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An immigrant alien reflects on governments

Sunday, November 27, 2016

I have lived outside my country of citizenship for most all of my adult life. I have been an alien; an immigrant! Nearly thirty of those years have been in the United States, where I now work, pay taxes and live peaceably with my American wife trying to serve the spiritually unreached and economically disadvantaged of the world. I have tried to remain low-key in political conversations this year but I have a profound love for this grand “American experiment” in democracy.

The Founding Fathers established some principles in the preamble of the Constitution and while these architects of the democracy were not all Christians, the principles are very biblical in their nature. Since man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) ethics is rooted in the character of God (holiness – Hebrews 12:14; justice – Deuteronomy 16:20; and love – 1 Corinthians 13:13).

However, sometimes it is considered “cool” to complain about America as if the country were “going down the tubes” and losing what it has gained in its more than 200 years. While that may be valid for some pundits, as I travel the world I remain immensely grateful for the founding principles which still underlie this country. Take a look at them in relation to many other places:

To establish justice and fairness for all residents. Many other countries discriminate against Christians and against business development. Such injustices are biased against Christian people such as what happened to small business owner Rob, who was told to get off his leased land where he was creating jobs for 30 people, building boats in Indonesia. Another case is Jeff who returned from Nepal last week. The tariff on raw materials needed for his small BAM startup employing women of the street was assessed a 500% duty which drove down margins to intolerable levels. So much for justice in some places.

To ensure domestic tranquility. A team of Kingdom engineers and business people had government contracts to help build an alternative energy industry in one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. One of them was targeted by extremists and shot dead in his vehicle. The turmoil in this country would make a night in the most restless city in America seem like a Sunday picnic. So much for domestic tranquility in this and many other similar countries.

To provide for a common defense. The defense system in the US is based on a democratic government model with the elected President as Commander in Chief. This month we have another clear example of “peaceful transition of power”, something modeled in the transition from George Washington to John Adams. All of this is defensible with a military system united with agreed-upon commonalities. No one need wonder what comes next and how we can defend ourselves in case of crisis; unlike small former Soviet republics like Azerbaijan, where we have served kingdom businesses.

To promote the general welfare. IBEC helped a project in Haiti which was attempting to start small businesses for the common good of its citizens. Before we started to interview and listen to the people, we heard story after story of foreign aid monies being siphoned off to the small number of bureaucrats who typically buried money in foreign banks. So much for the general welfare in a country like this seriously victimized by corruption and unethical behaviors.

To secure the blessings of liberty. One of our clients was forced out of his Asian country because of government refusal to grant a visa to their fourth child. It seems liberty was a blessing for a few but not all. In another country in the Balkans, the local government broke contract for our clients’ agricultural product because it was no longer convenient for them. No such thing where “every man does that which is right in his own eyes.” 1 Freedom and liberty seems rather unique to Western democracies and particularly the United States.

To form a more perfect national unity. It is commonly accepted in America that the role of government includes restraining evil and providing safety with a consistent rule of law. A rich history in the laws of Moses and constructs from the likes of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, among others, provides for a national unity. Even a fairly decent country like Thailand where we do some BAM consulting, is subject to military coups on a regular basis and has had 17 constitutions. Not really a “more perfect national unity.”

Harvard professor Clay Christensen had a very interesting encounter with a Marxist student on this subject. The two minutes to hear the story will be worth your time:

1 Judges 21:25

2 YouTube: https//www.youtube.com/watch?v=YintXYDPw44

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Where there is life there is hope!

Monday, November 21, 2016

On the night of November 2 forty million Americans were glued to their TV sets, watching history in the making. That night the Chicago Cubs won baseball’s World Series in dramatic fashion. It has been 108 years since they had won that trophy. All the talk of a curse, the Billy goat theory and every other type of jinx talk ended with one winning team making its place in history.

The impact of it all was seen dramatically on a wall outside Wrigley Field. Loyal fans scribbled the names of friends and relatives who passed away before seeing their team win a World Series. The longest sports drought in US history had come to an end.

