Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ten Year Anniversaries

Ten years ago, I interviewed for my job at Bud's Warehouse and Belay Enterprises.

I called my wife on the way home to tell her how excited I was about the interview. She didn't sound happy. The doctor had just sent her to the hospital because she was having serious pregnancy complications with our twins.

The next week was a blur of ups and downs. My wife spent four days on bed rest. The Belay board offered the job. The next day the twins were born six weeks early. The following 24 hours were frightening as the doctors worked to stabilize my wife's health. Thankfully, she recovered in the midst of hundreds of prayers. And ten years later, I have two healthy, if slightly over-energetic boys who are celebrating a big birthday.

In the midst of it all I learned a profound life lesson. I like to be in control. It is why I have gravitated towards an entrepreneurial career. But in entrepreneurship and in life, you will never ultimately be in control. And if you work in an urban ministry, you will quickly discover how much control is an illusion in the chaos of everyday urban life.

But you also learn that God is supreme over the chaos. Faith is about trusting that God is bigger than the problem facing you. Faith promises that the bigger story of God conquering death on the cross through Jesus’ resurrection changes the meaning of the day to day stories of our lives. Faith ensures that Jesus’ work of transforming a world broken by sin continues 2000 years later in the loving actions of his believers. God takes the good and makes it better and God takes the bad and transforms it for the good of his kingdom. It is Paul’s words in Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

Ten years later, I am thankful that God provided a vivid lesson on faith at the start of my ministry. I am also thankful for my wife, my family and my time at Belay Enterprises.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kiva Introduces Domestic Initiative

During the last few years, I have watched in fascination as innovative Kiva, the first peer-to-peer international micro lending organization has blossomed into a social networking phenomenon. Three years ago, I even doodled with a business plan that would create a peer-to-peer lending site for both domestic and international faith ventures. But the obstacles seemed too great when you focus on such a specific niche. And besides Kiva was already doing such a great job helping faith organizations even though it was a secular nonprofit.

Last week, I was excited to hear that Kiva had introduced a domestic initiative. You can now visit www.Kiva.org and view domestic entrepreneurs from the Opportunity Fund and Accion. Like with the international lending program, interested investors build a portfolio from a selection of active entrepreneurs needing financial support. Funds are invested in the businesses that the individual selects. When the entrepreneur repays the loan, the investor can reinvest in another business, donate the funds to Kiva or withdraw the funds. The investments are overseen by partner microenterprise organizations ensuring a high repayment rate.

Kiva shifts paradigms by putting the power of the internet to work on behalf of the poor. People aren’t investing with an organization. They invest in individuals. And now, the program is not just limited to international microenterprise with the inauguration of the domestic initiative.

Incidentally, the Kiva web site provides a great place to get ideas for your own faith venture. The day I visited, some of the aspiring entrepreneurs presented some very good ideas that would work wonderfully for individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, conviction or homelessness with the right support structure.

In today’s difficult economy, if you have some spare resources, it’s a great time to invest in the success of others through Kiva. And you’ll also help rebuild our economy through the power of entrepreneurship.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Faulu Kenya: A Small World

Ken Wathome, the chairman of Faulu Kenya, spoke at a luncheon I attended last week. The meeting became an unexpected “small world” experience for me.

A few years ago, my church partnered with Pastor Francis of Eldoret, Kenya, to start a small microenterprise project through his community church and orphanage. I wrote about his visit to Bud’s Warehouse last summer.

When the project started, Cathy Cutrell, who took the lead on Centennial Covenant Church’s efforts, enrolled in the distance learning economic development program of Chalmers Center. She became our resident expert on best practices in Christian international economic development. One of the organizations she learned about was Faulu. She became the driving force for a partnership between our start-up organization and Faulu in the area of business training.

So last week, I was invited to this luncheon not knowing was the guest speaker. After being introduced as the chairman of Faulu and then sharing some of his story as a Kenyan entrepreneur, it dawned on me that this might be the organization that helped us. After a few swapped text messages with Randy Stensgard of Centennial Covenant Church, my suspicions were confirmed.

After the meeting, Ken Wathome enjoyed hearing how his organization helped our SEDA microenterprise program. While I was talking to Ken, one other man shared that his daughter was visiting Kenya in two weeks. It turns out, she was taking a short-term missions trip with our church to assist Pastor Francis’ project.

Ken Wathome’s talk was very interesting. He shared with us the Kenyan perspective on the recent presidential election. On the night of the election, everyone stayed up until morning wanting to follow the results of their adopted favorite son. He said it felt like the President of Kenya had been elected instead of the President of the United States. Now, he noted, the big challenge for Kenyans is remembering that President Obama is the President of the United States. He will be making decisions in that role.

Ken also talked about the difficulty of operating a Christian business ethically in a business culture where bribes and unethical behavior is common. He also told about how a few years ago Faulu converted its organization from a non-profit to a for-profit in order to obtain capital from investors. I found both of these topics fascinating and look forward to learning more about his perspective on ethics and the unique task of converting a non-profit to a for-profit.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Modern Indentured Employment

I have recently blogged about how the economy is making our job of graduating program participants into the real work world more difficult. In the last few weeks, we have stumbled upon some employment situations that are in some ways modern versions of indentured slavery.

Getting a job as an ex-offender has always been a difficult situation. When you add an extremely difficult economy, it becomes even harder for an individual rebuilding a life to find someone willing to hire them. When a job opportunity surfaces, it is a happy day and everyone works diligently to win over the employer.

So imagine our joy when one of our program participants found a wonderful opportunity as an office manager for a distribution company. The job paid very well. The individual underwent an extensive interview process and was ecstatic when hired.

But something didn’t sound quite right. The person was promised that the role did not include outside sales. But our program participant was guaranteed large raises and a quick promotion to manager.

After starting at the new employer, the new job quickly turned into a nightmare. The role promised vaporized into a difficult door-to-door sales type position. Fortunately, the individual was able to return to Bud’s Warehouse. But for a person who did not have the safety net of our program, the new job becomes almost an indentured servant situation. I fear that this employer targets individuals that already have a paying job. They lure them with the promise of a perfect role and a big paycheck. But then they leave them with few options in this economy when the job turns into a commission only sales position.

The old adage still lives: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Or at least, you really need to do your homework before accepting a new job.

Belay Venture Partners Program Selects First Founder

I’m excited to announce that Belay Enterprises has chosen Brittany Marlett as our first participant in the Venture Partners Program. B...