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Does crisis loom?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

We all can remember a critical time in our business when things were not going well. Maybe even the future was in question. Maybe we were ready to give up.  Maybe competitors or authorities were out to get us. We were anxious and tempted to act precipitously and quickly in the time of stress.
This week I was driving in central Oregon on Highway 97 when totally out of nowhere in the darkness a 2-point buck deer crashed into the car I was driving. We were not hurt but the car was no longer drivable (as you can see in this photo). Before long the local sheriff showed up, a guy from the Oregon road department, and then the tow truck driver. They all affirmed what I did not realize – the deer were on the move!

What is it about deer in late October and early November in this part of the country? The deer are anxious; they do not know what to do; they start running like crazy in all directions. Why?  

The early snows have been driving the deer down from the mountains.  It is mating season and the bucks are anxious about their love life. And the hunters are looking for winter venison and make loud noises with their shots. The deer are going crazy – and a nice sized buck jumped to his death precipitously on Highway 97 on a dark overcast night.

Take your time. Go slowly. Get wisdom.

The book of Proverbs teaches us to not act hastily. “Desire without knowledge is not good – how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” (Proverbs 19:2). Proverbs also says “Listen to advice … and in the end you will be counted among the wise.” (19:20) And later, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (19:21). So, it is best to slow down, seek counsel, and pray to God for wisdom.

IBEC board member, Dave Kier in his daily devotional this week quotes Proverbs 19:2 in another translation:

“Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, and he who hurries his footsteps errs.”  Proverbs 19:2 NASB

Successful Kingdom entrepreneur Bill Job talks about wisdom in his business in this 2-minute video. See if this doesn’t apply to a situation you face this week (and watch out for deer!):

Wisdom, listen, execute – Bill Job from IBEC Ventures.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Hooked on changing lives

Sunday, October 23, 2016

When I first met Ryan, he was entrenched in the mystical world of coding for a secret project. This secret project would supposedly change the world of media streaming. His team of software engineers worked diligently with no salary and no guarantees, only the promise of a significant payout when the project succeeded. I didn't understand it all.

As I got to know Ryan, I realized that this was how his world turned. His world was full of risk…people who trusted him and his ideas…2-page business models…little startup capital and lots of hard work…a high tolerance for chaos…resilience, tenacity, and adaptability. Ryan was full of true GRIT, risk-taking, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Ryan was the kind of person described by George Bernard Shaw, “…people who get up and look for circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them.” In the words of Kathleen Allen, “…most business ideas stem from a problem or opportunity that the entrepreneur sees in his or her immediate environment.”1

The heartbeat of social entrepreneurship

I lost track of Ryan for a few years but we reconnected a few months ago. We met for coffee and caught up. In those years, Ryan has failed and succeeded. His sectors have included risk management, software development, outdoor guiding, and medical service records. But most significantly, Ryan has made a huge shift in his entrepreneurial focus since the last time we talked.

Ryan is used to solving problems, but he has found a new motivation for doing so. In his words, “I can do all this to benefit myself; I can do it to benefit a big corporation or the government, but I have learned that the most satisfying endeavor is where I do it for the poor, disenfranchised and those victimized by injustice.” I can't think of a better explanation of the heartbeat of social entrepreneurship.

Developing a social enterprise

When he came to this realization, he decided to build a new enterprise in a field he was familiar with – fly fishing. He researched where the thousands of hand-tied flies originated and discovered the dark world of fly-tiers in third world countries. Outfitters stock hundreds of premium flies believed to attract trophy fish for their fly fishermen clients. Such flies are tied by hand in sweat shops in places in Africa, SE Asia and elsewhere.

Ryan found that roughly 95% of the fly tiers are women. Most of these women also work in the brothels at night just to be able to feed their children. Ryan was shocked to discover how little they were paid and to witness firsthand the slum conditions in which they lived. He decided he must do something about and embarked on a new kind of entrepreneurship – social entrepreneurship.

Ryan developed a viable business model. He determined that the $3.50 average cost of a good fly is a small investment for a fly fisherman's well-earned vacation. The cost at the source is just pennies. Selling to the 4800+ registered fly-fishing outfitters proved to be the best and most scalable market. He tested the market with hundreds of styles of fish flies. He researched the cultural nuances of each country and the intricacies of the supply chain. He crunched the numbers on profit margins. His goal was to increase the fly-tiers wage as much as ten times so that they can live on a fair wage.

Changing lives with flies

Currently, Ryan has 20 employees in Kenya. The model has worked thus far to spare these women from the brothels, give them a decent wage, and preserve their dignity. His morphing process as a social entrepreneur is nearly complete. He has combined his strength, passion, economic engine and transformation impact into one powerful enterprise.

This year Ryan, his wife, and three daughters lived in Nepal for 3 months to kick off the project in that country. They were learning the culture, teaching quality control, and organizing a staff of fish tiers in a desperately poor country. They are doing it all to see lives transformed economically, socially, and spiritually. And they have real stories of real lives being changed by their business.

Each box of flies that Ryan's company sells carries this description on the back of the box:

We work with disadvantaged populations to help them achieve their dream of an economically stable life. Each box of our ethically-sourced flies helps bring dignity and a decent wage to vulnerable men and women. Some of our fly tiers are at risk youth that have grown up in orphanages and lack any formal education. Others are widows who have children and women who have been trafficked. The bottom line is this: Our flies change lives.

You can see Ryan in action and hear more about the heart behind Fair Flies by watching this brief video (Fair Flies) or by visiting the Fair Flies website (fairflies.com). Getting hooked on helping people through business is what social entrepreneurship and Business As Mission is all about!

1 Allen, Kathleen. Launching New Ventures. Houghton Mifflin, New York, 2009. p. 54.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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5 tips for achieving the triple bottom line

Sunday, October 16, 2016

What if you could create something with the power to stimulate a developing local economy, catalyze societal change, strengthen families, and spark spiritual transformation? That would be something, wouldn’t it? Enter the triple bottom line.

That’s exactly what Business As Mission entrepreneurs are doing. When BAM entrepreneurs start socially conscious BAM businesses they're after more than just profit. They’re after a triple, or even quadruple, bottom line – including economic, environmental, social, and spiritual measures of success.

But here’s the catch: Achieving a true integration of all three (or four) elements into one “success story” is extremely challenging for most BAM entrepreneurs.

So, how does one do it? How does one successfully integrate the goals of financial profit, social impact, and spiritual transformation, and possibly even environmental benefit?

Here are five important things for social entrepreneurs to remember as they seek to transform their communities and impact God's kingdom through business:

1. Clarify your values and purpose

Before you can strategize a plan for social and spiritual impact, you must be clear on what your values are. Who are you going to be as an organization? Why do you exist? What principles and values will you stand on? What are the problems you are seeking to solve? What evidences of transformation will measure the effectiveness of your organization at work?

If you don’t know why you’re doing what you are doing and who you are as an organization, you won’t successfully achieve an integrated triple bottom line. Start by dreaming and clarifying these elements.

Action Point: Set up 4 columns on a piece of paper. Label them “Vision,” “Values/Principles,” “Problems,” and “Objectives”. Answer the following questions and write them in the correlating columns:

    • Who are we?
    • What values/principles will shape our organization?
    • What problems are we seeking to solve?
    • What tangible transformation objectives do we wish to accomplish?

2. Simplify your central message

Now boil these things down into one central message. This is the one thing that sums everything you wrote down before. The central message is the heartbeat of your organization, the thing you keep waking up day after day for. Keep your central message as simple yet focused as you can.

IBEC Ventures was incorporated in 2006 as a consulting group to provide consulting services primarily to Business as Mission startups in areas where there is high unemployment, great injustice, and where there few followers of Jesus. When we started to define our purpose and vision, we synthesized it into these two statements:

IBEC’s Purpose: IBEC helps build sustainable businesses through consultative expertise that changes lives and transforms communities.

IBEC’s Vision: We envision an increasing number of small-medium sustainable Kingdom businesses with our special emphasis on areas that are both economically impoverished and spiritually unreached.

Taking this one step further, we can boil down IBEC's central message to these six words: "building the Kingdom through sustainable businesses". This encapsulates our unique identity and approach, whether we are helping individual entrepreneurs build BAM businesses or advising organizations like NGOs, agencies, churches and universities who see BAM as a key part of their Kingdom-building strategy.

Once you have established this central message, remain obsessively disciplined to it. It will shape everything else.

Action Point: Write your central message down. No more than 10 words!

3. Identify your People and Place

You know who you are as an organization, what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what the central message of your organization is. But where are you doing this? Who are you seeking to impact?

Defining your People and Place helps keep you on track as you seek to integrate your triple bottom line. Make them as specific and inclusive as is helpful for you.

Action Point: Answer the questions “who are we seeking to impact/work with?” and “where do we want to see our vision come to life?”.

4. Develop 2 intentional plans

An IBEC coaching client, Lee, started a consultancy in Azerbaijan that focused on land development among other sectors. He sought input from IBEC Ventures. We suggested he develop two plans – a business plan and an SSO plan (Social & Spiritual Objectives plan). He readily agreed.

His business plan was a typical business plan modeled after other plans from his past business experiences. He now developed an SSO plan. This plan identified how lives would be changed and how the community would grow due to increased number of jobs and environmental impact.

Having two plans like these create a level of intentionality and accountability. They help put meat and feet to your vision and objectives, moving them from the realm of dreams to implementable plans and measurable goals.

Action Point: Develop a solid business plan and a Social & Spiritual Objectives plan. Contact us if you need help!

5. Unify your team

To achieve success, you must employ a team of people with diversified strengths. But you also need a team that is unified around your central vision and the values and principles that define your organization.

Having a diverse startup team requires consistent effort to remain unified around the shared vision. Don’t let your team stray even a degree away from those central definers you have established. As you operate with diverse strengths, experiences, and backgrounds, keep unifying your team around these things.

Action Point: Have a vision gathering for your team where you can realign everyone around the share identity, values, vision, message, and objectives of your business. Do this regularly!

As you implement these things, you will be well on your way in the integration process. Social entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to solve economic, social, environmental, and/or spiritual problems. Business is merely their chosen mechanism. When these entrepreneurs figure out how to make the desired impact within a profitable and sustainable business model, they can change the world!

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Does GRIT explain the success of a BAM business?

Sunday, October 09, 2016

You might think of the 1969 Western True Grit or the more recent 2010 remake of the John Wayne classic. Or you might think of grit in your teeth.

This funny word, “grit” is getting new press lately with recent research and publication. When a TED talk on “Grit” gets over 8 million views, we should probably stop and ask what’s up with grit?

Grit: a predictor of success

Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance has taken ancient theories and contextualized them to contemporary pedagogy. Her teaching experience and research at the University of Pennsylvania and West Point has given her a unique voice to define “grit” and its determination of success. Her interest in factors of success beyond IQ and natural ability led to her GRIT theory. She has redefined “grit” as perseverance and passion for long-term goals in addition to the Miriam-Webster definition of, “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.”

Duckworth’s best-seller peddles a pair of big ideas: that grit—comprising a person’s perseverance and passion—is among the most important predictors of success, and that we all have the power to increase our inner grit. These two theses, she argues, apply not just to cadets but to kids in troubled elementary schools and undergrads at top-ranked universities and scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs. Duckworth’s book describes a wide array of “paragons of grit”—people she’s either interviewed or studied from afar. These paragons of grit include puzzle masters and magicians, actors and inventors, children and adults, Steve Young and Julia Child. Grit appears in all of them, sprinkled over their achievements like a magic Ajax powder. In tandem with some feisty scrubbing, it dissolves whatever obstacles might hold a person back.1

Duckworth writes “… achievement is the product of talent and effort, the latter a function of the intensity, direction, and duration of one’s exertions towards a long-term goal.” Malcolm Gladwell agrees. In his 2007 best-selling book Outliers, he examines the seminal conditions required for optimal success. We’re talking about the best of the best… Beatles, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs. How did they build such impossibly powerful spheres of influence? …The area where Gladwell and Duckworth intersect (and what we can actually control), is on the importance of goals and lots, and lots and lots of practice…10,000 hours to be precise.2

Grit has been variously described as bravery, pluck, mettle, backbone, spirit, strength of character, moral fiber, hardiness, resolve, determination, tenacity, perseverance, and spunk. In short GRIT is Guts…Resilience…Initiative…Tenacity, the acronym coined by Linda Kaplan Thaler.

Historically, the likes of Aristotle and William James believed tenacity was one of the most valued virtues. Now, Duckworth asserts that a person’s stick-to-it-iveness is directly related to their level of success. Author Paul Tough says in Helping Children Succeed that perseverance is as or more important than traditional factors. He argues that it is not taught in the classroom but is a product of the child’s environment.

Grit and the social entrepreneur

All of this talk about grit made me think, “why are some cross-cultural BAM business start-ups successful and others not?” Is grit a key factor in the success of entrepreneurs as Duckworth suggests? The question is complex of course, but could grit be a part of the answer?

Perhaps in our efforts to provide coaching and training to would-be entrepreneurs, we need to give more attention to grit; i.e. passion and perseverance; guts, resilience, initiative, and tenacity? Perhaps we need better ways to measure this key characteristic and distinguish between those entrepreneurs who have it and those who don’t.

If grit truly is developed at an early age, then it may be too late to change or increase this factor in a would-be entrepreneur. But assessing the “grit factor” in entrepreneurs might save us a lot of time and resources and help us invest those things in the entrepreneurs who have the highest chances of success.

Social entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. The challenges are immense. GRIT might just make all the difference!

1 Is “Grit” Really the Key to Success? Angela Duckworth, Slate, May 8, 2016.

2 5 Characteristics Of Grit -- How Many Do You Have? Margaret M. Perlis, Forbes, October 29, 2013.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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7 things we have learned in 10 years of BAM consulting

Sunday, October 02, 2016

As we celebrate IBEC's 10th anniversary, we share this reflection by Larry Sharp and Gary Willett, reprinted from Business As Mission Review, July 11, 2016:

IBEC Ventures was incorporated in 2006 as a consulting group to provide consulting services primarily to Business as Mission startups in areas where there is high unemployment, great injustice and where there a few followers of Jesus.

IBEC’s Purpose: IBEC helps build sustainable businesses through consultative expertise that changes lives and transforms communities.

IBEC’s Vision: We envision an increasing number of small-medium sustainable Kingdom businesses with our special emphasis on areas that are both economically impoverished and spiritually unreached.

So what have we learned in these last ten years? We have made significant mistakes to be sure; and we have seen some successes, but recently three of us senior leaders considered the question of what we have learned. Here are some of those lessons:

1. Business as mission should be fully integrated

We have learned that this is not business as usual, and this is not missions as usual. BAM is a based in a theology of a ‘worker God’ who created man to be a worker and a creator (Genesis 1-2). He also created mankind with various ‘wirings’ and gifts and many are business people with abilities to create wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18), as an act of worship and as their unique ministry. Business is a high and holy calling and those gifted to serve the kingdom of God in this way are ministers, fulfilling their spiritual calling.

Because business is a spiritual activity, based in the theology of a worker God, it is important to recognize that fact at every level of the business. That is why IBEC from the beginning has required businesses to have a business plan and a ministry plan. Neal Johnson in his book Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice, calls it a Dual Mandate and provides a template for a Strategic Country Analysis (SAA), Strategic Business Plan (SBP), and a Strategic Mission Analysis (SMA). All of these are integrated into a master BAM Plan. By writing all of this down it helps the business owner to stay focused, evaluate and be accountable.

Tom has about 30 employees in a manufacturing plant in Asia. He treats workers fairly, pays taxes and lives ethically and with integrity in every area. Every product that goes out the door is created with excellence. The workers are mostly Muslim and Hindu but Tom starts each day with a Christian prayer. He writes a “wise saying” from the book of Proverbs on the office door each week and explains to the workers it is from his Holy Book. He started a Bible study after work when a Hindu worker’s relative died and all the workers were debating the question of what happens after death. Tom sees his business as a whole as a spiritual activity as business and mission are integrated together.

2. Business is not for everyone

We have learned that business is not something which just anyone can do; it is often not easy for those who have been called to traditional pastoral or missionary work. God has not always gifted them with the instinct for business, to work long hours in a business, to take risks, accept failure and have extraordinary grit. Business owners must have passion for their product or service while at the same time keeping a balance so as to not be blind to the needs of customers and financial viability for the business.

It is important that there is sufficient research and testing of the business concept. There is no shortcut to receiving good counsel on the business model, developing a sound value proposition and testing the hypothesis! The lean startup concept is something which can be taught and learned, but in practice not everyone can listen to sound advice, hypothesize fully, do customer development and pivot at the right time.

We have met many mission agency people who thought they could do all this part-time while carrying on mission leadership duties or “church planting” outside of the business context. The work of the BAMer should be in the business – and indeed in the context of the company in the marketplace, new believers may be discipled with a planted church the result.

A mission agency wanted two IBEC consultants to help a couple start a business in a limited-access country in Asia. After two days with the couple on site, we determined that this was not for them and so we told them why we felt that and reported to the agency. Everyone was unhappy. But three years later this couple was a happy and productive team, teaching English in a university in that country. They had found a good fit for their gifting and we helped save them from disaster.

3. Business as mission is a team effort

We have learned that no one person has all the skills for operating a business in his or her home country and certainly not in another culture. Entrepreneur Ernesto Sirolli in a highly watched TED talk affirms, “this world has never seen a person who can make it, sell it, and keep track of the money.” Entrepreneurs learn this before too long and surround themselves with managers, marketers, sales people, accountants, IT experts, legal advice and cultural understanding.

Visionaries and operational people are seldom the same people. Everyone from Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates to the smallest startup operators have learned that. So building a team is mandatory and the sooner it is done the better. Such a team includes an advisory board for accountability and advice from experienced business people.

Brittany joined a team in Azerbaijan and brought significant skills in coffee roasting and retail. However, she realized that she needed capital developers, managers, operational people, marketers, HR experts, accountants and legal advice. Before long a team emerged and the result after the application of varied skills and much hard work – a roasting company with two successful stores.

4. It takes longer than you think

We have learned through several consulting contracts that it takes several years for most BAM operations to achieve the quadruple bottom line of profitability/sustainability; job creation; disciples of Jesus; and stewardship of creation. It takes capital and it takes time. We have researched and visited many companies who are making significant community impact and they all give evidence of the time it takes.

We have learned to advise at least a time frame of 5-8 years for stable profitability. That of course requires much capital to sustain the operation until that time. It requires much patience to weather the ups and downs during that time. So it is best to begin with a long-term mentality. From a spiritual perspective, BAMers need to stay until God makes it clear it is time to depart.

Ryan and Jana started ABC English school and stayed long enough to see profitability and the creation of 65 regular full-time jobs, as well as lives changed as teachers and students came to follow Jesus. Without the commitment of fifteen years, it is doubtful that measurable success would have been evident.

5. Language and culture learning is critical

We have seen many mistakes that have been due to a lack of cultural understanding. Likewise, we have seen the value of being a respecter of culture, being constantly curious, and being a student of it for a lifetime. One must learn to love the people and their culture and have friends in both the national and the expat community.

Culture is complex and includes the likes of epistemology, beliefs, art, morals, law and all the customs and habits of a people group. One does not learn that overnight or even in a year or two. Every expat abroad needs to be constantly studying culture and we recommend that every business team have someone at advanced levels of cultural understanding.

We helped Rob and his family buy a boat-building business in Indonesia. The entire family loves the country and the people and they speak the language well, respect the culture and the employees love working for Rob. Using a translator, I asked many of the workers why they loved working for Rob. They said things like: he understands us and relates to our situation; he values us and is fair; he takes us on camping trips to talk about life issues; he pays a fair wage within cultural guidelines. Rob is a student of culture and knows the critical importance of language and cultural understanding.

6. BAM workers must have GRIT

Business startups require owners with GRIT – Guts, Resilience, Initiative and Tenacity. One cannot give up but must work hard to accomplish the vision and realize the potential of God-given abilities and opportunities for business.

“You can’t have any quit in you!” – Pat Summitt (One of the most successful USA college basketball coaches)

There are so many things that can go wrong even with good counsel and great planning. Things happen that are outside of our control when working in a country where the “rule of law” is not the norm and economic and political changes can happen overnight. Expat business owners have little control over local laws, taxation irregularities, economic conditions, visa requirement changes and relationship-based decisions.

Lee started a business in a former Soviet republic but before long his partner from that country had stolen his assets and left him penniless. I called him and asked him what he was going to do and thought he may have had enough and leave the country. He readily responded by saying, “I have gone down the street and have opened a new office and started over.” Lee was not going home – Lee had GRIT! And the new business became successful.

7. Integration of faith and work can be learned but it is hard work

Bringing us back full-circle from lesson one, business as mission should be integrated, but this can require a change in mindset. Western Christians have been conditioned to believe and act like there is a sacred-secular dichotomy. Our worldview teaches us that what we do on Sunday and in our private lives seems unrelated to our 9-5 work day world. Such a modern-day gnosticism demonstrates itself in 21st century politics, business education and in the church.

However biblical values are meant to be integrated with every aspect of the Christian’s life including the marketplace and business. This does not come naturally because of the cultural factors which mitigate against it, therefore it must be learned in businesses all over the world. It is hard work but it is a must for the follower of Jesus in business.

Kirk Parette was mentored by Bill Job who defines BAM as “walking with God at work”. Bill does just that, as does Kirk, who states “every day on the factory floor is an opportunity for discipleship.” Both men see BAM as an integration of following Jesus, and his principles of life, with business decision-making. It is living out the Great Commandment of Jesus to love  employees, vendors and the community, while seeking the fulfillment of the Great Commission as we go and make disciples.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Gary Willett, Director of Consulting, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission