Dream Big and Move Forward! 6 Tips for Impact from a Modern Abolitionist

by Joyce Ahn

David Batstone is a human rights activist and co-founder of Not For Sale, an organization that provides human trafficking survivors and at-risk individuals with tools for long-term self-sufficiency through work-readiness skills and job placements. David is also the cofounder of REBBL, a health-drink company, and senior managing partner of ‘Just Business,’ an international investment group that incubates social enterprises.  

In his final keynote speech at the BAM Conference 2017, David shared 6 tips for business people who want to make a major impact on society:

  1. Fearlessly Pursue Your Passion

Don’t get stuck asking,“What’s the next step?” or “What does God want me to do?” Instead, start taking steps based off of what you know and the opportunities right in front of you. Reflect on the gifts and calling that God has given you. What’s the burning passion in your heart? Rather than getting stuck pursuing someone else’s dream for your life, take ownership of your vision and do something about it!

  1. Look Back Before You Look Forward

You might find this surprising, but we often can see God’s path for us most clearly not when we look forward, but as we look behind us. As you look at your past, you will start to see how all the seemingly unconnected parts fit together and how even your mistakes played a role in shaping the bigger picture.

  1. Life’s A Story That’s Still Being Written…

It’s true, we don’t get to write the beginning of our own life story. We didn’t get to choose our family, where we were born, or our appearance and gifts. It’s easy to try to deny what our beginnings are, but until you start making sense of your life history, it’s hard to effectively write the rest of your story. We’ve got to say both, “Lord, give me courage to work through the challenges of the life I was handed,” and, “Please help me write the rest of my story well.”

  1. Embrace Failure

We give God the opportunity to work in our lives when we are open to take risks. I live by the motto, “Fail often, fail fast, and fail while taking small bets.” All of us, no matter how much successful, will also experience failure at some point or another. When I face failure, I don’t get paralyzed. I learn as much as I can from it and keep going.

A few years ago, I invested a lot of time and money into designing an app that ended up failing. However, I was very honest with my investors through the ups and downs. Even though that product didn’t work out, they have stuck with me into other ventures. It’s painful to go through, but there are opportunities to learn from the hard times and see how God uses it in the future.

  1. Be Exceptional in Everything

We can’t win people over simply because our products are for a good cause or our materials are ethically sourced. We must create exceptional products that people love and keep buying. With our REBBL health drinks company, a number of people loved the drinks, and had no idea the cause behind it. Later on, they hear about how REBBL creates jobs for at-risk populations in the Amazon, and then they love it even more! That’s how all our companies can be: people love the product itself, and when they hear the backstory of why we do what we do, or how we do it, they are customers for life and believe in it even more.

  1. Dream Big and Take the Next Step!

As I look at the faith-based business movement, I think a lot of us are playing it safe and creating products and services for the last century. I challenge all of us to think bigger, grander, and deeper! Let’s stop making simple products or updating models of existing goods and services. Instead, we can be the companies that take innovation to the next level. We don’t even have to be the ones creating the newest products, but those who figure out how to leverage existing tools that bring social innovation and breakthrough for people who are suffering in this world.

Your next opportunity might be right around the corner, even if you don’t see it yet. Just open the door that’s in front of you. I wasn’t originally looking to make my career focused on fighting human trafficking, but I just took one step at a time and amazing things have happened along the way.

Building Businesses That Change Nations

One of my colleagues, Iqbal Quadir, is a great example of an entrepreneur who used existing technology to make a major impact for the poor. Iqbal grew up in rural Bangladesh and later went on to become a well-established Wall Street broker. One day, he began to imagine what he could do to help the thousands of Bangladeshi villages that still dealt with lack of good communication channels he faced as a child. He thought about how if just one person in a village had a mobile phone, they could become a small “telephone company” for their community, charging a small fee for people to make calls. The ability to make calls could help countless people when it came to basic business and personal needs, and even save lives in emergencies.

Iqbal presented this idea to Grameen Bank, which has has pioneered offering thousands of microloans in Bangladesh, and they formed a partnership. Today his company, Grameenphone, is the largest telephone company in Bangladesh and has radically improved communication for millions of Bangladeshis. This model has also lifted thousands of entrepreneurs out of poverty through the jobs Grameenphone has created. Iqbal came up with a business model that was forward thinking and solved a major communication problem that has literally impacted an entire nation.

What if Christian entrepreneurs and business professionals were known worldwide as the leaders in innovation? What if we were the ones that solved problems that majorly impact culture and society today, both locally and globally? Among us we have so much talent and experience that has yet to be tapped into. God is leading us into the great plans he has for our world. As we keep networking and collaborating, we can bring about the Kingdom of God as we build things that are bigger than any one of us could do on our own.

Hebrews 11 reminds us to keep moving forward confidently even when what’s ahead is unknown. We can run the race with complete confidence that God will provide for us as we humbly pursue all that he has called us to.

Speech compiled and summarized by Joyce Ahn, a regular guest contributor for The BAM Review.