IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission
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Let’s not forget Nepal so soon!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Have most of us forgotten Nepal already?  Was it a blip on the screen of our TV’s and on the prayer lists of our churches?  My TV news these days is full of news of forest fires in the West, shark attacks in the East and tornados in Mid-America.  These are certainly important – and Nepal seems so far away.

Let’s not forget to pray and to contribute to business efforts in that country.  Jo Plummer on the Business As Mission website reminds us:

"We know of at least 15 BAM companies in Katmandu and beyond, including those in:
  • Aquaponics
  • Garment manufacturing
  • Information technology – cloud services
  • Information technology – software development
  • Guest house
  • Coffee roasting
  • Coffee shop/café 
  • Food production and retail
  • Outdoor equipment retail
  • Jewelry making
  • Trekking

She continues, “Please pray for these companies – the business owners, their teams and local employees. Pray for wisdom, peace and provision as they aid others, rebuild and try and get back to ‘business as usual’.” You can read Jo's full blog, "Pray, Give or Go to Nepal? Pray for BAM Companies!"

I wrote in an IBEC blog shortly after the first earthquake in Nepal, “Every human in crisis needs relief from the stress and hopelessness of the crisis, but then they need empowerment, dignity and resources to grow and develop. Job creation does just that. We think that in today’s world Jesus would bring both immediate help (like how he healed the blind man) and long term focus on life and faith. What is most needed to complement the relief services that have poured into Nepal?  If we take the long view from now until eternity, we should focus on job creation to alleviate poverty, social injustice and sickness.”  

Job creation is a critical felt-need in Nepal, with 40% of the workforce unemployed, even before the earthquake. Poverty only exasperates the effects of a natural disaster, with low quality building and lack of resources meaning that many people have lost what little they had and will struggle to rebuild. 

One of the businesses in Katmandu that survived the earthquake is Top of the World Coffee (TOWC).  They are having record sales and they are serving the market at a critical time, according to IBEC’s Ken Leahy who has worked in Nepal with TOWC as well as other Great Commission companies.  

Higher sales means more jobs and more jobs means better lives and it means more people seeing Kingdom values being lived out in the marketplace.  These relationships lead on toward people coming to know who Jesus is.  For example one of the employees of TOWC came to faith in Christ a year ago, and just recently he led the local church worship service.  In the words of owner, Dale, “…seeing him up there this morning made all the challenges of running a ‘fair and ethical’ business in Nepal’s frontier economy seem worthwhile.”

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Quilts and a question

Monday, July 20, 2015

I just looked out my office window on this sunny day in mid-July.  Our little town of 2,000 residents is swarming with about 10,000 tourists who have come to the largest outdoor quilt show in North America.  It is amazing! Thousands of people; overweight dogs on leashes; women with gigantic handbags; a restored 1931 Model A displaying artistic wares; old men being towed around by their wives looking at the intricacies of massive quilts; people licking $5 ice cream cones; men drinking $8 coffee drinks; and streets blocked for the swarm of people while the bluegrass band played Night Train to Memphis.  Most of the people are at least nominal “Jesus followers”.

But as I walked around, my mind went to a trip several of us made to western India not long ago, with similarly impressive fabrics created by their masters like they have been doing for centuries.  But with no dogs and only scrawny cows; women with no handbags and few possessions; no old restored cars – in fact no cars at all; no ice cream and no expensive coffees; and for sure no country, western and blues bands.  Just poverty!  Most of the people were followers of the prophet Mohammed!  

We were part of a tour put on by a Business as Mission company operating as a for-profit business and a kingdom opportunity.  Their company was created with a Triple Bottom Line in mind – a profitable business helping a community; the creation of jobs; and helping people see who Jesus is.

The contrast between the two scenes could not be starker.  In fact it is tear jerking!  I hurt inside.  Before me today I see overfed and overpaid Americans driving into town in myriads of Class A motor homes paying $10 or more for a small helping of pulled pork while they look at world class art fabrics.  While the artisans of a half a world away ply their craft with few viewers and with one meal a day – if they are that fortunate.  They walk for miles for the basics of life such as water; live and die and few people know about them or even care. 

How can these things be?

The question is rhetorical – there is no answer or there is a myriad of answers.  But I get up each morning determined to be more a part of the solution than part of the problem – a solution that brings development to a few of the billions of the world who barely survive - and a gospel that gives them hope.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

6 things I learned in 6 days in Haiti

Sunday, July 12, 2015

I had been in Haiti before and had even seen extreme poverty before, but I was reminded that we can always learn something new and sometimes we even need to re-learn things over and over again.

1.  I learned that it is important to listen and observe before speaking.  Even though our four-man team determined ahead of time to listen first, I was reminded that it is easier said than done!  We did listen and we did observe but sometimes I was too quick to suggest an idea or to ask the ‘no-no’ “why?” question.  I learned again that the question is much better received if I would say, “How do you go about irrigating this row of bananas?” rather than, “Why do you send the water that way?”  It was important that we send a signal that we were listening and learning before making suggestions.

2.  I learned that change does not come easy – it takes time.  When people who have done things a certain way for generations, a consultant has to first demonstrate the benefit of doing something different and then do it with humility.  For example, we went to Haiti ready to give advice and training for starting a profitable and sustainable business.  However three days of observation showed us that certain things must come first and they take time – such as infrastructure, education and community development.  A well-designed business may be useless if there is no road to it or the electric grid is unpredictable.  Transformation does not usually happen in one fell swoop, nor in a wrenching revolution, or with a solitary lucky break.  Jim Collins calls it an “organic, cumulative process” in his chapter on the flywheel momentum. 1

3.  I learned that just because it is different, it is not wrong.  In our world of financial models and spread sheets – sometimes we learn most from generations of experience.  Some call it bottoms up technology!  In a simple economy change begins with the details of life as it is, and works upward to a higher conceptual level. It is possible that metrics can be in the head of a plantain farmer and that is not wrong just because we automatically default to a spreadsheet.

4.  I learned that faith and work are integrated.  Haiti, like most of the world outside the West, does not dichotomize the sacred and the secular.  God is the God of everything and everything we do is to be for the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31).  God controls the weather – even when there is a drought!  When we spend time bringing water to the arid north of Haiti, as the Robinsons are doing, we are working for the glory of God.  We are exercising our faith.  We are living out our faith.  We are integrating our faith with our work. God uses all our skills as we live our lives by faith.

5.  I learned that relationships can be more important than what we realize.  From time to time we got a glimpse of the fact that we did not know what we did not know.  We only learned it when we built relationships with people. Perhaps the most beneficial half-day of the whole trip was walking around the plantation talking to farmers who lived and worked on the land.  They told us about their families; about their lives; about growing plantains.  As we listened to the stories of their lives, we had a richer conversation about the things we came to talk about – providing more consistent water to the plantain farms.

6.  I learned that we need each other, and as Ben Barr says in his blog, “Faith is a team sport.”  Robert Fulghum in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten says a kindergarten learning is:  “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.”  As four of us teamed up together to bring some help to the irrigation project we realized our skills, experiences, and knowledge were complementary.  We were a team and as we honored and respected that, we coalesced to provide a good end result.

1 Collins, Jim. Good to Great.  Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY.  2001
Fulghum, Robert.  All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Villard Books, New York, NY, 1990.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

WATER — or lack of it!

Monday, July 06, 2015

WATER!  I never thought much about it.  I was born and raised on Canada’s west coast with rainwater and lakes all around.  I lived for 21 years in the Amazon rain forest!  I suffered the rainy winters of Seattle for five years.  I can see the snow pack on the Cascade mountains from where I am writing this; and a 500 ml bottle of water at my local Costco cost me a mere five cents.  Until I went to Haiti that is!

I was one of four IBEC consultants who arrived on the arid north coast of Haiti on June 15, where thousands of people lack water – for drinking, for washing, for irrigation.  North Haiti is in crisis.  We had the audacity to believe we could make a difference in one week.

Well, Bruce and Deb Robinson have been there more than three decades – and they are making a difference!  Bruce and his team have built 23 dams on a small river; they have tapped into scores of wells and springs in the hills and piped the water to within reach of the people; they are working to bring river water via irrigation to parched soils for the growing of plantains.

That is where we came in – we came to listen and learn; and we wanted to assist the Robinsons in bringing the water of life in a land of desperate poverty and thirst.  We were engineers and managers – we knew things.  We could help.  Maybe – maybe not!

We interviewed poor would-be farmers like Jeanne who said, “There is a future for my family growing plantains here…but the biggest problem is lack of water.”   Others continued, “…we love Bruce because he loves us and is trying to bring us water.”    

It is our desire that the irrigation project we saw and evaluated will be sustainable; will create jobs; and will bring lasting water to the plantain growers of the area called Vital.  As in English, vital means ‘essential’ in the French language.  Water is essential to the survival of Vital, North Haiti.  Sure we shared a few ideas; produced some spread sheets and diagrams and projected what the future could look like.  But when it all boils down to the bottom line – it is all about WATER!

IBEC was founded on a couple of key tenets:  first that every human deserves the basics of this temporal life: the dignity of a job and the basics of food, water and shelter.  Secondly every human deserves to learn how faith in Jesus provides the way to eternal life. Water provides a real picture of what humans need – physically and spiritually! 

Prize-winning photographer, David Uttley, a good friend of mine, has published a book entitled Thirst.  He states that without water, the poor are trapped in a downward spiral which makes it impossible to break out of their terrible plight.  But Uttley affirms, “…we each can do our part to meet this overwhelming need.”  We did our small part for North Haiti, and we pray that it saves people from the debilitating effects of thirst and brings people into contact with the ‘water of life’ (Revelation 21:6).

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission