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In celebration of labor: the value of a good day's work

Friday, August 31, 2018
construction workers working

This is a reprint from The Christian Post of the article "In Celebration of Labor: The Value of a Good Day's Work.", by Chuck Colson.

This commentary first aired on September 1, 2003.

What does Labor Day mean? For most of us, it's nothing more than a welcome break from what we tend to see as "the daily grind." Work to so many people is simply a necessary evil. The goal in life is putting in enough time to retire and relax.

But that attitude and that goal is contrary to a Christian worldview perspective on work.

Christians have a special reason to celebrate Labor Day, which honors the fundamental dignity of workers, because we worship a God Who labored to make the world - and Who created human beings in His image to be His workers. When God made Adam and Eve, He gave them work to do: cultivating and caring for the earth.

In the ancient world, the Greeks and Romans looked upon manual work as a curse, something for lower classes and slaves. But Christianity changed all of that. Christians viewed work as a high calling - a calling to be co-workers with God in unfolding the rich potential of His creation.

This high view of work can be traced throughout the history of the Church. In the Middle Ages, the guild movement grew out of the Church. It set standards for good workmanship and encouraged members to take satisfaction in the results of their labor. The guilds became the forerunner of the modern labor movement.

Later, during the Reformation, Martin Luther preached that all work should be done to the glory of God. Whether ministering the Gospel or scrubbing floors, any honest work is pleasing to the Lord. Out of this conviction grew the Protestant work ethic.

Christians were also active on behalf of workers in the early days of the industrial revolution, when factories were "dark satanic mills," to borrow a phrase from Sir William Blake. In those days, work in factories and coal mines was hard and dangerous. Men, women, and children were practically slaves-sometimes even chained to machines.

Then John Wesley came preaching and teaching the Gospel throughout England. He came not to the upper classes, but to the laboring classes-to men whose faces were black with coal dust, women whose dresses were patched and faded.

John Wesley preached to them-and in the process, he pricked the conscience of the whole nation.

Two of Wesley's disciples, William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury, were inspired to work for legislation that would clean up abuses in the workplace. At their urging, the British parliament passed child-labor laws, safety laws, and minimum-wage laws.

But here in America we've lost the Christian connection with the labor movement. In many countries, however, from Canada to Poland, that tradition still remains strong.

Much of our culture has a distinctly Greek view of work: We work out of necessity. But, you see, we are made in the image of God and as such we are made to work-to create, to shape, to bring order out of disorder.

So this Labor Day, remember that all labor derives its true dignity as a reflection of the Creator. And that whatever we do, in word or deed, we should do all to the glory of God.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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History of IBEC failures

Friday, August 24, 2018
sign with disappointment road written on it

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ (George Santayana-1905). In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill changed the quote slightly when he said (paraphrased), ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’

I was recently cleaning up some physical files, when I ran across a spreadsheet from 2008/09 listing IBEC projects which provided data on the status of the start-up, metrics for success and other interesting information. I found it curious that many of these businesses we worked with in the first two years of our existence have “failed”.

It reminded me of a conference in Arizona a few years ago, when after I had cited many success stories, a person in the audience asked me, “don’t you guys have any failures?”

Now I would be the first to recognize that “failures” are not really failures, but more accurately experiments in learning. In the famous words of Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And so it may be with those early years in IBEC.

There is no perfect assessment of a cause-effect relationship, and I acknowledge that my perspective is personal and anecdotal, however I believe those closest to these situations would concur that what I relate here is at least at least one primary reason for the demise. Here is an effort to “remember the past” with a view to giving reasons for the demise of each dream and a statement of what we learned. I will not provide specific identification of the geographical area nor the persons involved out of respect for security issues and the fact that I do not want to disparage the efforts of anyone.

Agricultural project in the Balkans: There was an excellent team led by a well-respected and experienced couple in place and even some business expertise on the team. Several hectares of land were leased, and research seemed to indicate that tomatoes would be in demand in the capital a 2-hour drive away. In the second season of operation, there was a bumper crop and there was optimism from the several tons of produce. What happened? Because of a glut in the market, the contract became worthless due to cultural factors that were not considered. Various supermarkets had “guaranteed” to take the product, but when the glut occurred and the prices dropped, the written contract was ignored leaving the expat team with rotting tomatoes. The good news is that they re-grouped a couple of years later when they discovered that raspberries had more potential. They are still in business. We learned the importance of understanding the nuances of culture.

Consulting company in a former Soviet Republic: Jeff was a successful business man in the USA and entered this Asian country in partnership with a like-minded national attorney. Their business model was to provide real estate and cultural expertise for foreigners doing business in the country. What happened? It looked like a great match, but the local, who had access to the bank accounts, ran off with all the money and the clients. Jeff was left with little recourse in a foreign land. However, Jeff was a true entrepreneur and he went down the street in the same city and started over. That company did well and he sold it eventually for a good profit. We learned the importance of risk assessment and contingency planning, especially in countries without a Judeo-Christian ethics.

Engineering Company in the Middle East: A western European company was doing business in an Arab country known for Islamic radicalism. Government contracts allowed for visas for the expat workers. IBEC’s consulting was focused on helping families live in this desert country, and how to integrate faith into the workplace in a Muslim context. What happened? Radical elements shot and killed one of the employees and it became very difficult for all foreigners living in the city. Soon several families who loved the people and had learned the language moved to a calmer place in the middle east. We learned that some places are of such high risk because there is no “rule of law”, and normal contingency planning is all but impossible.

North Africa Outdoor Activity Company: This company was well coached and well prepared to provide tours for Europeans interested in the outback of the country. There was a good team in place and the leader was well trained and experienced. In the 2nd year they were experiencing excellent profit margins on tours. What happened? Two things precipitated the temporary closing of the business. One of the key product developers decided to give up and leave the country, leaving the leader without a key assistant, and secondly, they discovered the reason why they were unable to scale the business. They could not be overcome some distance factors and poor infrastructure. They sold the business to a business person from the UK and the company has started up again with some major changes. We learned that one cannot be too careful in the testing stage and have pivots in mind from the start.

Sheep farm in Senegal: A native of Togo had moved to Senegal for missionary work among a people group there. He spoke several languages and was loved by the people. He contacted us to help with a feasibility study while they purchased some land and bought some sheep. There was an evident market for mutton in this Islamic country. What happened? After several attempts to find someone to lead the business as a full-time job, the operation was closed. We learned that without the right person, the operation will fail. There must be a leading person with the vision, expertise and time to grow the business.

Photography business in East Asia: The leader of this business was experienced in the area, spoke three languages, and had a product that seemed marketable. The photography business was aimed at tourists and resident expats who wanted quality photo shots of their work and of the country. The photography was of high quality and great efforts were made to market the idea. What happened? Despite the efforts of the couple and consultants, the business never really produced significant revenue and became more of a hobby than anything else. We learned that without a customer, there is no business. There should have been more research, which would have demonstrated an insignificant number of customers willing to pay market prices for the product.

Water retention and distribution company in Indonesia: The owner had a science background and the family loved the country and were well liked by the community. They had significant success in raising money in the US for rain storage units which then piped clean water to the remote villagers. It was a much needed and appreciated social project. However, the day came when NGOs were being expelled from the country and the decision was made to make this a For Profit business. The IBEC consultants attempted to teach management, marketing, product development, capital acquisition, financial planning and other principles. What happened? The leaders found it difficult to learn and develop the necessary business skills, and they decided to leave the business and return to the USA. We learned that it is next to impossible to transition a Not-For-Profit to a For-Profit using the same people.

Coffee Farm in Haiti: Coffee had been a primary product in some of the hill areas of Haiti, and some farmers were contracted to grow it again and to provide beans to a small fair-trade producer. This was set up like a cooperative, and profits were to benefit the pastors and their ministry. What happened? Before long, the missionary left the country, and the business never really scaled into anything significant, though a few growers began to sell their product to the bigger buyers. We learned that motivation is a key component in business which is meant to create wealth and it does not work well to begin a business to support another time-consuming effort such as pastoring a church.

These and similar stories provide opportunities for learning. While to not reach a pre-determined goal can be fairly considered a failure; the opportunity to move on with the experience and all that is learned is of high value.


Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Engaging in business in the Balkans

Friday, August 17, 2018
firefighters in training

In Luke 19: 11-27 Jesus clarifies that the Kingdom of God is not going to appear at once (v. 11). Instead, the parable of a noble man going “into a far country to receive for himself a Kingdom and then return” (v. 12) makes it clear what we should be doing while we wait for the King to return.

Second, Jesus clarifies how His disciples (the servants in the parable) are to live as they wait. He gives ten servants one mina each (about three months wages) and commands them to “engage in business until I come.” The Greek word translated as “engage in business” is pragmateuomai, from which we get our word pragmatic. It was an ancient mercantile term meaning to trade or do business in order to make gain. So, the servants were to engage in gainful business activities as they awaited the return of their master.

When the King returns “having received His Kingdom” the servants are called to give account. Those who worked and invested wisely are given a proportional number of cities to govern in the Kingdom. The one who hid his mina and had nothing to show for it is rebuked, and his mina is given to the wise servants.

So what? All of us have been entrusted by God with a set of resources. We are to steward these resources wisely as we wait for the return of Christ. How? By proactively, intentionally, and purposefully “doing business.” The question then becomes what does your “business” look like? What resources has the King entrusted you to steward in this life?

By working as unto the Lord in an honest profession we are loving God, loving our neighbor, and making disciples by incarnating the Gospel and the values of God’s Kingdom. These values of truth, beauty, and justice are present in part now, but will be revealed in glorious splendor when the King returns. When He returns, what will He say about you and me and how we “engaged in business” while waiting for Him? This becomes a framing question for every aspect of our lives.

Since 2015, a company in Eastern Europe has been training local firefighters how to respond to emergency medical situations. Just last month, they welcomed four American first responders who returned to Europe to hold training for 17 firefighters, bringing the total of people trained to 78 firefighters. Each year gets better and harder at the same time.

This year, four local instructors led the training, since they were trained last year to become instructors. The company’s vision is to equip local firefighters, through written materials, training and mentoring to teach their fellow firefighters in Emergency Medical Response. This process of equipping is a long-term process and investment with a Kingdom perspective.

An important element of the training was the cooperation with government authorities, as they participated in the program with firefighters from eight cities joining in on the training. Conversations were rich in content related not only to emergency response issues, but also in value-laden topics. God is evident in every aspect of this business.

It has been a privilege for two IBEC consultants to provide services to one of the owners some years ago. And now we rejoice in what is happening in this European country.

Check out this IBEC video on a related topic from Luke 19: John Warton: Do Business Until I Come

  • Adapted from an article by CB in the Balkans.


Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Social Issues as a Business as Mission opportunity

Friday, August 10, 2018
humanitarian aid

"Every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise..." – Peter Drucker

While I was in business school, everyone drooled over the wisdom of Peter Drucker, and indeed his books are still read today. Let’s think about this quote from long ago.

Followers of Jesus are often counseled to look three ways when considering pathways of life: to look upward and consider what God considers important; to look inward and discover how they are wired with gifts, education, passion, aptitudes and experiences; and look outward at the world around them and pay attention to needs.

So probably there is a lot of wisdom in Drucker’s counsel. That is not to say that every business needs to be a social enterprise; but I think it is safe to say that when considering the scores of social issues on our globe, we may need to become more aware of hidden opportunities. Here are some that I have connected with or become aware of.

Refugees in North America: Many consider the world refugee situation as an important social and global issue. Certainly, job creation is an important part of the solution. A few years ago, I was assigned to mentor a young white male 20-something in a business start-up. He was starting a Somali restaurant in Minneapolis, in a state with 40,000 Somalian refugees. I immediately wondered, “what does this guy know about Somali cuisine and eating habits?”

It turned out that he knew next to nothing, but he was an entrepreneur with a business degree. His plan was to hire the right people who knew what he did not know and provide jobs for a wide range of skills in the refugee community. He saw a business opportunity to provide for a needed product (Somalian food) and create jobs for the Somalian refugees. As a result, he was successful.

Health and Disabilities: The CDC estimates that 53 million Americans (22%) suffer with some type of disability. Without creative innovation and entrepreneurship, these individuals could simply languish as wards of the state. That was not going to happen to John Cronin of Huntington, New York, who has Down’s Syndrome. After high school he said to his father, Mark, “Dad, I want to go into business with you.”

After thinking and trying a few things, they settled on a passion of John’s, crazy socks, and the company was born: John's Crazy Socks. They make money and they follow their dreams. The website states: “our Social Enterprise model is an alternative to models that only seek to make money. Make no mistake, we want to be profitable ($ two million in sales last year), but we have found that the more we do for others, the better our business will succeed…giving back is an essential part of what we do.

“We do not think a business can simply sell stuff, it is essential to give back. From the beginning, we have pledged 5 percent of our earnings to the Special Olympics. We have added a growing list of Charity and Awareness Socks that raise money for our charity partners. We also hold special events to generate funds for our charity partners.” John’s Crazy Socks has found a business opportunity connected to an important social concern.

Human Trafficking and Prostitution: Outland Denim is a company in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. It was started seven years ago by James Bartle, an Australian entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of trafficked women through employment, while making a profit. He entered the fashion world of denim with a steep learning curve after traveling to Asia to see how the trafficking industry worked, and to envision how he could provide a sustainable career path to victimized women.

