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Mr. Hockey – what did he say about business?

Monday, May 18, 2015

I just returned from a week in Alberta, Canada where ice hockey excitement ran high with Calgary winning the first round of the National Hockey League playoffs.  It reminded me of my hockey days, playing minor hockey in Alberta, even playing in the Calgary Saddledome where the Calgary Flames play their home games.  I even dreamed of making it to the big time some day.

Wayne Gretzky did make it to the big time and beyond.  I don’t think there is anyone who would not agree that Gretzky is the greatest player to ever play the game.  He was an all-star every year he played; won multiple Hart, Art Ross, Lady Byng and Conn Smyth trophies.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame immediately upon his retirement.  His record for the most points scored may indeed last forever.

Gretzky is also known for his “wise sayings” and indeed I mention some of them here because many of them apply to small business owners, entrepreneurs and can be motivators as we seek to start up Kingdom businesses around the world.  Think of them in the context of your life today, whether an owner, a manager, a coach or a consultant.

The highest compliment that you can pay me is to say that I work hard every day, that I never dog it.

I couldn't beat people with my strength; I don’t have a hard shot; I’m not the quickest skater in the league.  My eyes and my mind have to do most of the work.

When I was 5 and playing against 11-year-olds who were bigger, stronger, faster, I just had to figure out a way to play with them.

I’m not a big risk-taker.  I don’t know anything about the stock market…I stay away from things I don’t know anything about.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Hockey is a unique sport in the sense that you need each and every guy helping each other and pulling in the same direction to be successful.

Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.

A good hockey player plays where the puck is.  A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

Ninety percent of hockey is mental and the other half is physical.

I wasn't naturally gifted in terms of size and speed; everything I did in hockey I worked for.

Your responsibility to your team is to play the best that you can play as an individual…and yet, not take anything away from being part of a team.

Growing up I was always the small guy.

I love the game and I loved every minute of being a player.

It sounds like in Wayne Gretzky’s hockey experience, as for all of us in life, success depends a lot on things which we have control of – hard work, strategy, team work, dedication, timeliness, analysis, love of the game – a wonderful challenge for us today!

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

An Alaskan mother; an Alaskan entrepreneur

Monday, May 11, 2015

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I always think about my mom who passed away 15 years ago; and I often remember my mother-in-law, who also is long gone from this life. I learned many things from my mother-in-law business owner.

Doris was the founding owner of a seafood company in Kenai, Alaska.  I worked for her for several summers processing fish from the cold pristine waters of Cook Inlet, Alaska.  It was my first real management job.  Things were not always rosy in the land of the midnight sun, but I learned a lot.

Doris was an entrepreneur.  She could see around corners and was in the forefront of innovation in the Alaskan fish industry in the 1960s and 70s.  She thought differently from everyone else.  She thought the freezing of fish was a superior method of preserving the quality of salmon at a time when canning was the normal means of processing. And so she became a pioneer in the frozen fish industry of the state – something which is totally the practice today.  

She also was a pioneer for the flying of fresh fish from one part of Alaska to another in an effort to balance the work of the processing plants.  For example when Bristol Bay had lots of freshly caught fish and the plants could not handle them all, she would hire former Vietnam pilots to fly old DC-3s, 4s, and 6s from the Arizona desert to Alaska. She then designed a system to fly the fresh fish to places like Cook Inlet where there was no glut of fish.  A few weeks later, the process might be reversed.  It was a winner of an idea and is still done today.

What did I learn from her?
  • She had a strong work ethic, working hard for the success of the business; if it needed to be done and no one else was available, she rolled up her sleeves, came down from the office and dug right in to the task no matter if it was on the slime line, in the massive freezers, offloading fish, or driving a truck to town.
  • She was creative. As plant manager I oftentimes was stymied for a solution to a problem but she seemed to always have an answer.  We once filled a massive truck with frozen king salmon and drove through the night to get them to a market before the price dropped.
  • She had passion for what she did and enjoyed life to the fullest –whether in the business, church work, raising nine kids, or helping a neighbor.  She did everything with her whole heart.
  • She had a generous heart and would always go the extra mile for our customers.  I remember hopping a helicopter in the middle of the Alaska summer night to deliver a generator to a stranded boat adrift in the inlet.  Service was #1 for Doris.
  • She was a persistent risk taker.  Her innovative ideas were not always popular but she took the risk anyway.  One day she decided to fly quality control fish roe experts over from Japan while we in management tried to figure out how to speak to them and feed them what they needed.
  • She was a networker.  She seemed to know everyone and everyone knew her. One time I wondered where she was going and discovered she was on a plane heading for the capital, to speak to the governor about some fish related legislation.
  • She brought good people into the leadership team – who would work tirelessly for her.  She knew how to evaluate talent and rewarded them accordingly.
  • She treated her employees fairly, providing cabin, trailer and tent residences for short-term summer workers; she paid above market wages for both regular and overtime hours.  People loved working for Doris.
  • She was always accessible – she had an open door policy.  It was partly her personality to do so, but she always wanted to know what people thought, listened to their ideas and made them feel a part of the business.
  • She was open-minded and was always working toward a new idea.  She once hired a new tender to work the waters of Kachemak Bay thinking that new markets were to be had.  I knew because I worked that tender as a buyer, working 24/7 to be successful.
  • She was comfortable with chaos.  Because she was always thinking outside the box of tradition, life would be chaotic many times. Fishermen can be a strange lot, fish biologists unpredictable, and markets fluctuate wildly.  Raising children added to the mix.  She seemed comfortable with it all.
My mother-in-law was not perfect by any means; in fact I learned some things from her failures in life and business.  But for this day of celebrating Mother’s Day, I celebrate my mother-in-law and what I learned about business from her.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Crisis in Nepal: What would Jesus do? What should we do?

Monday, May 04, 2015

I am writing this on an airplane while on my way to Phoenix to speak at a conference about Business as Mission.  Also tonight my youngest daughter is flying to Nepal as part of a First Response Team for World Vision.  Certainly the results of the earthquake there have produced a humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions.

Thousands have died and it may take months to find all who perished in this poverty stricken country, with its mountainous terrain, weak infrastructure and inadequate preparation.  Certainly it is a time to grieve the immense suffering taking place there. In times like this we must ask ourselves what our response might be – western governments, private enterprise or individuals? 

For decades we have known Nepal to be one of the world’s poorest countries and the recipient of much foreign aid. But IBEC has realized from its beginning that what Nepal needs is enterprise, foreign investment, business development and jobs.  Job creation in the name of Jesus is the only solution to poverty.  That is why we have been active with business startups there since 2006.

One of our lead consultants (and former CEO of IBEC), Ken Leahy, has mentored multiple business in Kathmandu, the capital.  Currently IBEC is involved with two other businesses (one is a coffee business and the other is in the IT sector) in an effort to create profitable, sustainable, job creating Kingdom businesses. The photo above is from Nepal Coffee; you can see more photos in the write up about this business on the Case Studies page or our website

We believe that is what Jesus would do – and it is what we should do.  Don’t get me wrong – immediate aid is important in a disaster like we see in Nepal right now. It is right for people like Trudy to be there – serving long hours in an effort to save lives and bring some relief.  She is one of my heroes. The world needs the likes of World Vision, World Relief, Samaritan’s Purse and others like them.  

But charity should not go on for years and when it does, it becomes toxic (see notes below).  Why?  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.  The Good Samaritan of Luke 10 provided immediate aid, but he thought of the long term future.  Jesus said “go and do the same.”

We in IBEC ask ourselves – what is most needed to complement the relief services pouring into Nepal today?  If we take the long view from now until eternity, we should focus on job creation to alleviate poverty, social injustice and sickness.  In so doing we will certainly help people to know the “Jesus Way” and thus provide for them in this life and the next.

Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid – why aid is not working and there is a better way for Africa, 2009
Luptpon, Robert D.  Toxic Charity – how churches and charities hurt those they help, 2011

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Incubators, accelerators and other resources for BAM businesses

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Incubators, accelerators, business developers, startup weekends, coaches, consultants…
Do these terms confuse you?  Some people use these interchangeably; others make a distinction that’s important to them.  Where do these business efforts fit in relation to a consulting group like IBEC?

First, we define IBEC Ventures as a consulting group offering a variety of coaching, mentoring, training and consulting services.

At IBEC Ventures, we assist entrepreneurs committed to creating Values Based Businesses in all phases of the process - from identifying viable opportunities through nurturing their long term growth and development. IBEC Ventures serves clients through consulting, training modules, coaching and mentoring, and spotlighting the overlay of mission strategy with business planning. The IBEC consulting process includes consultants as well as subject matter experts who focus on specific business elements such as product development, supply chain management, finance, technology, law, marketing and sales. 

(From Our Services on the IBEC Ventures website)

We help entrepreneurs and business leaders with all phases of their business development, from assessment of individuals and opportunities through to mentoring and on-going support.  We use coaching techniques, come alongside our clients by listening, making suggestions and giving advice where appropriate.  

But consultants can only do so much.  What else is out there to help the Kingdom entrepreneur?

Incubators, accelerators and business launch organizations

These terms are similar in that they focus on the front end of Kingdom business startups and prepare them for growth.  They are all about equipping, training, coaching and supporting the entrepreneur in the early stages.  I’ve heard it said that business incubators mentor companies through childhood, while business accelerators guide them through adolescence into adulthood.

An incubator is dedicated to startup and early-stage companies.  The entrepreneur applies for admission and is accepted based on feasibility of ideas, assessment of capacity, and likelihood of success.  Sometimes office space is provided but the heart of the program is the services to which they have access: advice and guidance from professionals such as proven entrepreneurs, accountants, business advisors, legal experts and others.  There are thousands of established incubation programs worldwide, but in the BAM space they are in their infancy.

An accelerator usually serves those who are beyond startup and incubation stage.  The entrepreneurs may be up and running and experiencing challenges for the first time such as financial planning, strategy development and validating their unique value proposition.  Accelerator programs tend to help companies over humps and are shorter in duration than incubation programs.

Business development centers tend to be linked to universities or state economic development agencies.  They provide aspiring business owners with a variety of free business consulting and services such as business plan development, financial assistance, legal and market aid, HR support etc.  An example of a small business development center is operated by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.  Their Guide to Starting and Operating a Small Business provides is a number of helpful self assessments, checklists and step-by-step outlines for starting a business.

Startup weekends are typically about 50-hour weekend events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together.  They are hands-on experiences where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs test out their startup ideas.  They make open mic pitches and lay out their best ideas and then teams provide feedback and validation to the ideas.   Over the course of the weekend teams build a minimal viable product (MVP) and demo their prototypes for feedback from a panel of experts.  Explore more about this on the Startup Weekends website (http://startupweekend.org/).

Coaching goes on in all of these efforts and is the intentional structured process that empowers the entrepreneur to be effective through vetting his or her ideas, processing coach questions and discovering next steps.  Coaches have experience which can be of great value to the business startup entrepreneur.

These definitions are highly relative and oftentimes organizations working in this space use terms in crossover ways.  The websites of organizations in this domain with whom we partner use terms to describe themselves such as “equipper of BAM leaders”, “a comprehensive entrepreneur equipping program”, “a business development organization”, “a business launch and development company”.  

Whether an incubator, accelerator, business development group, or startup weekend – all seek on the front end to help the entrepreneur begin well so as to maximize the chance of long-term success.  That’s our goal for IBEC clients as well: laying the groundwork up front and ongoing for sustainable, profitable businesses.  It’s a privilege for IBEC to partner with a number of these organizations to provide the resources BAM businesses need for long-term success (and eternal rewards!).  

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Business? Yes! Mission? Yes!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Our blog content often focuses on business–related themes such as ethics, poverty, innovation, business leadership, management etc.  But mission is also a fundamentally important part of a Kingdom business.  IBEC helps start and grow businesses which become profitable and sustainable, create jobs and share the “Good News” of Jesus.

Sometimes I get a little angry in church; like last Sunday.  We sang songs with these words: “God you reign”, “Jesus Messiah, Lord of all”, “Thou art exalted – far above all gods”.  I looked around and then I thought of the world so far away from my little town in Oregon.

Does God reign in the turmoil in Yemen today?  Does he reign in the red light district of Sonagacchi, Calcutta?  Is Jesus Lord of all amongst the 18,000 men, women and children trapped in the Yarmouk refugee camp in war-torn Syria without food, water and health care?  Is He exalted above all the gods of India?  Does God reign in the monasteries of Tibet?  How about war-ravaged Bosnia with its super high unemployment?  What about in ISIS controlled areas of the Middle East?  Is He Lord of all?

I know people working in most all these places and I also know that the most effective way to share the mission of God is by bringing value to them.  Like Jesus did – he brought food, healing, and water.  For many today worldwide, what is needed is a good job, which will bring them dignity and provision for the family. Business does just that: it provides what they need, and as we do it in the name of Jesus, God is honored.  He is exalted.  Business and Mission go hand-in-hand.  We address human need at the physical and the social and the spiritual level.

I just received an email from my friend, Brit. She is now married and currently living in Europe but she spent some years in South Asia helping start a Kingdom business, which is growing today.  While there she helped Aanchal come to follow Jesus.  Aanchal, lives in a city with few Jesus-followers but she studies God’s word and seeks to be a light in a spiritually dark place.  What value did Brit bring to her Asian mega-city?  She helped a business grow, created a job for Aanchal and brought an understanding of God to this young life.  That is Business as Mission.  That is what we are all about.   IBEC helped that business.  That gets me up in the morning!  Want to get involved?

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Five things great entrepreneurs DON’T do

Monday, April 13, 2015

Last week we listed six things entrepreneurs do and gave examples from Business As Mission (BAM) businesses we know.  This week we will look at five things they do not do – in and out of the BAM world.  Steve Tobak of Fox Business (and author of Real Leaders Don't Follow) suggests in a March 18, 2014 article that what makes entrepreneurs unique is what they do, and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t do.

Do you see yourself in these BAM examples of Tobak’s five entrepreneurial “don’ts”?  
  1. They don’t try to be what they are not. Real entrepreneurs are not ‘people pleasers’. They dance to their own drum beat and don’t try to change who they are. They don’t do what everyone else is doing, but they carve out their own path.  
    • A BAM example: One business I visited, started with no real plan and was based on who the owner was – an artist!  As he thought about his ideas he started to follow his passion and turned his ideas into great products, a successful values-driven company creating jobs for hundreds of people.
  2. They don’t do it for the money. The driving factor for most entrepreneurs is solving some problem.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, for example, just wanted to rate the looks of fellow classmates.  He never set out to be great!  
    • A BAM example: Sam, George and Ryan were college buddies and were focused on altruistic values like helping people on the islands of their country who were victims of poverty.  They cared about the social and spiritual conditions and never really thought they would make it big. They just went out and did it with focus and passion.  They are now a highly ranked high end tourist attraction.
  3. They don’t give in to fear. 
    • A BAM example: My friend Rob didn't spend a lot of time worrying about what could go wrong.  Oh yes, he did a risk analysis to mitigate the risks of his business in the high risk Middle East but it did not haunt him.  Bill listened to voices of reason and their instincts and when other expat business owners were expelled or shut down, he fearlessly moved ahead. His tour business last year report $2 million in sales.
  4. They don’t think about work-life balance. For the entrepreneur types, work comes first because they tend to be workaholic.  They live for the project and do what they love.  
    • A BAM example: A caution about this “don’t”: from a social enterprise and BAM perspective, this tendency may mitigate the balance that is needed for integrated social work, modeling the family, etc. Such was true for one manufacturing plant I visited in East Asia.  The owner’s wife took me aside and asked for my help saying, “Pete is spending 80 hours a week at the plant and our little girl and I hardly see him.”  Pete’s natural tendency was to not worry about needed work-life balance but he needed some help from the consultant.
  5. They don’t have virtual mentors. It is one thing to have a mentor far away and on-line, but to really get ahead it is best to have mentors close by in the real world.  
    • A BAM example: Such was the case of Walt who opened up a factory in East Asia as part of a bigger company in the USA.  Just as Andy Grove of Intel, mentored Steve Jobs, and Jobs mentored Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, so too Walt was mentored by a successful BAM operator in the same city.  Walt testifies to the value of a great mentor in his friend, Don.
Don't miss what God is calling you to do - either by not listening, not acting or not proceeding with wisdom and understanding. If you are being called to Business As Mission, IBEC is here to support you. Feel free to contact me to explore this more (larry.sharp@ibecventures.com).

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Do you have what it takes?

Monday, April 06, 2015

While on a recent flight I picked up the Spring 2015 issue of Startups magazine.  An article by Marcia Layton Turner caught my eye: Get started: 12 signs you’ve got what it takes to start your own business. You can read the online version (12 Signs You Have an Entrepreneurial Mindset) in full on Entrepreneurs website.  All twelve “signs” were intriguing reading and in this blog, I pick six of them and quote them - followed by an example from a BAM (Business As Mission) business I know.
  1. You take action.  Barbara Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Group and co-star of TV’s Shark Tank, says people who have a concept but not necessarily a detailed strategy are more likely to have that entrepreneurial je ne sais quoi.  I hate entrepreneurs with beautiful business plans,” she says.  Corcoran’s recommendation?  “Invent as you go”, rather than spending time writing a plan at your desk.  In fact, she believes that those who study business may be prone to overanalyzing situations rather than taking action.
    • A BAM example: RS is a person of action.  He has been a small manufacturer in China for 10 years, functioning according to the Triple Bottom line (profitable and sustainable, job creating for about 25 people, and holistic integration of spiritual values).  From time to time he has asked help from consultants, who have been frustrated because he lacks a plan.  But RS responds to his gut and he invents as he goes, taking advantage of opportunities others do not see.
  2. You listen.  Actress Jessica Alba, co-founder and president of Santa Monica, California-based The Honest Company, which sells baby, home and personal-care products, notes that “it’s important to surround yourself with people smarter than you and to listen to ideas that aren't yours.  I’m open to ideas that aren't mine and people that know what I don’t…”
    • A BAM example: C & VB operate a tour company in India.  They have been coached by IBEC from the beginning.  While on a recent tour with them, we asked the tour group, “What is the top thing that has contributed to the successful start of this company?”  The response was that they are active listeners and keen to learn from others.  This included mentoring from similar company owners in the USA and in Africa; it included doing recommended research when asked by the consultants; it included an attitude of collaboration with other cultures and languages in their host country; and it included a commitment to life-long learning.
  3. You don’t ask for permission.  Stephane Bourque, founder and CEO of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Incognito Software, says true entrepreneurial types are more likely to ask for forgiveness than permission, forging ahead to address the opportunities they recognize.  “Entrepreneurs are never satisfied with the status quo,” says Bourque, who discovered he was not destined for the corporate world. "I wish my employees would get into more trouble", because it shows they are on the lookout for opportunities to improve themselves or company operations. 
    • A BAM example: D & CP worked in partnership with a group in China where they learned the language, loved the people and felt at home.  When the partnership came to an unexpected end, they wondered what to do next.  Building on his business roots in the USA, D did not seek permission from his employer in the USA, but set out to start a private company in the country.  They saw an opportunity in the book industry and started Classic Education-China which eventually became quite successful and was sold to a multinational company.
  4. You love a challenge.  When confronted by problems, many employees try to pass the buck.  Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, rise to the occasion. “Challenges motivate them to work harder,” says Jeff Platt, CEO of the Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park franchise.  “An entrepreneur doesn’t think anything is insurmountable … He looks adversity in the eye and keeps going.”  Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, agrees.  Despite naysayers who questioned her idea for a bakery in the midst of the carb-fearing early-2000s, she persevered and now has locations in eight states.  In fact, she was one of the first entrepreneurs in a business that became an on-going craze, sparking numerous copycats.
    • A BAM example: BP loved a challenge, which is what took her to a former Soviet Republic in South Asia in search of an opportunity.  She graduated with a degree in international business and had lots of experience working at Starbucks.  But her new country was different – they drank tea!  She looked at this and was undaunted.  Because people had a keen and eager interest in the western world, she was able to build a coffee retail business in her adopted country that offered American-like experiences.  Since many wanted to emigrate to America one day, the coffee shop became popular, and its success bred expansion into another store.  Despite the naysayers, she and her colleagues built a Triple Bottom Line business.
  5. You recover quickly.  It’s a popular notion that successful entrepreneurs fail fast and often.  For Corcoran, the trick is in the speed of recovery:  If you fail, resist the urge to mope or feel sorry for yourself.  Don’t wallow; move on to the next big thing immediately.
    • A BAM example: LM started a business in a former Soviet South Asia country.  He invested his own money and partnered with a national attorney.  Things went well until he discovered that his partner emptied the bank account and liquidated the company.  LM was bankrupt.  I called him to encourage him and asked him what he was going to do now.  He quickly responded, “Oh, I have already gone down the street, borrowed some money and have opened up a new office.”  LM was confident in his product (consulting services) and his ability and was not intimidated by failure.  He did not wallow or feel sorry for himself.  LM is an entrepreneur.
  6. You’re resourceful.  “One of my favorite TV shows growing up was MacGyver,” confides Tony Hsieh, lifelong entrepreneur and CEO of Las Vegas-based Zappos, “…because he never had exactly the resources he needed but would somehow figure out how to make everything work out.  Ultimately, I think that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.”  It’s not about having enough resources, he explains, but being resourceful with what you have.
    • A BAM example: This was true for my friend BJ who saw a favorable business climate in his Asian country but lacked resources.  He had artistic ability and he discovered a market for glass tables, lamps, etc.  He lacked international marketing expertise and did not have a lot of capital, but BJ kept seeking resources he did not have – from various sources and utilizing latent abilities of his own, building a manufacturing business from scratch, eventually hiring 600 employees, starting orphanages and other community projects and having a spiritual impact in hundreds of lives.
Do you see yourself in any of these examples? Can you see yourself using your entrepreneurial mindset to build a kingdom building BAM business? Do you need some ideas for how to get started? Feel free to contact me (larry.sharp@ibecventures.com). You can also find great resources on Business As Mission’s website as well as other BAM-focused sites featured in my November 17, 2014 blog, “Who else besides IBEC Ventures is in this BAM space?”.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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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