Imagine having a library in your village that could show you how to build water condensers, new farming techniques, basic chemistry that could improve your quality of life, really ANY piece of information you could conceive of as well as the ability to communicate remotely with other vilalges trying to overcome similar problems at the touch of your hands.
But no, better to hand out fish then give access to fishing instructions.
Knowledge is power.
You know, this sounds like a great idea in practice.
In reality it is quite different. I agree with Calibax. Having seen the poverty first hand and having worked to help build a medical clinic in Kenya, as well as my Ex, who runs a charity in Tanzania.
We got them some of these books, and some of this knowledge. They have access to a lot of it believe it or not. The problem is not that they don't know how to do it, but the same infrastructure problems that bother us in the modern world. We might "know" that building a good rail network in a city area will improve infrastructure - but politics and other factors get in the way.
In the same way, gaining access to clean water sounds like it should make a difference, just give the people the knowledge of how to build that dam and water pipe, as well as a sand filter system, and it will all be fixed right?
Not in my experience. People in poor countries are just like us, but with fewer "toys". They procrastinate, they like to have fun. They would love to own an ipod or iphone. They are more concerned with getting the next meal and next "fun" thing than they are with building infrastructure. When is the last time you went out and built yourself a water line by hand? They just don't see it as a priority. I know this because when we worked on one trying to bring cleaner water to the clinic, all the locals wondered why we would bother when you could just get water from the stream like they always have. And yes, they know that the stream water would make them sick, but it is rather like dealing with a smoker - they have got along just fine this far with stream or swamp water, why should they change if things are working fine? There are other things to worry about.
So, in my experience, they have the material to teach them how to change, but are so focused on living day to day that they don't have the mental bandwidth to build infrastructure projects like you would expect. In my experience, Bill Gates approach is the right one - fix the basic needs first, then they will have the mental bandwidth to devote to projects.