Cubs spark hope around the world

Even non-Americans overseas celebrated. My colleague and IBEC trainer, Rick Buddemeier sent me comments from friends of his in West Africa. They saw a principle with the history of the 2016 Cubs.
Pr. Albert Ocran said, “Where there is life there is hope.” Pr. Sampson Dorkunor declared, “We must never give up.” Others commented on the importance of patience, tenacity and endurance. Amazing - people looked on from the small nations of Ghana and Togo and took hope from a sport they knew little about. But they saw values at work.

“Where there’s life there’s hope” is attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien1 whose character Samwise Gamgee declared it in The Lord of the Rings. In another of Tolkien’s famous quotes, “A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.”

Really? Apparently so for the likes of Kwashie, Albert, Sampson, and Humphrey who operate small businesses in West Africa while trying to make a difference in people’s lives, not only economically but spiritually and socially. For them, the Cubs gave them hope.


While their first hope is in God, this temporal reminder gives hope as they see others who never gave up – even in the faraway city of Chicago. They see patience, endurance and tenacity (see my recent blog on GRIT)2 and it inspires them in their life, business, church and their community.

Sure, these guys know it takes lots of hard work, skill and a host of other qualities, they are struck by the importance of HOPE! Hope for business success, hope for more jobs to be created, hope for social and spiritual transformation – through a hair salon, a farm and through the business college.

Maybe Tolkien got his inspiring quote from a wise person of long ago. The writer of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes declares in 9:4 “Anyone who is among the living has hope…” and that is most certainly based on the God of hope (Romans 15:13).

So hope is both an ancient and modern concept. It is rooted in biblical Judaic principles and repeated by the most prolific New Testament writer, the Apostle Paul. It is promoted by Tolkien, demonstrated by the Chicago Cubs, and admired by small business owners and pastors in Ghana, West Africa.

Yes, HOPE is important for all of us.

Photo credit: FlyinHawaiian13 (http://imgur.com/user/FlyinHawaiian13)

1 The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2 Does GRIT explain the success of a BAM business?,Larry Sharp, IBEC Blog (http://www.ibecventures.com/blog/grit)

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Kingdom business: to invest or not to invest?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

This week I received an email from a client; the owner of a manufacturing plant in Asia. I have known the owners for more than eight years and visited them twice. I have appreciation for their business model, their commitment to the Quadruple Bottom Line and their personal values. The business has created jobs, proven a financial sustainability and has had significant spiritual and social results. Thus far they have been good stewards of their resources.

They have been in business about ten years but have always been underfinanced and have suffered from cash flow and related issues. They have grown slowly and now seem poised to take a leap into the future with about $1 million in sales in 2016. Jamie is asking for our help in finding approximately $100,000 in investments in the company.

As I thought about this, I considered a grid of questions which are important to any investor. Suppose I presented Jamie’s case to an equity investor or a loan company, what questions need to be answered?

What are the goals of the owner and the company?

A potential investor wants to know about the big picture. He or she wants to know about Jamie and Lynne as owners; what are their passions; why are they doing this? They want to hear their take on the Quadruple Bottom Line:

1. Profitability and sustainability:
  • How committed are they to building the company?
  • When will they sell?
  • What will the end look like?
2. Job creation:
      • How many more jobs will be created?
      • What kind of jobs and for what sectors of people?
3. Spiritual results:
      • How do they live out Kingdom values in an incarnational sense?
      • Are they helping people to follow Jesus?
4. Stewardship of resources:
      • How are resources being stewarded, both human and real?
      • Are the right people in the right positions?
Investors want to know about the customer. Is the customer base changing and does that require diversification or other pivoting? Investors want to know if the goals are worth the attendant risks.

How will the company reach the goals?

Is there a simple and clear pathway for how to get there? These answers about strategy focus on markets, accountability, key metrics, and financial viability. Jamie will need to articulate company policies, evidence of robust research, decision-making frameworks, and solutions to local economic, political and cultural hurdles – all of this in terms the investor can understand.

Likewise, the financial information needs to be clear, concise and understandable so that investors see the desired economic results. Likewise, on the spiritual side; what the strategy for living out Kingdom values and leading people to a new life in Christ?

