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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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Have you found your TBO for 2015 yet?

Monday, March 09, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Part 2: To bribe or not to bribe?

Monday, March 02, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Part 1: To bribe or not to bribe?

Monday, February 23, 2015

To pay a bribe or not to pay a bribe? Is that really a question? Today I will expand on an important issue that I began in my February 1, 2015 blog, Ethics and integrity in cross cultural business. In it I referred to a rather lengthy document on the subject of ethics and integrity in cross cultural business.  

This is now the first blog on the issue of paying of bribes.  Many people would like to make this a rather simple question with a simple answer; however we need to be “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.”  It is not always simple and oftentimes we need to understand the culture and learn new and creative ways to accomplish the desired end goal without violating any of these principles.

What is a bribe?

Some definitions are general and simplistic such as “…something valuable (such as money) that is given in order to get someone to do something.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary's definition of bribe.) John Noonan, a former federal judge,  defines a bribe as “an inducement improperly influencing the performance of a public function meant to be gratuitously exercised.” (A History of Bribery).  The legal dictionary sponsored and hosted by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School, defines it as “corrupt solicitation, acceptance, or transfer of value in exchange for official action.” (Wex legal dictionary definition of bribery.)

Consider a “starter kit” of important questions to ask

The questions below rely on the Noonan definition which demands an understanding of what is proper and thus “improper”.  You can study this more thoroughly in Noonan’s writings but the following questions will help us as business owners to determine the propriety of our proposed action.
  1. Will the decision negatively impact my testimony and the Gospel?  What we believe, say and do must be consistent and correlated.
  2. Will the decision violate the moral authority and principles of the Bible? Biblical morality is rooted in the holiness, justice and love of God.
  3. Will the decision violate a law?  In “rule of law” societies the law is the moral floor, providing minimal standards.  US laws such as the FCPA must be carefully studied.
  4. Could I proudly tell anyone about the decision? We must have nothing to hide and we must feel comfortable in case the decision is broadcast in the media.
  5. Can I put this decision to the same rigor as a financial analysis or auditing standards?  Consider writing down your ethical standards and use them in a regular monitoring of them.
The answers to these questions are discovered in the context of: 
  • Biblical culture and the law of God.
  • Our own culture and its laws and norms.
  • The host culture where we are doing business.
The Business as Mission and its BAM Review and The BAM Think Tank are excellent Business As Mission resource websites which contain numerous illustrations and guidelines from business leaders in the BAM sector. Here are several articles related to today's topic that you may find useful:

Come back next week for Part 2 of To bribe or not to bribe? I will focus even more specifically on bribery and provide even more questions to ask ourselves.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Don’t give up!

Monday, February 16, 2015

In recent months I have been in on several conversations with the owners of overseas kingdom business start ups who were discouraged – who were ready to give up.  It is not easy to know if they need encouragement, or if they need a key resource they currently lack, or if they legitimately need to ‘pivot’ and head in a new direction.  

We all know that hurdles or stumbling stones along the way can be stepping stones to success. The discouraging obstacles we encounter can actually bring out innovation, resolve and creativity.

Marketing consultant Andrew Lock acknowledges that often life doesn't go in the direction we wish it would, whether it be in our family life, personal ambitions, or business development.  But we are not doomed; most people have failures along the way and success can be just around the corner.  Lock reminds us of:
  • Walt Disney who was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”  He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland.  The proposed park was initially rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds it would only attract “riffraff”.
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything” and he was fired from his first two jobs for being “nonproductive”.  Commenting on his more than 1,000 unsuccessful attempts to invent the light bulb he said he didn’t fail all those times because those were important steps to success.
  • Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4 years old and did not read until he was 7.  His parents thought he was “subnormal” and a teacher described him as “mentally slow, unsociable and adrift in foolish dreams.”  He was expelled from school.
  • The Beatles were turned down by Decca Records with this evaluation, “We don’t like their sound.  Guitar groups are on their way out.”
  • Fred Astaire’s memo after his first screen test read, “Can’t act, Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
  • Winston Churchill, when it seemed Hitler would overcome England, delivered his famous “Never give up” speech and included, "The pessimist sees the problems in every opportunity. Whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem."
  • Bill Job at Meixia Company (Xiamen, China), told me that many times he wondered if he would ever make it as a Kingdom business. But now years later, the Wall Street Journal credits him as a “pioneer business spirit and innovative artist” and now there is a multi-million dollar business.  Check out Bill's story at: http://www.amoymagic.com/meixia/meixia.htm.
Imagine if these people and others like them had given up. They all had times of depression and despair, but they continued on.

God's Holy Word reminds us that life is not always easy, but we can always turn to Him for strength, wisdom and guidance:
  • For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
  • As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.  (II Thessalonians 3:13)
  • We do not lose heart...inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (II Corinthians 4:1, 16)

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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