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Is BAM disruptive innovation?

Monday, March 30, 2015

I have recently been listening to Clay Christensen (Harvard Business School) describe his idea of disruptive innovation.  He calls it a theory and has some amazing examples from the steel and auto industry, tech examples and even education.  The definition below comes from Christensen’s website which I highly recommend.

“Disruptive innovation, a term of art coined by Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market', eventually displacing established competitors. Christensen has since applied this principle to business, health care and education, providing enormous insight into what companies and organizations need to do to move off the sidelines and into the top tier of their field.”

The video on the above link is only about 8 minutes but it is extremely intriguing and worth listening to.  Are his ideas potentially important for social enterprises and Business as Mission?  He looks at it this way.  If we continue to rely on data (which looks to the past) for decision-making, we are not going to prepare for nor change the future.  The way to look into the future (because there is no data) is to develop theories.  

In the business world and in education, we need to learn “how” to think and rely less on “what” to think.  So what does this mean for those of us in the Business as Mission sector?

Many times I reflect on this question, especially today as I watch the country of Yemen descend into further chaos, “what really will change the world toward positive transformation?”  Is it a benevolent dictator? Is it evangelistic preaching? Is it capitalism? Is it the social gospel? Is it better models?

The question of course causes me to reflect on what IBEC and other entities in the social enterprise and BAM space are trying to do.  Here are some of the mission statements from websites.
  • Agora exists to enhance the spiritual, social and economic prosperity of communities in developing countries by equipping entrepreneurs to establish profitable businesses that benefit their communities, create jobs, and inspire local entrepreneurs to do the same.
  • Our mission is to launch a new generation of missional entrepreneurs who build prevailing companies, while also meeting physical and spiritual needs around them. We infuse technology and world-class business wisdom into the ancient tradition of biblical discipleship – one accomplished, Godly leader apprenticing one willing and God-appointed learner.
  • Third Path Initiative equips young professionals to have a kingdom impact through profitable business in the global marketplace.
  • Professionals International is a network of economic development professionals who live long-term in challenging business environments. We work alongside entrepreneurs in these places to grow sustainable businesses that benefit the poor and marginalized, empowering them to make a living and improve their lives.
  • IBEC’s purpose is the help build sustainable businesses through consultative expertise that changes lives and transforms communities.
All of this is disruptive! It disrupts the traditional mission industry. It disrupts the pure social enterprise sector.  It is disruptive of traditional business. Disruptive innovation has been described as insanely creative, rule-breaking and leading to entrepreneurial change.

Could what we are doing, along with the disruption we are creating, change the world like mini mills disrupted the integrative steel industry? Like Toyota disrupted the Detroit car makers?  Like personal computers challenged the mainframes and won? Like on-line education is disrupting traditional universities today? Like retail medical clinics are disrupting traditional doctor’s offices?

I well remember one of the examples Christensen provides.  Like in the home of Christensen’s youth, the RCA radio had a prominent place in our home.  But about 60 years ago the Sony transistor radio began to peck away at the bottom of the radio market.  It was inferior and could not compete with the quality performance of my parents’ RCA, so it was initially ignored by my parents.  However Sony began to re-define the standard of performance to be availability and portability.  Now I could listen to Rock and Roll without my parent’s knowing it, and I could take it with me. Thus what started out to be an inferior product which captured a small segment of the market soon improved, and from the bottom up became industry standard.

Could that be the social enterprise industry today?  Could that be Business as Mission?  Could what we are trying to do by breaking all the rules, by challenging the silos and historical categories and by providing an integrated solution to the spiritual, social, economic, and political problems be described as  disruptive innovation?  Could we really by trying to demonstrate the kingdom of God “here and now” as Jesus said we could and should?

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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What are we supposed to think and do about poverty?

Monday, March 23, 2015

An indelible image in my mind while growing up in northern Canada was of grown men sleeping in our town’s Greyhound bus station with no place to go and nothing to eat.  Years later while living in tropical Brazil our family saw poverty as we had never seen it before.  As I have traveled the world, many images are burned into my mind of ragged children begging for food, of adults scrounging for anything they can find in garbage heaps in Latin America, Africa and Asia; of mothers lying on the streets with dying infants in their arms. All of these images and many more represent the 40% of the world’s population living on less than $2.50 per day and crammed into the slums of the world’s great cities.

What am I supposed to think?  How did Jesus think? What do the scriptures teach?  One thing is for sure – if I had a dollar for every time I have heard the utterance of Jesus, “the poor you will always have with you” as a defense for lack of action, I would be quite wealthy I think.  Certainly he was not saying, “Don’t worry about such things, it is clearly God’s will.”  Such illogic flies in the face of all the rest of Biblical teaching.

Jesus may have been quoting Deuteronomy 15:11 but it was as a call to action, “…open your hand freely to your poor and to your needy kin…”  God cares about the poor and charity (to address immediate needs) is clearly an important principle for all of us as demonstrated by Jesus.  However charity is not enough; it does not solve problems in the long run.  Poverty will not be solved by massive redistribution of wealth (as proposed by some church councils and major governments).  Poverty will be eased and dignity restored when root causes are addressed and we encourage a hand up rather than a hand out.  Addressing poverty in a responsible way is a part of how we live out the kingdom of God in our day.

Theologian Wayne Grudem states it well, “…I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business.  That is because business produces goods, and businesses produce jobs.  And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year.  Therefore if we are ever going to see long-term solutions to world poverty, I believe it will come through starting and maintaining productive, profitable business." (Wayne Grudem, 2003)1

The BAM Think Tank task force addressed these issues in their report, Business as Mission and the End of Poverty.  Most of us may not read this excellently done 74-page report, but you will be happy to know that there is a short version and I highly recommend it. Check it out at: http://businessasmission.com/bam-end-poverty.  It is a wonderful summary of why the issue of poverty is a central focus of Business as Mission.  

BAM is a key demonstration of obedience to the Great Commandment of Jesus to “love your neighbor.”  It is the modern equivalent of Jesus asking the poor and disenfranchised, “What do you want?” (Mark 10:51)2  Their answer: a good job.3

For further insights on this subject I recommending reading and viewing:

  • Corbett, S. & Fikkert, B.  When Helping Hurts- How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself
  • Lupton, Robert D.  Toxic Charity – How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help
  • Martin, Jonathan. Giving Wisely – Killing with Kindness or Empowering Lasting Transformation
  • Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid – Why Aid is not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa
  • Poverty Cure – From Aid to Enterprise  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxASM44gPlU)

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Business ethics in action: let your light shine

Monday, March 16, 2015

We have written some thoughts in recent blogs about ethics, corruption and bribery.  Because IBEC serves businesses in countries that are the most corrupt in the world (see www.transparency.org), we hear stories like this from time to time.  This story gives a glimpse of what it is like to make ethical decisions in the real-life context in Asia.

Following ethical business practices whether in North America or overseas is not always easy. Questionable opportunities present themselves in various ways that can lead to object lessons and experiences that provide us with better understanding.

A few months ago, a client operating a business in Asia (Rick) contacted a nearby new factory as part of regular efforts to explore new manufacturing partners. Rick had been chatting with Wang, a young sales agent at this company for a few days when they decided to meet face-to-face. However, the meeting quickly turned sour as Wang started explaining a plan to secretly take developed clients from his company and refer them to Rick’s for a commission. 

“I explained that this was not the way our company was interested in doing business,” Rick recalled. As Rick tried to end the meeting quickly but politely, Wang noticed the Bible on a shelf and asked if Rick was a Christian believer. “I said ‘yes’ and explained the connection between my faith and our desire to do business under ethical conditions,” explained Rick.

Wang left disappointed and Rick was sure he would never see him again. To his surprise, Wang started chatting with him online three days later and announced that he had quit his job and decided to open his own independent sales company. “After working as a sales manager for 3 years under 3 different bosses, I’ve been lied to countless times and not one had ever fulfilled promises made on commissions or other aspects of business agreements,” Wang explained.

“When I turned down his offer of backdoor referrals, it stood out to him in the context of his culture,” Rick said. Over the next few weeks, the two men chatted often regarding trade leads, business, life and faith.  Just before Rick left on a sales trip to America Wang asked, "How does someone have a faith like you have?" 

“Our first business meeting upon my return from the USA involved this young man, myself, and another employee, and during the meeting Wang said he wanted to follow Jesus,” Rick said.

Rick continued, “I am not sure how the business cooperation with him will work out, but I am surprised, and pleased to say the least, at how what seemed to me to be a basic ethical business decision could make such an impact on a young man that would eventually lead to a significant life changing experience.”  

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.
Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:15-17

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Have you found your TBO for 2015 yet?

Monday, March 09, 2015

On Dec 29, 2014 I wrote about being on the lookout for that big opportunity, something retired Harvard Business School professor John Kotter calls The Big Opportunity (TBO).  It is a window into a winning future that is realistic, emotionally compelling and memorable.  In business it can be new markets, advances in technology, new products, new people, or anything that becomes a new TBO.  We all need to be on the lookout for our next TBO.

As an educator I highly value metaphors or models which help envision some potential reality.  The model could be from some other industry or exist in an unlikely setting, but the point of comparison can be readily realized.
Such is the case of the 1987 McFarland High School (California) cross country team.  In that year this unknown high school won the state championship and went on to attend the state meet for 24 straight years.

The town of McFarland is just north of Bakersfield in the heart of California’s fertile Central Valley.  Most of the inhabitants of the town are of Hispanic origin and they are employed in the fruits and vegetables picking industry in the region.  They and their families believed this to be their destiny. That is, until 1987.

It was that year the new coach Jim White moved into this community, and though an imperfect mentor and coach he saw “The Big Opportunity”.  These high school kids of this Mexican American high school had exceptional running ability.  They ran to school; they ran home from the fields after work; and they were fast!  Coach White (‘Blanco’ to the kids), saw the TBO: maybe he could coach them to be successful in cross country running.  And maybe that would lead to greater things.  Maybe the next generation would not have to be pickers.

Coach Blanco saw something others did not see and said to the seven best runners, “There is nothing you can’t do with that kind of strength and with that kind of heart.” He formed a fledgling team of unlikely runners who bonded together and become a championship cross country team and created a legacy for themselves and for the community.