In general, it is healthy to expect metrics for all elements of the Quadruple Bottom Line (see IBEC blog, Do you have clear KPIs for your Kingdom business?). The metrics (when known) will lead the reader to ask questions related to “getting there”.

Can all of the above be executed?

Many people have a great vision and can build a good-looking strategy, but they cannot execute. Every owner cannot do everything so the human resources need to be in play to “execute”. For example, entrepreneurs like Jamie are generally strong in vision, leadership, goal orientation, and interpersonal skills, but many need complementary traits of analytical problem solving, planning, organization and self-management, essential for execution.

Has the business reached the stage in its development to require a new leadership style? Conventional wisdom suggests that leadership has to change as a start-up begins to scale. As one example, once one takes on equity investors that in itself requires new items such as caring for the investors, shareholder’s agreements and time to listen to advice.

Companies in the building stage need different kinds of resources for executing the strategy – and different kinds of managers. Maybe new talent needs to be built from within or subcontractors replaced with those more familiar to the company. Some business starters get bored and frustrated with building the structure – something required in the execution stage. Serious thought has to be given to “letting go”; something often difficult for founders.

Oftentimes the culture changes at this stage – an investor might want to understand company culture as well as the surrounding cultural context. Is there anything that might mitigate sustainability or achieving any other goal?

Actually, I have wondered if I should invest in Jamie’s company. I am sure there are plenty of other questions to consider, but these have me off and running in my efforts to update myself on Jamie and Lynne’s company. I believe in them and value what they have accomplished since they first applied for a business license in their Asian country, but I have to be a wise steward also - and so do all of us.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Wealth creation is God’s idea

Sunday, November 06, 2016

In the current political milieu one hears various perspectives on economic issues – how to reduce unemployment; how do address poverty and injustice; how to keep America great economically – to name a few.

Business is all about wealth creation as the means of improving individual lives, communities and nations. Wealth creation can be briefly defined as the amassing of surplus assets, more than what is needed to survive. This surplus can and should be used for the common good. Wealth is similar to savings, which is a requirement in capitalist economies. As surplus is acquired, a person, business or nation creates wealth.

Individuals create and own the wealth as he or she uses existing resources and his/her mind to bring new wealth into existence. Wealth then is the accumulation of resources fueled by innovation.

Modern examples are Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Steve Jobs and many more. They took an innovation and applied entrepreneurial skills to the marketplace and created wealth for themselves and millions of others.

In the last two hundred years, wealth creation has surged due to economic philosophies (e.g. Adam Smith, John Locke and many others) and revolutions (political, social and economic) which provided a fertile context for innovators. Capitalist thinkers and business owners began to understand that by applying savings in creative ways, growth occurs.

Tapping natural resources and innovation

Innovation is an important way to create wealth because it results in more resources coming out of the innovative process than went in. New wealth comes into existence. This is perhaps the single greatest factor in what we know as the modern era of growing wealthy persons and nations.

However, innovation is the second way that wealth is created, the first being the appropriation of resources from nature which of course has taken place from the Garden of Eden until now.

A creative act

All of this is important in that these ideas drive us to do business for the glory of God. We are creative because God was the creator God (Genesis 1 and 2). He expected man to be creative, and business is a creative act. Deuteronomy 8 helps us understand both of these ways in which wealth is created. God made a covenant with his people. If they would obey his commands, He said He will “…continue to give the ability to produce wealth…”

In the beginning and as noted in Deuteronomy 8, God gave the resources of the “…good land – a land of brooks, streams…a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey…a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.” These were resources to be appropriated.

But iron and copper and olive oil and vines do not create wealth until innovation is applied. The Israelites of that period built houses, their silver and gold increased, flocks grew large and all they had was “multiplied”. All of that was dependent on the ability God had given them to create wealth (Deut. 8:18).

God’s idea

So wealth creation is God’s idea – from the beginning – and until today. As we promote the growth of businesses in impoverished areas of the world we are being obedient to God. We do not believe in the limited supply of wealth or in a zero-sum pie; we believe that it is created by innovation and entrepreneurs, is unlimited and can be grown.We believe we are following the will of God as stated throughout His word - as we create businesses which create jobs and wealth – for the greater glory of God!

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission