Posts tagged with: entrepreneurship

PovertyCure was featured in Forbes Magazine last week. Alex Chafuen, one of Acton’s founding board members, featured PovertyCure in his article on champions of innovation. He writes:

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.

Learn more about PovertyCure, their network of over 180 organizations, and order the new PovertyCure DVD-Series, a 152-minute documentary-style series that challenges conventional thinking and explores the economic and theological foundations of human flourishing.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Over at Ricochet, Peter Robinson broaches the oft asked question about intellectuals and their disdain and rage against capitalism. Robinson unearthed Robert Nozick’s, “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” Nozick declared,

The schools, too, exhibited and thereby taught the principle of reward in accordance with (intellectual) merit. To the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher’s smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards.

The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority “entitled” them? Is it surprising that what the schooled intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons, continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be inadequate?

The entire essay is thoughtful and worth the read and it reminded me of some of my own observations of life at Ole Miss, my own Alma Mater. Much of what Nozick explains in the essay may be magnified at a school that has a similar cultural makeup as that one. The University of Mississippi or Ole Miss, at least from my own experience, is a very solid public university. There are some excellent professors in residence, especially within the college of liberal arts. For a public university, especially when it comes to capitalism and cultural norms, the student body is relatively conservative. I would say though from my own experience, however, it isn’t a place of grand academic probing or curiosity for most students. How many colleges genuinely can claim that characteristic today, though? That is not to say students are less intelligent or thoughtful than elsewhere.

A deep intellectual curiosity among the student body, in most cases, would not ingratiate you towards your peers and it certainly did you little favor in the social scene. I immediately noticed a tension between some of the academics and a large portion of the student body. Social development, popularity, networking, and the general social scene was all the rage for many students. Whether it was through popular fraternities and sororities and social gatherings, those activities and influences took precedence over the academy and academic pursuits.

A lot students came from financially successful families and many of those families were popular in Mississippi. They had little interest in repudiating their background, upbringing, and many of the cultural norms that surrounded them. While some academics on campus wanted the students to at least in part, to repudiate some of those values and norms. And many of those same students – who might be described as not “academic” or “intellectual” – were masters of the social scene, where often financial success comes in life, especially in the field of business and entrepreneurial enterprise. The resentment of some in academic circles was palpable. They felt betrayed by the wider culture – no beautiful woman at their side, no expensive sport utility vehicle, and little popularity. Thus there was a feeling that the system is rigged and unfair. I suspect in many of the the more traditional campus settings, feelings like this are especially common.

There has been a lot written on the topic of the academy’s rants and raging against the free market. Certainly much of it has to do with the deep perception that some professors aren’t rewarded to a greater degree than those that are less academic but maybe more socially astute in life and business.

Perhaps the best examples today are the professors in SEC schools who carry impressive academic degrees and credentials but are dwarfed in salary by football coaches with motorcades bigger than the state governor, and a support staff greater than entire academic departments on campus. They are a visible reminder of the popular jock who got the girl, while simultaneously, being the most admired figure on campus. Is capitalism or the free market really to blame though?

When we think of markets, we may conjure up a picture of goods and services production, supply and demand economics, and freedom of exchange. This of course is an accurate depiction, but what if in addition to this, the marketplace is actually divinely inspired and can be utilized to fulfill God’s mission?

In the upcoming AU Online four-part lecture series, Building a Marketplace Theology: From Conception to Execution of an Evangelistic Marketplace Practicum, serial entrepreneur David Doty will explore this idea. The series is scheduled for January 22 through January 31. Online sessions will be held at 6 pm EST on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Visit auonline.acton.org for more information and to register.

For additional material on the marketplace as a reflection of God’s plan and its effectiveness as a poverty alleviation tool, check out the newly released PovertyCure DVD Series, a project of the Acton Institute.

The Good Rich and What They Cost Us, Robert Dalzell Jr.In a new book, The Good Rich and What They Cost Us, Robert Dalzell Jr. aims to address “a great paradox at the core of the American Dream: a passionate belief in the principles of democracy combined with an equally passionate celebration of wealth.”

In a review for the Wall Street Journal, Amity Shlaes notes that although the book provides an in-depth look at the history of American philanthropy, the author’s own personal prescriptions lend too high a trust to government redistribution:

“The Good Rich” starts out like a tour through a portrait gallery, describing rather than judging. For much of his narrative, Mr. Dalzell refrains from giving his own opinion explicitly and reports merely that the rich have often blamed themselves for their lapses or oversize good fortune, or that their peers did.

Toward the book’s end, though, Mr. Dalzell drops his own screen, putting forward a familiar argument: that democracy suffers unless wealth and philanthropy are redistributed to reduce economic inequality. Even the “good rich” cost us: They don’t give wisely, Mr. Dalzell contends, spending too much on “elite institutions like Harvard, Yale, MIT and Princeton, which seems unlikely to reduce the income gap by much.” …For the sake of the public good, then, the rich must fashion better charity projects while handing over more of their money to the government.

Such philanthropic efforts deserve to be thoroughly examined. Likewise, from the poorest of us to the wealthiest, we should be energetic in examining our own activities, using discernment and wisdom in how we use our resources. But as Shlaes indicates, if it’s difficult for we individuals to wrestle with these deep questions about stewardship — particularly when we’re calling on the Divine for wisdom, as many philanthropists under Dalzell’s microscope claim to have done — how much more difficult will it be for a bloated government machine to utilize proper discernment? (more…)

Young African American men, especially ex-offenders, face high obstacles to employment. City Startup Labs hopes to help change that by teaching them the skills necessary to become entrepreneurs:

This new non-profit was created to take at-risk young African American men, including ex-offenders, and teach them entrepreneurship, while creating a new set of role models and small business ambassadors along the way. City Startup Labs contends that an alternative education that prepares these young men to launch their own businesses can have far more impact with this population than other traditional forms of job readiness or workforce training.

Today’s economic climate allows employers their pick of candidates, leaving few options for anyone with a record. Young black men, who’ve had no brushes with the law, still routinely face real barriers in getting on a job ladder’s lowest rung.

According to a 2005 Princeton study, “Discrimination in Low Wage Labor Markets,” young white high school graduates were nearly twice as likely to receive positive responses from employers as equally qualified black job seekers. Even without criminal records, black applicants had low rates of positive responses – about the same as the response rate for white applicants with criminal records.

This is where entrepreneurship comes in. For example, a report done by the Justice Policy Institute states that, “…recidivism is higher for those persons who are unable to obtain employment after leaving prison and imposes a high cost on society; and yet employment opportunities are especially limited for ex-convicts. Thus self-employment would be a viable alternative for ex-offenders, at least for those with above average entrepreneurial aptitude…”

Read more . . .

solar light, developing worldOver a billion people are still using kerosene as a primary fuel source, with over 1.5 million dying annually from issues related to indoor air pollution and kerosene fires. For many in the developing world, solar lamps are a new, inexpensive solution to the problem. A recent piece in The Economist hails solar lamps as the next “mobile phone” for the poor, noting that “its spread is sustainable because it is being driven by market forces, not charity.”

In an article for Christianity Today’s This is Our City project, HOPE International‘s Chris Horst interviews two business leaders from the industry who share how their purpose and direction in providing these products stems from a strong missional orientation toward work and a belief in the power of markets.

For Brian Rants, vice president of marketing for Nokero, a leading solar light company, involvement in the industry came after a fundamental transformation in his thinking:

“I am very surprised to find myself in business,” Rants says. “Business seemed to be a backup plan to being a missionary. Or being a pastor like I thought I would be. It seemed like businesspeople were just ‘extras’ in God’s story, rather than lead or even supporting actors.”

Over the past ten years, Rants worked for a number of nonprofits and churches. After going through graduate school, however, he began to discover the ways enterprise is improving the lives of the poor around the world. Rants excitedly joined Nokero, equipped with a restored vision of vocation. Through leveraging his knack for marketing, Rants fights poverty not just through his volunteerism and philanthropy, but inherently through his work in business. (more…)

Alexandre Havard leading a recent “Virtuous Leadership” seminar with CEOs and entrepreneurs in Latvia, one of the most industrialized and wealthy republics of the former Soviet Union

The Acton Institute’s Rome office led its recent Campus Martius Seminar with Alexandre Havard, the Russian-French author of Virtuous Leadership (2007),  Created for Greatness: The Power of Magnanimity (2011) and founder of the Moscow- and Washington, D.C.-based Harvard Virtuous Leadership Institute.

Havard, speaking with Zenit’s Ed Pentin in an article following the seminar, said that during today’s economic crisis aspiring and veteran entrepreneurs alike are suffering from an improper understanding of the intimate union between humility and magnanimity, even the most religious and virtuous of them:

It’s much easier to say to God: ‘Do the work in me and I just do nothing. But God very often tells us: ‘I will not do it because I have already given you talents through nature; you have to discover those things and do it …Humility is to say: ‘I have gifts, I have talents, and they come from God.’ You recognize that you have not produced those talents, that they are a gift from him to you. Then magnanimity is to say: ‘I have them but I have to make them fructify, I must develop them and multiply them, and put them at the service of the community and the common good.  So you see these two things come together. [Talents] are not mine. I have been given them and this is my humility; my magnanimity tells me to multiply them and use them.

Havard agreed to sit down with me recently and talk about the moral and character pitfalls in both the East and the West as well as the inspiration for his virtuous leadership training program. (more…)

Our world desperately needs heroic people—people who shape events, who act rather than watch, who are creative and brave. Such people are needed in every field, in every realm of life—not only in law enforcement and disaster response but also in science, education, business and finance, health care, the arts, journalism, agriculture, and—not least—in the home.

Rev. Robert Sirico and Jeff Sandefer, in their about-to-be-released book, have written a “blueprint” to the heroic life. The two joined Acton last week to talk about their endeavor (listen to the podcast here), and discuss some of the themes of this book. Both stressed the need for people of all ages to strive for living not just a good life, but a heroic one:

We need brilliant men and women…we need people with a broad vision of what can be and what really is of lasting value, people with the strength to surmount obstacles and maintain a definition of success that is deeper and more authentic than what we find in today’s celebrity tabloids.

The book will be ready for sales for the Christmas season, in both print and e-versions. Watch the blog for the upcoming release date.

Over at Christianity Today, HOPE International’s Chris Horst, whose article on a Christian manufacturer was recently highlighted at the PowerBlog, focuses on yet another Christian business, this time dealing in mattresses:

“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.

(more…)

Rev. Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute and Jeff Sandefer, entrepreneur, teacher and educational innovator, have co-authored the new book, “The Field Guide to the Hero’s Journey: inspirational classics and practical advice from a serial entrepreneur and an entrepreneurial priest”. The book is set to be released in early December.

Rev. Sirico and Mr. Sandefer sat down to discuss their collaboration.

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