About a decade ago I joined a couple of other semi-clueless entrepreneurs in starting a regional newspaper in East Texas. Although I had always been a praying man, I found a lot more to pray about while starting a business: praying we’d make payroll, praying we’d find advertisers, praying the newspaper industry wouldn’t collapse before our next edition, etc.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone. According to information recently published by the Association of Religion Data Services, U.S. entrepreneurs pray more, meditate more and are more likely to believe in “a God” and attend a religious congregation than non-entrepreneurs:
The ARDA release published last month, draws on data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey which shows that people who have started or were starting a new business were more likely to believe in a God who personally cared for them. They also meditated and prayed more frequently than non-entrepreneurs.
“For entrepreneurs, business ventures may provide a ready list of concerns voiced to a God they believe is listening,” Baylor researchers Kevin Dougherty, Mitchell Neubert, and Jenna Griebel and Jerry Park noted.
When times get tough, according to Dougherty, many entrepreneurs may find themselves strengthened by the belief “God is with them and interested in them and attends to their needs.”
What a sweet spectacle it is to observe Rome’s pastel-colored cityscape and glowing white marble churches from above St. Peter’s Basilica just before sunset. But this is not what one Italian entrepreneur had in mind late Monday evening and years since experiencing any kind of dolce vita in his native land.
The Hitachi Foundation is accepting applications for its 2013 Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur Award, which identifies up to five young people striving to build “sustainable businesses” in the United States. Each awardee will receive $40,000 over two years, along with the tools and training designed to put a startup on the path to success. Deadline is March 28.
The Hitachi Foundation says its Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur Program “identifies and highlights leaders who are using the power of business to fight poverty in the United States.” Those whose entrepreneurial efforts are animated by faith principles are encouraged to apply. Eligible entrepreneurs are those “intending to lift low-wealth people out of poverty in the context of their business.” These, the foundation explained, “could range from creating quality jobs, producing new products and services or devising management strategies that propel the business and low-income people forward.”
Hitachi Foundation will also host up to ten finalists in Washington for a “two-day networking event with peers and field leaders.”
Applicants must have started a business that is now between one and five years old and the entrepreneur must have launched the business before reaching age 30. In addition, the business must be generating revenue for at least the last 12 months. The business can be legally structured as a for-profit or nonprofit enterprise, but must be a revenue-generating model and not rely primarily on grants or donations.
Investors Circle, an early-stage network of “angels, venture capitalists, foundations and family offices” that has invested in 269 enterprises, is collaborating with Hitachi Foundation on the award program.
Television is often lamented for its propensity to exaggerate the mundane and the ordinary. Yet when it comes to something as routinely downplayed and unfairly pooh-poohed as our daily work—the “rat race,” the “grindstone,” yadda-yadda—I wonder if television’s over-the-top tendencies might be just what we need to reorient our thinking about the broader significance of our work.
As I’ve argued previously, we face a constant temptation to limit our economic endeavors to the temporal and the material, focusing only on “putting in our 40,” working for the next paycheck, and tucking away enough cash for a cozy retirement. Whether we know it or not, plenty of transcendent activity is also taking place in such efforts, whether through our service, creativity, productivity, collaboration, relationship-building, or plain-old ordinary exchange. How we think about the greater significance and spiritual potential of our efforts is bound to impact how we behave in our daily efforts, either pushing us in the direction of earthbound toil or unleashing us further toward transcendent ends.
If, as Lester DeKoster puts it, work is the “meaning of our lives,” whether we’re scrubbing toilets or selling high-priced widgets, it would seem that such a striking and all-encompassing reality deserves at least a little drama. Thus, below is a select list of my favorite TV shows that draw out some of these features (some more sincerely and effectively than others). None are “Christian” in any explicit sense, and each involves its own share of tasteless theatrics and contrived scenarios, but each nevertheless illuminates some untold truths about the significance of our work beyond the merely material.
(Tip to producers: Add a concerted focus on the will of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to any one of these shows, and that Emmy is a shoo-in.)
5. Dirty Jobs
Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe is passionate about “celebrating hard work and skilled labor,” and by trying his hand at some of the dirtiest jobs in the land, from coal miner to sewage sifter to animal-husbandry parts-grabber, he has drawn enormous attention to some of the less celebrated and most essential jobs around. Each has its own unique requirements and pay scale, but plenty of Rowe’s undertakings involve manual labor that we might be tempted to label “undignified” or “dehumanizing.” Yet even the persistently cheery Rowe—who is surely well paid for his toil—is rarely able to outdo the positive attitudes of these workers. These are folks who ooze with passion, pride, and an acute awareness of the pressing needs they are meeting in their local communities and society at large. (more…)
A new multifaceted initiative, called PovertyCure, provides abundant materials and resources for those who want to create lasting solutions to poverty. The program is founded on the conviction that each human person can be a source of great creativity. It highlights the incentives needed to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that fills the developing world.
Chafuen also calls attention to PovertyCure’s focus on the big picture:
Many intellectual entrepreneurs and some of their donors and “angel investors” tend to be single-product champions. They focus on only one element in the road to reduce poverty, e.g., women rights, property titles, vaccines. This could lead to neglect of the fundamental problems that impede successful outcomes in their area of work… A fruitful dialogue among participants in PovertyCure can increase the chances that poverty or “human flourishing” programs will be structured with the proper incentives.
Instead of focusing on what we can do to solve poverty, the real question is how do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and communities.
