Putting the Enterprise in Social Enterprise

by Rudy Carrasco

Landscaping. Coffee shops. Handyman services. Training kitchens. Snow removal. Housing for single mothers.

Across the United States, church and business leaders are responding to needs in their communities through social enterprise. Social enterprise addresses a basic unmet need or solve a social problem through a market-driven approach. Many social enterprises mix earned revenue with cash donations to cover their costs—but a growing number of organizations seek to operate profitable business as they pursue shalom.

Shalom—the just conditions in which “nothing is missing, nothing is broken”—is the vision of Grand Rapids, Mich. based Building Bridges Professional Services. Building Bridges started in 2007 to employ young adults facing barriers to employment. They provide landscaping, lawn care, property maintenance, snow removal, and more. Their vision of shalom includes the flourishing of young people who have aged out of the foster care system and have few people or resources to lean on as a safety net.

In 2017, Building Bridges began the process of converting from a nonprofit to an L3C for-profit structure. “To do social enterprise well,” says Nate Beene, CEO of Building Bridges, “you have to closely integrate your social purpose and financial health.”

With support from Partners Worldwide volunteers, Nate and his team began strengthening the business-side of their operations four years ago. “Our budget wasn’t best suited for our industry,” Beene says. “We worked on account codes, breaking down expenses, and allocating costs like vendor repairs and vehicle use.”

In 2017, Building Bridges’ revenue was $700,000, and they project $1 million in revenue this year. From a modest start— Beene was the first Building Bridges employee ten years ago —the organization employs 25 people today. The employee pool is a mix of entry-level team members as well as operations staff who can support the team members and run the business.

“When we started, we had more homeless youth than we do now,” Beene says, “but we learned that the ideal employee is a young person looking for a second chance. We need the team member to be at a point where they can show up every day and let us pour into them.”

2,000 miles away from Building Bridges, in Long Beach, California, another social enterprise is creating opportunities for young people while getting to break-even profit.

5000 Pies, inspired by the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in the Gospel of Matthew, offers delicious deep-dish pizza, jaguar fries, salads, sandwiches, and more. Launched as an LLC by Fountain of Life Church, the organization currently employs 17 people with 80 percent of its revenue earned through sales at 5000 Pies.

“When we first started our church, we knew we needed some kind of economic element to provide jobs and job training in the area,” said Becky Teter, a 5000 Pies founder, to the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

The social enterprise model of 5000 Pies includes paid time off for employees to participate in life skills training and discipleship programs. On the business side, the managers are looking to increase sales through local marketing and expanding their baked sweets offerings.

Mike Martinez, head chef at 5000 Pies, embodies the shalom that the Fountain of Life Church team envisioned from the start. In his teens and twenties, he was involved in a gang and drug culture, with related prison stints. As he rebuilt his life, he joined Fountain of Life and dreamed with leaders about an enterprise that could help others like him stay out of trouble. Fast forward and Martinez, as the head chef at 5000 pies, encourages both employees and customers while creating demand with the tasty 5000 Pies menu.

Building Bridges Professional Services and 5000 Pies are just two of many social enterprises building financially-sustainable businesses that make a social impact. Across the country, Partners Worldwide encounters and connects with hundreds of organizations and churches that are living out their mission in a sustainable way and seeing lives transformed. Shalom through business is more than an aspiration – Building Bridges, 5000 Pies, and others are showing it can be done in high unemployment communities throughout the United States.

Rudy Carrasco is the U.S. Regional Facilitator for Partners Worldwide. Prior to serving with Partners Worldwide, Rudy worked for 19 years in an urban ministry in Pasadena, CA, where he realized the need to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit in high unemployment communities.

Hyma Brings Shalom

by Ellie Hutchison

Her hand moves rhythmically, hovering in constant motion above the red earth. She draws in rice flour. A trail of white left in her wake, forming geometric swirls, arches, circles, and loops. Her kolam is elaborate, yet simple. Beautiful, but precise.

Each morning, millions of women in India rise and draw kolams on the ground outside their home. Yet their primary purpose is not decoration. Historically, they have been a sign of invitation and welcome. Made of rice flour, they are an offering to ants and other small organisms so they don’t have to walk too far for a meal.

In this way, a kolam embodies our call to care for the vulnerable among us. It is a humble effort to create a welcoming community of harmonious co-existence.

Like most people in Tirunelveli, a city in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, kolams were a familiar presence in Hyma’s childhood. They marked her path from home to school and back again. Her eyes would bounce from one to the next as she walked, careful not to smear the intricate designs with her footsteps. Read more

Business and Shalom

by Roxanne Addink de Graaf

Business and Shalom are seldom seen in the same sentence. Shalom is a word more often heard in church than in the marketplace.

