pouring milk

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.