There is a strong commitment to preparing each of the 40 seamstress employees with all the skills of the factory. Each person learns every aspect – every machine and every detail on a pair of jeans – the denim, the thread, rivets, buttons, belt loops, zippers – all are meticulously and artfully produced and reviewed. The high-end product is no regular jean - with retail prices in North America starting at $195 per jean.

The women take pride in their work, and we noted when we visited this year - on the finished products, the leather patch had a simple statement under the Outland name, “This jean handcrafted by …… (name of person)”

We were impressed how the owner in Australia, and the managers in Cambodia, Caleb and Katie, relied on the importance of prayer, with many stories of how God directed them in creative entrepreneurial ways – building a business on a serious global social issue.

War and Human Conflict: The war in the Balkans in the 1990s created massive ruination throughout the country, as well as devastating unemployment. Around 100,000 people were killed during the war. Over 2.2 million people were displaced, making it the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. In addition, an estimated 12,000–20,000 women were raped, most of them Bosniak.

The war in the Bosniak area, in what is now southeast Bosnia, left more than half of the employable men and women without work. It was to this area that John and Katie started a youth center and then a business to provide employment for several of the men and boys. Though the agricultural business experienced much turbulence, it is still functioning with a robust berry farm in that region. They too developed a business out of a global social issue – war and conflict.

World Hunger: Phillip and Brittany had international experience, business degrees, an entrepreneurial bent, and a passion for social causes. After experience elsewhere in the world, they decided upon western Kenya and the development of a fish farm. They wanted to meet a local need for jobs and for food, and to develop a prototype for a farm elsewhere in an even more needy area.

Today Big Fish Kenya is officially one of only two hatcheries in the westernmost region of Kenya. Construction of the first hatchery finished in June 2014, and they employ several folks from a very poor region of the country. A local fish expert provides leadership in product development.

Their dynamic and purpose: "Empowering communities through love, education, training, and resources that THEY may carry these principles forward throughout Africa and beyond.” They are the embodiment of another global social enterprise which was a “business opportunity in disguise.”


Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Wealth Creation Manifesto

Friday, August 03, 2018
colorful galaxy

Last week we highlighted many scriptures referring to work as an important God-ordained institution. The Wealth Creation Manifesto is another way of representing the importance of work in addressing poverty and obedience to God’s intent. Mats Tunehag has been friend of IBEC and some of his videos are on our website. He is also one of the architects of this manifesto.

WEALTH CREATION MANIFESTO

Background

The Lausanne Movement and BAM Global organized a Global Consultation on The Role of Wealth Creation for Holistic Transformation, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in March 2017. About 30 people from 20 nations participated, primarily from the business world, and also from church, missions and academia. The findings will be published in several papers and a book, as well as an educational video. This Manifesto conveys the essentials of our deliberations before and during the Consultation.

Affirmations
  1. Wealth creation is rooted in God the Creator, who created a world that flourishes with abundance and diversity.
  2. We are created in God’s image, to co-create with him and for him, to create products and services for the common good.
  3. Wealth creation is a holy calling, and a God-given gift, which is commended in the Bible.
  4. Wealth creators should be affirmed by the Church, and equipped and deployed to serve in the marketplace among all peoples and nations.
  5. Wealth hoarding is wrong, and wealth sharing should be encouraged, but there is no wealth to be shared unless it has been created.
  6. There is a universal call to generosity, and contentment is a virtue, but material simplicity is a personal choice, and involuntary poverty should be alleviated.
  7. The purpose of wealth creation through business goes beyond giving generously, although that is to be commended; good business has intrinsic value as a means of material provision and can be an agent of positive transformation in society.
  8. Business has a special capacity to create financial wealth, but also has the potential to create different kinds of wealth for many stakeholders, including social, intellectual, physical and spiritual wealth.
  9. Wealth creation through business has proven power to lift people and nations out of poverty.
  10. Wealth creation must always be pursued with justice and a concern for the poor, and should be sensitive to each unique cultural context.
  11. Creation care is not optional. Stewardship of creation and business solutions to environmental challenges should be an integral part of wealth creation through business.
Appeal

We present these affirmations to the Church worldwide, and especially to leaders in business, church, government, and academia.
  • We call the church to embrace wealth creation as central to our mission of holistic transformation of peoples and societies.
  • We call for fresh, ongoing efforts to equip and launch wealth creators to that very end.
  • We call wealth creators to perseverance, diligently using their God-given gifts to serve God and people.
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam – 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