Social Issues as a Business as Mission opportunity

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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