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Building Businesses and Flourishing Communities with Spring GR | by Chris Robertson

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PovertyCure  exists to facilitate a global conversation on poverty and equip its participants with resources that promote lasting, enterprise-based solutions that affirm the role of individuals and families in turning around their situations.  We would like to introduce you to an organization today that is living out these principles here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I believe that there are principles within this organization that can easily be used in cities around the world where there are individuals who want to train entrepreneurs to serve unserved areas.

Attah Obande works as Hub Coordinator and Business Coach for Spring GR. This organization provides entrepreneurship training in underserved communities. They accomplish this goal through cultivating entrepreneurs’ business ideas, consulting with program participants to build their business, and connecting them throughout the community to provide ongoing training.

Spring GR was launched in 2014 when a group of individuals came together to form an organization addressing the need for entrepreneur training at a grassroots level in Grand Rapids. A national search was done at that time to see if such an organization existed that they could model themselves after. Launch Chattanooga was found and it was determined to be a good model to follow.

Spring GR started in 2014 with a pilot entrepreneurship training class offered at Restorers, Inc. Attah came on board as business coach in this training because of his experience in working with small business  during his career as a banking Branch Manager. Attah met with programs participants regularly to help with their business plans as well as running his business AGO Design Group. This is a speaking, coaching, and consulting firm that seeks to empower individuals to realize their full potential, design, and live the lives they were created to live. 19 individuals were a part of this first training class.

Six weeks into this program Attah was meeting with one of the program participants to go over her business numbers. This entrepreneur realized she was now past her initial fears related to starting a business and now felt that this business could actually work. This reaction on the part of the entrepreneur caused Attah to realize this work at Spring GR was more than just teaching people some business principles. He felt it empowered the participants and encouraged the freedom to dream again. His heart was really in this work and as a result he took on more and more responsibility. He believes in the work of Spring GR and wants to see the effect it could have on our community.

Spring GR is connected with other like-minded organizations in Grand Rapids such as Partners Worldwide. While Attah argues that the training that Spring GR offers is important, he says that it is not the “end all.” Entrepreneurs can build on the foundation they have built with Spring GR with other organizations in the city and Attah diligently works to connect Spring GR alumni with those programs to continue their learning.

I asked Attah to dream a bit and describe what he sees on the horizon for the next three to five years.   He wants to see the number of entrepreneurs and businesses grow exponentially so the possibility of creating a business in underserved areas of Grand Rapids could be seen as normative. Attah stated that “As human beings, we aspire toward things that we see. If individuals see entrepreneurs grow from within their community, it gives them something to aspire to as well.” He desires to see the “snowball effect” of people aspiring to create businesses that resulting in the community’s thriving.

In addition, he would like to increase the availability to three kinds of capital: knowledge, social, and financial. Increased access to these kinds of capital will result in an environment very friendly to the creation of businesses. Attah says Spring GR exists because there are a great number of potential entrepreneurs in underserved areas of our city who have products and services they want to offer. The issue is that they do not have the skills and business acumen to create a sustainable business themselves. Spring GR’s goal is to equip these entrepreneurs with the skills, connections, and resources to create thriving businesses. Attah argues that people must help themselves, but sometimes they do not know where to go in order to help themselves. In addition, they may not have the confidence to create their own business. In a sense, they need to be able to draw these ideas out of themselves. This is where Spring GR comes in.

I asked Attah to share a story of an alumni who is now successfully operating a business. Attah told me about an entrepreneur named Nancy. She has a business in Grand Rapids where she sells clothing and jewelry made by her mother and sister in Mexico. She had been in business for a couple years prior to her taking Spring GR’s entrepreneurship course. The opportunities she pursued to sell her products were limited prior to this course. She would only sell products at an annual Hispanic festival and some other smaller venues. After taking this course and learning how to market herself and her business, she has grown her business significantly over the last six months. She now sells products online. She has made a number of other small tweaks to her business that she learned in the course that have brought increased exposure and sales. She’s looking into getting a storefront at the local mall. This broader vision for her business is the result of the entrepreneurship course she took and the investment Attah has made.

Attah is frequently asked “What does success look like for Spring GR?” Spring GR measures success in three different ways. First, the entrepreneur who starts the class but drops out. It may seem counterintuitive, but this individual realizes they should not be an entrepreneur. They’re better as employees than employers. Second, the entrepreneur who starts the business and realizes some financial gain. The business is a side thing that allows them to make a better living, put some money away, and spend more time with their family. Third, the business that grows into an enterprise that hires others. Spring GR desires to support all of these business to build their communities.

I’m excited about the vision and good work Spring GR is doing in Grand Rapids. I would encourage you to connect with Spring GR.

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Chris Robertson is the Program Outreach Coordinator for the Acton Institute. Chris Robertson earned his Bachelor of Science in Bible from Cornerstone University. Prior to coming to Acton, Chris worked in project management, eCommunications, and public relations for different non-profits in Grand Rapids, MI.  As Program Outreach Coordinator with Acton Institute, Chris networks with different universities, seminaries, and organizations throughout the evangelical space bringing Acton’s message of faith and economics through events, learning communities, curricula, and published resources.

Occupational licensing, cronyism, & their effect on the poor | by Kyle Hanby

Occupational licensing, cronyism, and their effect on the poor

“The free market is the greatest producer of wealth in history — it has lifted billions of people out of poverty.” – President Barack Obama at a panel discussion on poverty in May 2015.

The United States ranks as the 11th most economically free country in the world according to the Heritage Freedom Index, and has a history of embracing free-markets yet the rate of poverty still stands at a poignant 14.8 percent.

Why is this the case? While the U.S. has historically embraced free-markets, it has not been able to escape a streak of deep seeded cronyism.  Cronyism is one of the biggest threats to the free-market that nearly every country faces – especially in countries where the regulatory state has grown beyond its intended reach and the federal government exercises nearly unlimited control.

Cronyism is a broad topic that can range from corporate welfare to agricultural subsidies but one form of cronyism that often gets overlooked despite having the biggest impact on the poor is occupational licensing.

Occupational licensing is essentially any form of barrier that prevents someone from entering a certain field of work.

Some forms of occupational licensing make logical sense, such as a medical doctor being required to complete a certain education and pass a rigorous test before being able to prescribe medications or operate on patients.

But, there are other forms of occupational licensing that are created to exclude hard-working individuals from entering into a specific line of work.  This form of cronyism fights the free-market and serves as a barrier to lifting people out of poverty.

One example of occupational licensing that often excludes poor people from earning an honest wage for their work is hair braiding, and more specifically a type of hair braiding that is only passed on from generation to generation within the African-American community.  Although we are beginning to see these restrictions loosened, many states either have or have had laws that forbade people from braiding hair for money without a license.  If one wanted to obtain a license, they would need to attend a cosmetology school (where specific styles of hair braiding are not taught), gain many hours of experience, and usually pass a test.   It’s silly for someone to go to school to obtain a license so that they can practice a certain kind of hair braiding that they were not even taught in that school in order to earn a living.  Check out Melony Armstrong’s story on the Acton PowerBlog.

Often times, when policy makers create occupational licensing laws, they think they are protecting the consumer from purchasing a harmful service.  In this case, the only people that are being protected are those that can afford and have the time to go to cosmetology school.  The opportunity cost to give up whatever work someone has in order to attend school is far greater for individuals living in poverty than those who are well off.  Occupational licensing barriers limit the field of competition so that the poor are excluded from earning an honest wage.

Hair braiding is the most popular example that many turn to in order to show the negative effects of occupational licensing, but this form of cronyism runs rampant in other sectors of the work force.  Take a look at the Institute for Justice’s page of occupational licensing cases that they have taken up and you will see that it’s far more than just hair braiding.

The Illinois Policy Institute recently highlighted the story of a woman who served a year in prison and when she was released she turned her life around but was never able to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse because of her criminal history. Maybe it makes sense to prevent people with certain criminal backgrounds from holding certain jobs but is it prudent to prevent a single mother of three who has turned her life around from pursuing a dignified career as a nurse?

President Obama was correct when he made his comments on poverty and the market.  The power of the free-market is greater than any governmental regulation program.  As Christians, it is imperative that we do not lose the heart of our message.  We are not simply fighting against a regulatory state because we don’t like it or because we think it’s annoying.   We are fighting for the conditions that cultivate human flourishing.  If we care about poverty alleviation then we must care about giving individuals the liberty that empowers them to create value in society.

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Kyle Hanby is a Liberty@Work Associate at the Acton Institute.  He recently graduated with a degree in economics and finance from Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana, where he chaired the American Enterprise Institute Executive Council and was the University Relations Intern at the Charles Koch Foundation.

*Photo is CC Image courtesy of John Atherton on Flickr.  This post was originally posted on the Acton Institute Power Blog.

Antonio, A Focus on What Works | by Patrick Oetting

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What causes wealth?

The tendency is to focus on the factors that create poverty. The results are often solutions that undermine the dignity of the individual – solutions imposed from a “higher-authority” on people that we deem “poor.” Conversely, when we look at the factors that cause wealth, we begin to see individuals in a new light – as the heroes of their own stories.

This is precisely the scenario I witnessed this past week in San Juan Comolapa, Guatemala – a pueblo located about two hours drive outside of Guatemala City.

Five years ago, Antonio heard the message of personal liberty and the power of enterprise while listening to a radio feed hosted by the Universidad Francisco Marroquin. Soon after, he discovered the PovertyCure DVD series, which he and his son used to learn English! These core messages have drastically changed Antonio’s outlook on life and helped him cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset that has affected the entire San Juan Comolapa community.

In those 5 short years Antonio founded a microenterprise firm, a childhood learning center, and a think-tank devoted to seeing increased freedom in San Juan Comolapa. At Antonio’s learning center I witnessed firsthand the innovative approach that he has taken to educate hundreds of children, mostly from a background of poverty.

This small learning center operates with a for-profit business model. In a town that seemingly has little to offer, Antonio has provided such a great curriculum that parents are willing to pay a fee for the children to learn. The reasonable costs involved motivate parents to both stay involved in their children’s education and hold the educators responsible. This self-sustaining model also allows Antonio to continue scaling his business and thus reach more and more children throughout San Juan Comolapa. As I heard Antonio’s vision, I was inspired. He plans to spread this model, and the skills it offers children, throughout Guatemala.

When you couple the effect of the school with the impact that his micro-loan business is having on local vendors, there’s no question that Antonio has used the PovertyCure principles to dramatically improve life for many in San Juan Comolapa.

Antonio’s entrepreneurial mindset has also rubbed off on his family. His 13-year-old son, Jimmy, who served as our translator for the trip, is already a high-level computer programmer and his video-blog is a YouTube sensation in Guatemala. Antonio’s brothers have formed a band that now travels the world, recently opening for Jennifer Lopez in Las Vegas.

Antonio, who once asked for help, has seen his family rise out of poverty through entrepreneurship.  His businesses now serve hundreds of families in his community, giving them the same chance to move from dependence to independence.

When communities have access to economic tools and the freedom and knowhow to use them, they will inevitably succeed. We have found this to be true not only in Antonio’s case, but in hundreds of stories that we have captured from our partner network. They show us that it is high time that society at large begin to look at the factors that cause wealth, rather than focusing on negative attributes of individuals and communities that harm dignity and perpetuate cycles of poverty.

 

Patrick Oetting is the Strategy and Engagement Manager of PovertyCure, an Acton Institute Initiative.  

 

Leading with a Servant Heart and God-Given Call to Business | by Bob Vryhof

Elizabeth_InPostCorruption and violence continue as major obstacles for local job creators in Honduras, and yes, this can often make “success” a lofty goal. However, in the midst of this, the nation—from the bottom to the top—is going through a unique time that inspires much hope.

Two institutions have woven themselves into the fabric of the Honduran communities they serve – MCM and Diaconia Nacional (DN). They serve their communities in various ways, ranging from education, health, church growth and business development. Over the last decade, Partners Worldwide’s partnerships with these two institutions have impacted thousands of small businesses. Supported by their North American partner team – the Honduran Pella Affiliate – they provide access to capital and business skills training in some of the most marginalized urban communities in the country.

Each of these partnerships is essential to fostering prosperous economic environments for all. On their own, they are powerful, but together—as a network – they are life giving. When small business owners can access tools and networks that are normally out of reach, they are able to thrive and bring economic prosperity to their own communities.

Elizabeth is an inspirational example of how access to these tools opens the doors to thriving businesses in unexpected places.

Elizabeth was raised in an orphanage, but her God-given call to business, service, and leadership was evident from an early age. It was during her time as an intern for DN in 2006 that she first developed a heart for serving and helping small businesses grow. Soon after, DN helped Elizabeth open her own business – a souvenir shop in an abandoned building in a touristic site in Honduras – with a US $50 loan!

She bought a small inventory of hammocks, clay decorations, and other souvenirs targeted at tourists. Under her careful management, the business prospered and a few years later, she opened a mini market in a rented building, serving a small neighborhood in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

Over the years, Elizabeth accessed various loans as well as business training and mentoring through DN. Partners Worldwide has also provided constant encouragement, mentoring, training, and prayer. All-the-while, Elizabeth has mentored and trained countless emerging entrepreneurs in her community. Her life has inspired people far and wide, and she has even received multiple awards as a member of our global network.

Driven by her entrepreneurial spirit and her vision for prosperous communities all over Honduras, Elizabeth continues to innovate. Her newest business ventures include apartments for rent and a tortilla business right next to her mini market. However, even with multiple ventures in hand, she has learned to be a wise steward of the resources God has given her.  Her first business – the souvenir shop – continues to thrive. She has come a long way since her initial $50 loan nine years ago. Following her dream, her mini market now operates on a piece of land just across the street from the original location that she purchased three years ago.

Elizabeth’s use of the entrepreneurial tools at her disposal also shows the maturity of her leadership as a businesswoman – not only has she maintained a stellar repayment rate on all her loans, but today she uses debt largely to finance infrastructure and capital improvements as opposed to the inventory she purchased with that first loan.

So now, Tegucigalpa has one more dynamic business leader that recognizes her role in God’s kingdom as called to business. A businesswoman who employs numerous people in multiple businesses with a servant heart deeply committed to blessing the community and people around her.

 

This article is from the Partners Worldwide blog and written by Bob Vryhof, the Latin America Regional Facilitator.

 

 

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