“This is one of the sleaziest industries in the world,” says business owner Ethan Rietema. “Customers are treated so poorly. Stores beat you up, trying to get as much money as they can, but they couldn’t care less if you get the right bed.”
Rietema and Steve Van Diest, both former campus ministers, are bringing rest—and integrity—back to a business largely devoid of it. Four years ago, a Christian entrepreneur invited the Colorado natives to begin deploying their relational abilities in strip malls rather than on college campuses. They now co-own three Urban Mattress stores in Denver and have franchised four more. And, they argue, their current work is just as important as their former ministry….
…”I don’t have to do mental gymnastics with the product I sell,” Van Diest says. “It’s not a frivolous item. It’s not an image-conscious product. People come here after being worn down by horrible sleep, replete with aches and pain. If we can provide them with a small glimpse of grace for a third of their lives, that’s kingdom work. That matters to God.”
Every entrepreneur begins by identifying a need. For Rietema and Van Diest, it was better customer service and consumer information. Urban Mattress has grown its business by directly countering a status-quo industry environment of price misinformation, offering “consistent and fair prices that promote transparency and honesty.” No faux “blowout sales,” no shady product labeling, no overly hasty, overly pushy customer interactions.
Mitt Romney may have lost to Barack Obama but his was not the biggest loss of the election—at least not economically. Despite the millions the GOP spent to elect their candidate, the real economic losers of the 2012 election, as Joel Kotkin explains, are entrepreneurs:
The real losers are small business owners, or what might be called the aspirational middle class. The smaller business — with no galleon full of legal slaves pulling for them — will face more regulation of labor, particularly independent contracting. There will be more financial regulation, which is why Romney’s top contributors were all banks.
Small businesses will also face challenges associated with Obamacare, which now will sail on unchallenged. Health care costs are expected to go up 6.5% per employee. Some 58% of businesses say they will shift the costs to their employees. Many owners will face a higher individual tax bill: couples making $250,000 or more and singles making $200,000 or more will pay a 3.8% Medicare tax starting 2013.
All this is troubling, as American start-up rates are already falling. Much of what happens now occurs not from a great hunger to succeed as a desire to maintain. Outside of the inherently entrepreneurial immigrant classes, the only group of Americans starting business more than before are the fifty somethings and above. Many of these may simply be former employees of larger firms, now doing work sometimes in the same industry and even for the same company.
Entrepreneurs, in the words of Andreas Widmer, co-founder of The SEVEN Fund, are people who see “an additional color. Everybody sees chaos; they look out, they see chaos. An entrepreneur sees patterns.” They think differently.
Why it’s a must-see:This doc is a non-stop barrage of uplifting tales. The inspiring story of Michigan dairy farmer-turned-composter, Brad Morgan is enough to remind you that our society thrives on entrepreneurial ideas.
Lesson: Sometimes all the modern-day entrepreneur needs is a little inspiration to press on, even though failure could be right around the corner.
Other “must sees” for entrepreneurs are “Freakonomics: the movie” and “Ayn Rand: In Her Own Words”.
Visit “The Call of the Entrepreneur” website to learn more about the documentary.
Work is at the core of our humanity, says Anthony Esolen, and our ownership of what we produce precedes laws demanding that we give it back to “community” in the abstract.
“You didn’t build that!” is probably the most preposterous statement I have ever heard from an American politician. A high bar to clear, no doubt, but let me justify the choice. It puts the effect before the cause. Suppose someone were to say, “If it weren’t for cities, there wouldn’t be such things as big family farms,” and therefore farmers owe it to city-dwellers to hand over more of their profits. But the farmer could well reply, “If it weren’t for farms, there would be no such things as cities,” and that is absolutely correct; without a surplus of food that can be stored, no city can exist. The farm is the foundation of the city, and not the reverse.
Similarly, the actions of risk-takers are the foundation of any civil order: they make it possible for there to be something to be governed. Granted, those risk-takers require law to protect their property, and government to enforce the law. But it is crucial to note the order of cause and even the order of being. No one writes a law raising tariffs on imported cotton unless there is already native cotton being grown. No one builds a railroad from Pittsburgh to Chicago unless there is already something to transport on it. Without the creativity and the daring of the businessman (or farmer, or prospector, or rancher, or inventor), we all live hand to mouth, and we take our orders from the leader of our tribe or clan.
Andreas Widmer, entrepreneur, former Swiss guard, and contributor to PovertyCure, has published an article at First Things, titled “Can Business Save Your Soul?” It is Widmer’s take on the statement by the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice regarding the role of business (see commentary on this by Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan here).
…the business community represents a fertile field for the practice of the Gospels and this is, I think, the aim of the Justice and Peace document.
It is, alas, common in our age to separate faith from business and promote a dualism between secular and holy.
The Church represents a counterpoint to that worldview: At the root of Christianity stands the fact that our path to spiritual fulfillment passes through our physical life and actions. Jewish and Christian faith is not only spiritual but also physical. Judaism emphasizes this by focusing on an actual city in this world: Jerusalem and a single historical people, the Jewish people. Christianity emphasizes the incarnate nature of the divine. On the last day, we will be raised in both body and spirit.
The document is a loud and clear call to a strong inner life for business leaders. It is also a call to develop among them a “spirituality of work.” It is even more important to provide a religious “formation” for business leaders and for students in our universities. We have long done the latter. We have barely begun the former.
(The entire statement from Cardinal Peter Turkson is available here in PDF format.)