However, just coming from a visit with entrepreneurs in Liberia, I’m more convinced than ever of the vital role of business in bringing about true shalom, the shalom God calls us to build here on Earth. Shalom should be a driving force behind the mission of every business, and shalom provides an excellent framework for a wholistic, multiple bottom line kingdom-building business.

The Biblical vision for “shalom” goes beyond our common understanding of peace. As the Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff writes, “Shalom is the human being dwelling at peace in all his relationships: with God, with self, with fellows, with nature… shalom is not merely the absence of hostility…at its highest it is enjoyment in one’s relationships.” (from Until Justice and Peace Embrace, Wolterstorff, 1983)

Relationships are at the heart of shalom, and the marketplace is a place of relationships. We will not achieve a true vision of shalom if we don’t achieve shalom in business, and as Christians in business, we need to be leading this crusade.

Wolterstorff goes on in his essay to describe shalom as a rich and joyous state of right relationship (justice), delight in service of God, the human community and the creation around us. Shalom is not a peaceful spiritual state where physical needs aren’t met, where people are still hungry, injustices prevail or work is no more. Rather, our right relationship with nature involves work and reward. Wolterstorff reflects that the Biblical shalom includes “shaping the world with our labor and finding fulfilment in doing so,” as well as enjoying the fruit of our labor, celebrating with “a banquet of rich fare for all the people.” (Isaiah 25:6) Read more

How Agriculture Ends Poverty: 
3 Discoveries About What Works

by Roxanne Addink DeGraaf

Growing up in Iowa, the agricultural heartland of the United States, I was surrounded by farms. I remember childhood summers milking cows and “walking beans” (walking between rows of soybeans to pick weeds) on my grandparent’s farm. I saw how the farm put food on the table, as I always enjoyed a cold glass of milk from the dairy after chores.

After college, I began to understand agriculture from the perspective of small-scale farmers in Kenya. I worked for two years alongside women who spent long days in their fields to not only put food on the table, but also to earn an income for their families. Everything from buying school uniforms to medical services relied on their farm’s output.

And this is not unique to Kenya. Traveling the globe with Partners Worldwide, I’ve continued to witness the centrality of agriculture in many countries and communities where we work, from subsistence farmers to thriving cooperatives.

Agriculture: A Primary Occupation of the Poor

While employment in agriculture is declining overall, agriculture is still the primary occupation for one in three people in the world (FAO). For people living in poverty, 70% live in rural areas and the majority are involved in agriculture (World Bank/Gates Foundation).

At Partners Worldwide, these facts are shaping how we work towards our vision to end poverty through business so that all may have abundant life.

We recently launched a pilot initiative focused on supporting and leveraging the resources of our partners in Africa who were already serving the agricultural sector. This pilot has been our learning lab. We’ve had some failed experiments, while other interventions have led to powerfully positive outcomes. Overall, the results affirm the vital role that agriculture plays in ending poverty.  Read more

When Helping Hurts: Book Review

when helping hurtsWhen Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert is a comprehensive guide on effective approaches to missions and poverty alleviation. It is a must read for present and future missionaries and BAM practitioners hoping to fight poverty. Corbett and Fikkert are both part of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College, USA. Corbett is an Assistant Professor of Community Development at Covenant College, and has worked for Food for the Hungry International as Regional Director for Central and South America. Fikkert is the founder and president of Chalmers Center for Economic Development, and is a professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College. 

When Helping Hurts provides practical strategies and systems that will change the way Christians approach working with the poor. Many have agreed that traditional approaches to poverty alleviation have had a negative long-term impact on the poor. Corbett and Fikkert test this theory, address the issues, dissect them and provide solutions.

Read more

Stop Helping Us! Moving Beyond Charity to Job Creation

by Peter Greer

Excerpts from eBook ‘Stop Helping Us!’ reproduced with kind permission from the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics and Peter Greer. Buy eBook.

Stop Helping Us! introduces a new paradigm for an evangelical response to poverty alleviation. Being effective means recognizing that there is a difference between short-term aid, which is important and necessary, and the long-term elimination of poverty, which is the best defense against receding back into material poverty and the most effective method of elevating the dignity of all God’s children. We will see the stories of those who were transformed by effective, long-term aid that focused on the individuals rather than just numbers. Included are surveys of the poor and what they desire, showing that their goals have little to do with money and everything to do with using their skills, caring for their families, and embracing their God-given dignity.

The Story of Fadzai

Every time an employer discovered Fadzai Nhamo, a woman from Zimbabwe, was HIV positive, the door shut. “Life was difficult for me when I came to Harare,” Fadzai later remarked. When Fadzai speaks, she covers her mouth to hide her missing front teeth, a daily reminder of the brutal way she contracted HIV. “I left my hometown after someone had beaten and raped me,” she said. Following the assault, a friend took her to a clinic at the capital, Harare. There she discovered she was HIV positive. “When my husband found out I was sick [with HIV], he disappeared,” Fadzai commented later. “I did not have a place to live.” After her husband’s abandonment, Fadzai was left a single mom, a stranger in a new city. With no place to call home, she moved from place to place with her children.