The story is told in the movie “McFarland USA” and is well worth the watch from the perspective of its redeeming qualities such as family, culture, motivation and pathways to success.  But watch to see what results when an opportunity is discovered and created.  The story is real, compelling and emotionally laden.  It demonstrates what can happen with a TBO which is recognized, developed and relentlessly pursued.

Seven members of the team went on to college and to professional jobs (totally unheard of prior to TBO and Coach White - and all totally unexpected).  The story is a model for TBOs in business because it is inspiring and a metaphorical key to what will build entrepreneurial companies today.

Photo credit: thanks to photographer and cross country dad, Brian Archbold!

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Part 2: To bribe or not to bribe?

Monday, March 02, 2015

Last week I proposed the Noonan definition of a bribe as “an inducement improperly influencing the performance of a public function meant to be gratuitously exercised” (The History of Bribery). That definition then begs the question of what is proper and improper.  Considering biblical culture and law, our own culture and law and the host culture and law, the following questions will go a long way to helping us make decisions on what is a bribe and what might not be a bribe.  Remember that “Christianity operates on the notion that ethics (the study of human character) logically follows theology (the study of God’s character)”.1 

In short, questions of bribery and extortion can be subjected to a Biblical test contextualized to the culture of the business:

  1. Does a bribe create partiality?  The Old Testament commands us to not “show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great.” (Leviticus 19:15). Likewise in the New Testament, “…keep these instructions without partiality, and do nothing out of favoritism.”  (I Timothy 5:21).  If the activity causes one to be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged, the decision is likely unethical and unfair.
  2. Is the activity based on greed and does it oppress the powerless?  If a gift or “bribe” causes you to be advantaged and another to wait unfairly, the act has oppressed the powerless and is strongly condemned in the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:23;  Ecclesiastes 7:7).  Friedman uses the Old Testament to provide principles for businesses such as “Helping the Needy and Powerless”, and “Fair Treatment of Employees”, and “Not Engaging in Dishonesty and Immoral Business Practices.”2
  3. Does the activity clearly result in doing something illegal?  While it is difficult to determine what the law really is in many developing countries because, it is important to determine some standard to follow through your own research or by following trusted national experts.  Take the position that that it is never right to sin or disobey a law in order to accomplish a good purpose.  When a developing country does not have laws as robust as developing countries, don’t jump at the opportunity to take advantage of lenient local laws but use it as an opportunity to consider what is right and operate accordingly. “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.”3 Keep in mind that “…in free societies law is a moral floor, providing only minimal standards of acceptable behavior.”4
  4. Does the activity “pervert the course of justice” (Proverbs 17:23, Exodus 18:21)? Another definition of bribery suggests it is the “bestowing of money or favor upon a person who is in a position of trust (for example a judge or government official) in order to pervert his judgment or corrupt his conduct.”  In quoting this Falkiner states, “ Perverting justice through bribery can take the form of paying for an unfair advantage, such as buying entrance to a school that has limited enrollment, or fixing a traffic ticket, or receiving a visa for which one is not qualified.  The common denominator is that a perversion of justice has taken place.”5
With regard to bribery and extortion, the Bible seems to promote the morality of paying a bribe or giving a gift for something clearly legal or good.  Likewise the Bible seems to never condemn giving a bribe though it does clearly condemn taking a bribe.  Proverbs speaks positively in terms of gift giving (18:16, 21:14).  There are cases where gifts (bribes?) are not a way around the law (which is wrong) but an incentive for officials to do their prescribed jobs, or to expedite what they should be doing anyway, or to encourage justice.  Bribery in the Old Testament is condemned if it exploits or oppresses the poor.  It is condoned if it establishes a relationship.”6

In relationship-based cultures which are poverty stricken, sometimes “bribes” may be helpful to officials who have not been paid for months, and need encouragement to do their rightful job.  Clearly there are difficult cultural nuances at play here, and careful study of scripture, the laws and culture are important.

In a relationship culture, gifts can be a way of developing a friendship and working relationship.  Many non-western cultures expect an incentive gift as a way of solidifying a relationship and when not perverting justice, can be a healthy way of living in a culture.  One way to test this would be to ask – can it be given openly as opposed to subtly?  “A tip is for proper performance of a job; a bribe causes a person to betray a job.”5

“Be wise and give serious thought to the way you live.”  (King Solomon in Proverbs 23:19)

  1. Hill, Alexander. Just Business,  InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2008, page 14.
  2. Friedman, Hersey H. “Creating a Company Code of Ethics:  Using the Bible as a Guide”, Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organizational Studies,  Vol. 8 (1),  April 2003.
  3. Wong, Kenman L. & Rae, Scott R.  Business for the Common Good, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2011, page 187-188.
  4. Welch, D. ed. Law and Morality, Fortress, Philadelphia, PA, 1987,  page 153-154.
  5. Falkiner, Steven. “Bribery – Where are the Lines?”, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, January 1999, page 22-37.
  6. Adeney, Bernard. Strange Virtues, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1995, page 153.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission