hand of government to force its citizenry to comply with better habits, he made it more enticing to do what was better for the environment.

So often the solution to a problem is simple but lies outside of the normal context of our approach. Looking for the reward in changing behavior is often the most expedient path to change.

A great lesson for all of us.

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