It is possible to debate many points of theology, but our faith clearly calls us to care for Fadzai, an individual who has been exploited and abused. She is the widow and foreigner so frequently mentioned throughout Scripture. When we hear the story of Fadzai’s mistreatment and understand the message of grace in Scripture, we are compelled to respond. Read more

Lessons from the Edge: Fighting Poverty Through Business

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

Brian Albright has been involved in international development and business (in agriculture and health care) in East Africa since 2004. He currently teaches Business as Mission and Social Entrepreneurship at Hope International University in Fullerton, California, USA.

Invest in your key relationships and stay teachable
I’ve been blessed to partner with two amazingly gifted Kenyans to run our companies. They have strengths and weaknesses—as I do—that must be understood and managed. The cultural differences are real, and I could share many stories where my presence, perspective, and opinion were detrimental, and I learned to stay teachable. I know the most valuable investment we have made in our long-term business success is the time we have taken to build trust, communication, and a more open relationship. If I were to start over new in another location, the first thing I would do would be to find the right partner and develop that kind of relationship.

Monitor the numbers regularly
In the context we work in, there is a strong donor mentality due to a long history of handouts. With some of our employees and clients, it is hard to make the switch in mindset to running a business that is sustainable, where “finding a donor” isn’t the proper response to financial problems. The way we avoid this mentality is to set specific quantitative goals and monitor costs, revenues, client totals, labor hours, profitability, etc. on a regular basis. This focus on the numbers reminds us that we are a business.

You can’t do it all, work with others
While working alongside the poor, many issues emerge such as AIDS, alcoholism, nominal Christianity, sexual promiscuity, children’s school fees, costs of health care, etc.. Our business exists to meet these social and spiritual needs, but our primary role as a business is to provide goods and services and to create jobs. There are churches, health clinics, and NGO’s that we partner with in our community so that our company isn’t all things to all people. While our goals are beyond that of a traditional business, we are not experts in all of these areas, nor should we try to be. I think we are better at accomplishing all of our goals because we partner in this way.

Business as Mission and the End of Poverty

Adapted and excerpted from the BAM Global Think Tank report on BAM at the Base of the Pyramid.

The Call to Poverty Alleviation Through Business

Business has a role in alleviating poverty. Christians in business have a unique opportunity, and responsibility, to address the suffering and injustice of the 2.5 billion people who live on less than US$2.50 per day. 

The call to bring poverty-alleviation back as a central focus and purpose of business as mission (BAM) is built on several foundational understandings:

1. We are all created in God’s image: equal, creative, and imaging God in our work

Every person on this Earth is created in God’s image, from those our world defines as the most humble to the greatest, we are equals. This foundational Christian understanding of who we are has profound implications for our understanding of work, of business, and unemployment. Timothy Keller in his new book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting your Work to God’s Work, provides a fresh perspective on work, starting with Genesis and God’s work in Creation, to Christ’s humble role as a carpenter, and each of our own unique vocational callings in this world. On the definition of calling in his book, Keller states, “Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.” (Keller, 2012 p66) Read more

Poverty, Inc.

As we introduce this new series on ‘Business Fights Poverty’ on The BAM Review blog, we want to recommend the documentary Poverty, Inc. as a great resource to understand more about this issue. We believe enterprise is the way God designed communities to rise out of poverty and develop. Business is integral to human flourishing.

Yet business does not stand a chance in many communities because of a dependence on aid. The unintended consequence of good intentions can often be the destruction of the local economy.

Aid versus trade is just one of the issues around the topic of ‘business fights poverty’. Through this theme we want to be thinking holistically about addressing physical, social and spiritual poverty. We want to grow in a Biblical view of what human flourishing means. Read more

How Business Fights Poverty: Stories from a Global Network

by Lauren Rahman

Business is uniquely positioned to respond to the needs of this world.  The Partners Worldwide global network works every day to leverage this truth for change. We recognize that business is a calling to do God’s work by creating flourishing economic environments in all parts of the world.

In places where poverty devastates communities and robs individuals of their ability to realize their full, God-given potential, we work to catalyze entrepreneurs and job-creators. Through business, these local leaders are fighting poverty and the various effects poverty has on communities and individuals—physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental.

determiner bfp

The most obvious form of poverty we encounter is physical poverty—a lack of material things that contribute to our well-being—shelter, food, clothing, medicine. Business gives families access to these things, both through income from jobs and by providing the goods and services needed to flourish. Read more