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Business as Mission: where social impact and profit...and much more...converge

Monday, January 26, 2015

Some people find it confusing to read about socially conscious business, social entrepreneurship or values-driven business. Isn't business just business – driven by profit margins acceptable to shareholders?  What’s all this talk of values, social impact and community development?

For the past decade or so it has become increasingly popular to talk about social purposes, meaning that some entrepreneurs have a motive beyond profitability.  They want to solve social problems and bring a positive return to society.  Big corporations sometimes address this through the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); and business startups sometimes call themselves social entrepreneurs meaning they start businesses which inherently provide for maximum job growth in their area, or they hire the marginalized in the community, or they take gigantic steps to benefit the community by helping solve problems that exist in the community, or all of the above.  Some entrepreneurs are driven by a cause, like a software developer eager to provide a better way for people to connect.

Let’s take the oft-quoted proverb of going beyond giving a fish (aid, charity) to teaching people how to fish (self-support, development).  Social entrepreneurs also investigate and address issues of alienation and marginalization. They ask, “How can provide access to the fishing streams and ponds or to advanced fishing industry equipment controlled by interest groups and power brokers…breaking down barriers that hinder the poor from advancing?” They want to revolutionize the fishing industry.

Some might say, “That sounds good, but it mixes two extremes in ways that seem irreconcilable.”  A business is focused on profit and the Not-For-Profit or NGO is focused on social impact.  How can you do both together?

The idea of the Triple Bottom Line surfaced in 1994 when John Elkington coined the term in reference to equal attention to environmental, social and financial measures (or as some think of it – the 3 Ps – profits, planet and people).  People started to talk about sustainability in terms of protecting the planet, improving the individual and community conditions, while still making a profit.

Business as Mission (BAM) similarly seeks an eclectic integrated approach to our humanity, but acknowledges the spiritual component of our humanness, thus combining the temporal and the eternal; the individual and the corporate; God and humanity; the sacred and the secular.  The case could be made that BAM is the ultimate social enterprise because it creates jobs, improves the community, provides profit to investors and assures that employees, investors, customers, vendors, and the wider community learn of the God of the universe and of Jesus’ provision for the human condition.

So, BAM business owners are truly social entrepreneurs.  They know they must satisfy their investors, and those investors understand the wider social and spiritual purposes.  They believe in the goal of simultaneously seeking profit for themselves as well as spiritual and personal growth for society’s public benefit.

Such BAM businesses are driven by spiritual values and are sometimes called Kingdom businesses meaning that they are part of building the kingdom of God on earth, and pursuing the eternal kingdom of God for all who follow in Jesus’ ways. Hence we see on the IBEC website reference to values-based businesses, because in order to realize real social reconciliation, consciousness and purpose, one needs to base one’s life and business on eternal values – such as  faith, love, integrity, excellence, truth and purpose.  BAM businesses are all of this: socially conscious, values-driven, mission-driven, business for transformation – all of which bring the entrepreneur to incorporate everything that is important to God together in an integrated whole with the human condition.

How does this work?  For example in consulting with a business, it is important to pursue a business plan at some point; and also pursue a ministry plan (or social plan).  Both aspects need to be integrated, intentional and measurable.  

Here is how one client planned for spiritual and social value (in part). Dave decided to write a weekly proverb on the main office door of his East Asia office where all 25 employees came to work every day.  He wrote it there with no biblical reference.   For example he might write, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them about your neck…”  Sound good?  Everyone pretty much thought that sounded like a good thought but they had no idea of the source, until someone would be chosen to ask where it came from.  The low-key answer from Dave: “…oh that is from my Holy Book” – which led to conversations about Dave’s Holy Book and what it said.  After a few weeks they were asking to study more “good sayings” from Dave’s Holy Book.

I visited Dave’s manufacturing plant a few years ago and I asked several employees (through translation) what they liked about working for Dave.  Many things emerged:
  • I like that he pays us on time each Friday (something atypical of that region).
  • I like that he gives us severance if there are few contracts (not all that common).
  • I like that he honors our families and includes them in group activities.
  • I like that he cares about our kids when they are sick or in trouble.
  • I like that he teaches us new skills.
  • I like that he hires handicapped people from the community and gives them value and dignity.
  • I like that he invites us to go camping once a month, and listens to us talk about life around a campfire.
Dave is a social entrepreneur; he is a Business as Mission business owner (BAM); he works toward Business for Transformation (B4t).  He drives toward the Triple Bottom Line – profitability for his company, job creation and community value and spiritual formation.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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"Football does not define me"

Monday, January 19, 2015

Marcus Mariota of the Oregon Ducks football team has been much in the sports news the past two months.  Last month he won the 2014 Heisman Trophy in a landslide and on January 12 he led the Ducks in the national championship game.  There is no question he is a talented record-breaking all-star quarterback.  But is there more?

Mr. Mariota is not accustomed to losing and the embarrassing loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 12 was only the 5th loss in 41 starts of his college career.  FSA magazine quotes him “…losing – especially here at Oregon is tough.  We have high expectations as a program to go and win…”1 But on the biggest stage of college football, this champion of a guy did not win.

Mariota went on in the interview to say that he has learned a lot about himself through college sports, “Coach has helped me learn that football doesn’t define me.  It is just what I do.  That was a huge life lesson for me.  I really took that and ran with it.  My faith is what keeps me going and I can always grow in that.1

“Football does not define me!”  Elsewhere Mariota says that glorifying God with his abilities is the most important thing – that is what defines him.

If business does not define us and it is ‘what we do’ as Mariota suggests, how then are we defined?  For Mariota it is to “shine our light” and use the abilities that God has blessed him with.

God has blessed business people with abilities to start and/or operate businesses.  That is special!  That is important!  But that does not define us.  What defines us is the complete package – character as foundational to competency. 

Perhaps central to character is our integrity.  “The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete.2 In this context, integrity is the inner sense of "wholeness" deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others "have integrity" to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.”2

While running a business overseas for the glory of God or in providing consulting and coaching expertise, the issue of integrity surfaces in various ways.

  • Am I foundationally and “completely” and wholly who I say I am?  For example, if I am a tour company, am I really doing that to the approved standards?
  • Is my life and business integrated so I live the same way at home as I do in business?
  • Do I give full time to the business, or is it just a hobby?
  • Do I have a valid professional identity which makes sense to all levels of society?
  • Do I recognize that I cannot do it myself and I do not pretend to do so?
  • Do I intentionally integrate my life and family into the community where I live?
  • Do I bring my experiences, talents and training into an integrated whole so they make sense in the business, or have I been trained for something else altogether and am faking it?

For these and other questions – we must ask ourselves what defines us.  Whether we are a business owner, a consultant or an investor these are important questions as applied to a Triple Bottom Line business overseas. We do well to ask ourselves questions of integrity and wholeness and continually drive toward a complete integrous representation of who we are.  

Mariota will survive the embarrassing national championship loss because “football doesn’t define him” – his integrous faith does.  So too it is for us in the hard times of our business life!


Photo credit: isportsweb (http://isportsweb.com/2014/11/20/oregon-football-marcus-mariotas-heisman-chances/)

1  http://www.fca.org/2015/01/12/in-his-own-words-marcus-mariota/#.VLV1mnsYO7A
 2 "integrity". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th edition ed.). El- shaddai ØØØ. 2000. Retrieved 2009-05-13. ... from integer, whole, complete

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Top reasons startups fail

Monday, January 12, 2015
I am always intrigued with titles like this one I saw recently: The Top 20 Reasons Startups Fail.  Why would I not be interested? We are in the startup business; and I don’t like failure; and it is the start of a new year!

The study analyzed more than 101 startup post mortems for reasons for their failure. Before looking at the full study and the graph, think about the top three; quoted here from their blog.

No Market Need – 42%
Run out of Cash – 29%
Not right team – 23%

1. No market need

If there is no demand or you do not know how to create demand, then no amount engineering talent will solve this. Selling demand to something that does not exist yet (selling faith while knowing you can deliver) is a skill in itself.

2. Ran out of cash

This can happen in three ways:

You didn't raise enough cash to begin with;
The results didn't happen before you ran out of cash; or
You scaled prematurely. 

The whole point of the bootstrapping phase is to test and gain clarity in a new unknown area, while keeping expenses as low as possible so you can still be in the game when you can execute the clarity you gained. You don't want to run out of cash before you can fully execute what you have learned in the startup phase.

3. Not the right team

There is nothing worse than working with the wrong people. It is a horrible way to spend your time. Note that you CAN'T change people. You may be able to train them +/- 5 to 10% in either direction but you can't fundamentally change a person. Getting the people that naturally exhibit the personality traits for the success in the role is the only way to create a great team. These sorts of teams create 1000% returns with a lot less effort. In these sorts of teams, people want to work together and enjoy each other's company.

While we may not concur with all points made on this site, the full graph here and other comments are great food for thought.



As I look back over the business clients IBEC has had in the past eight years and especially those that did not make it or are currently struggling, I see some of these top three but also some of the other factors such as: lack of a business model, loss of focus, legal challenges, failure to pivot, and disharmony among ownership.

It would be a good strategy in early 2015 for IBEC consultants, coaches, business owners and investors to think about these 20 reasons and ask the hard question: is the business struggling or potentially failing because of one or more of these reasons?

As for IBEC itself, one of our challenges is to continually ask the question: is there a market need for our services?  Are we ahead of the times?  What price point will the market withstand?  What marketing strategy will best match supply with demand?  How does one develop faith in the consulting product?  What does it mean to create value first?  

These and other related questions are the subject of an IBEC study in the coming weeks which we are doing in partnership with others.  It is our attempt to understand and act upon “market need.”  As a reader, please know we are open to any suggestions, comments or questions.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Five key elements of our purpose to keep in mind in 2015

Monday, January 05, 2015

IBEC’s purpose is to help build sustainable businesses through consultative expertise that changes lives and transforms communities.

  1. We help build!  IBEC leadership and consultants are committed to partnering to get the job done. We want to work together in collaboration with other individuals and organizations – and we do.  We help – we do not do it alone!   We highlight partnering on our website.  We highlight it in reference to our 360 degrees of success together with colleagues, customers, employees, families, investors, owners and many others (Values Based Businesses Deliver 360° of Success). We are in the consulting business together with others.  With you!  And it is all about growth and development – we are building for the future.

  2. Sustainable business is the end in view.  We have an exit strategy and train our clients in what the end should look like.  We don’t want anyone to be dependent on us but we are committed to sustainability, independence and interdependence.  The companies we coach in more than 20 countries are striving toward the bottom lines of profitability and sustainability; job creation for more and more people; and to the creation of spiritual capital; and good stewardship of creation’s resources.
  3. Consultative expertise is our core product.  The coaches, consultants, subject matter experts, investors, donors and leaders who have joined us are committed to using their experience, expertise and education for the good of others – to help others’ businesses to grow and make a difference in their world.  Consultative expertise is what we are all about and we aim to grow that in 2015.  We thank God for the involvement of top level executives, experienced managers, engineers, marketing executives, bankers, business owners, MBA's, attorneys, IT experts, accountants, and the list goes on.

  4. Expertise that changes lives.  Lives change when people have dignity.  Having a job brings dignity and self-worth.   Lives change when they come to know the God of the universe and they see purpose for their lives.  Lives change when they rise above poverty; learn to fight injustice and learn to thank God for their empowerment.  IBEC loves to see that happen!

  5. Expertise that transforms communities.  It doesn't stop with a successful business or a changed life.  Individuals grow into a community that is transformed – the collective whole of individuals who are changing their world.  We still look forward to the individuals who are changed by having a job, hearing about Jesus and experiencing liberation and dignity while developing into a community changing transformation.  We keep working to that end.
We step into this new year with great expectancy and ask you to consider how you might get engaged with IBEC in 2015...as an entrepreneur, as a consultant, as an investor, as an advocate or as a donor. Visit our website for more information or contact us to find out more about ways you can join us in this life changing venture.   

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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