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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.

Scarcity, Charity, and the Good Samaritan | by Dylan Pahman

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The term “Good Samaritan” does not appear in the Bible, but it has become the common name for the answer Jesus gave to the question, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) In our time, “Good Samaritan” is a common idiom for a charitable person, especially someone who would do as the Samaritan in Jesus’s parable did:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead…. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:30, 33-34)

While the Samaritan offers a beautiful picture of what holistic and loving compassion looks like, we run the risk of misunderstanding it if we do not read it carefully. The differences between our context and that of the Samaritan can make a big difference in what “being a neighbor” looks like. In particular, the element of scarcity highlights the social nature of the human person and the good of cooperative and less personal ministries.

At least two observations are key to making a healthy comparison to our own lives:

  1. The man has a life-or-death need. Jesus says that the thieves leave him “half dead,” and we can assume that he’d be “all dead” soon if no one helped him.
  2. The Samaritan has the means to meet the man’s need. He has bandages, oil and wine, a beast of burden, and more than “two denarii” (Luke 10:35)—two month’s wages for most people at that time—to give to the innkeeper. The Samaritan doesn’t just toss him some change. He uses his resources wisely, making sure that the man is able to fully recover.

I do not say this to offer justification for anyone who wants an excuse not to help people in their own lives. In fact, the unfortunate lawyer who asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” did so “wanting to justify himself” (Luke 10:29). Christ comes to us in every person that we meet, and he especially identifies himself with the marginalized and hurting, saying, “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

Rather, the point is only that we need to compare apples to apples. It is when I happen to be just the right person, who knows just how to help someone and has just the right resources (material or otherwise) to do so, that I find myself in the situation of the Samaritan. In those cases I cannot keep walking.

But what if we slightly changed the details of the parable? What if the Samaritan came upon not just one person “half dead” on the side of the road, but ten? Would he have had enough bandages? Could he have fit them all on his animal? Would there have been enough rooms at the inn for all of them? Would the Samaritan have had enough money to pay their bill while he’s gone?

The answer to most (if not all) of these questions is no.

So what then? What could the Samaritan do? How could he still be a neighbor to those who fell among the thieves?

There may be many good answers to that question, but I want to focus on one in particular: The Samaritan can get help from his friends.

No individual, no matter how isolated, can ever fully disconnect themselves from his or her dependence on others. As the Russian Orthodox philosopher Vladimir Solovyov put it, “Deprive a man of what he owes to others, beginning with his parents and ending with the state and world-history, and nothing will be left of his existence, let alone his freedom. It would be madness to deny this fact of inevitable dependence.”

Acknowledging the communal nature of our lives offers us a solution to the problem of scarcity in this case. Adam Smith famously pointed out that scarcity in an economy can be overcome through the cooperation of many people doing different tasks to increase production through the division of labor. Indeed, this in itself has been the most important way in which widespread, extreme poverty has been overcome around the world. Similarly, organized charity is capable of helping many more people than any one individual can do alone.

Giving to charitable organizations doesn’t often feel like being a “good Samaritan.” But just like the division of labor greatly increases economic production, so also, at their best, organized ministries of mercy allow us to help many more people far more adequately than each of us could alone.

I suspect that the disconnect between our feelings and this reality comes from the fact that large institutions are typically impersonal, whereas on the individual level what the Samaritan did was deeply personal. Of course, as I’ve already said, for such a problem what he did is the right response. But when we add the problem of scarcity to the parable by increasing the number of people in need, then the solution changes.

As the economist and theologian Paul Heyne pointed out:

In a family, or another face-to-face society, the members know one another well. In these situations people can reasonably be expected to take the other person’s specific interests and values into account. But in a large society this is impossible. If I tried to apply in a class of 50 or even 25 students the principles of justice that I try to use in my own family, such as “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” I would end up behaving not justly but arbitrarily. And therefore unjustly.

We need to be open to the individuals in our lives that we are best suited to help and who desperately need it. Yet at least ever since the birth of the Church, we also live in a world where there are responsible organizations where people come together to do far more good than they could alone.

While the bigger problem for the poor is typically not lack of aid but dysfunctional institutional structures, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything that can’t be done to help before those are problems are fixed. I’m certainly not recommending just carelessly throwing more money at problems without asking whether doing so will help or hurt. Rather, PovertyCure provides a helpful list of partner organizations that have joined the ongoing conversation about how to pursue effective, enterprise-based approaches to the problem of poverty today, imitating the Samaritan who didn’t just throw a few coins at the man on the side of the road but helped him stand again on his own two feet.

Contributing to such ministries is a vital way that we can “be a neighbor” to people we may never meet. Just writing a check may feel impersonal and less important than actually helping someone ourselves, but if done prudently it may do much more good than we imagine.

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Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also a fellow of the Sophia Institute: International Advanced Research Forum for the Study of Eastern Christian Life and Culture. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanPahman.

So Detroit May Flourish | by Jonathan A. Moody

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“Detroit Makes You Sick.”  That is the cover story of the April 8, 2016 edition of Newsweek.  The article that follows states that much of the Motor City region is plagued by unhealthy water and polluted air. “It’s not just Flint. People all over the Motor City are being poisoned while officials look away.”

The current news frenzy only adds to nearly a decade of the media’s “love to hate” relationship with Motown.  By now, most are familiar with the stories: bankruptcy, corruption, crime and the intractable decay of a once powerful American metropolis. However, this is far from a complete portrayal of contemporary Detroit and gives no inkling of what its citizens actually have to offer.

God did not create cities or nations or the U.N. He made individual people, formed in His image, joined into families and called to flourish – to be fruitful and multiply.  The media perspective ignores the simple truth that Metro Detroit is home to 5.3 Million individuals.  Each and every one of them possesses dignity and amazing creative capacity.  When seen from that vantage, no challenge is too big.

My recent conversation with Detroit based Pastor Aaron Richardson, who leads both the Evangel Ministries’ Economic Restoration Group (E.M.E.R.G) and the Urban Enterprise Project (UEP) provided more than ample proof that Detroit can rise again.

Over the course of our conversation he pointed out that one harmful and inaccurate assumption is, “there’s no opportunity in Detroit.”  However, he, and many other pastors, business leaders and active citizens reject that notion out of hand.  And, they are working tireless to prove the negative guesswork wrong.

Informed by Christian tradition, these groups embody the principle of subsidiarity – the idea that social and economic problems should be solved by those closest to them. They eschew the dangers of institutional, detached and distant bureaucratic assistance, which inevitably breaks down the community bonds that best maintain transparency and accountability. Instead, they promote community based voluntary associations that play a key role in lasting economic and social development.

It’s working. I recently sat in on UEP’s Lion’s Den Business Pitch Competition. Four entrepreneurs competed for a top prize of $10,000. This project started with a group of 10 Pastors throughout the city who went through an intensive training program that equipped them to identify and cultivate entrepreneurs and business leaders in their church communities.  This is only the beginning for them.  They’ll host an employment conference in August 2016 and have every intention of growing from there.

Pastor Richardson also pointed out the striking correlation in the significant downturn in the number of Churches and the failure of the city to thrive economically. Over a 10-year period 50% percent of the churches closed! He credits this decrease to multiple factors – all of which their ministry, think tank, and network of pastors and business leaders are working hard to address.  For Pastor Richardson, the connection is clear.  As the community of God falters, so falters the community at large.  They realize that transformation that endures does not result from a “quick fix” mindset. He points out that, “One of the biggest problems is the unwillingness to stay the course.”

That is precisely why he founded The Urban Enterprise Project.  The UEP is a think tank focused on efficacious, intentional, community based development in Metro Detroit.  Simply put, connect ideas to actions that work!  They promote human flourishing through the integration of faith, work and sound economic principles. They recognize the local church has a key role to play.  They also acknowledge the need to involve leaders from other arenas.  As a result they’ve built strong partnerships that include business coaches, mentors, venture capital investors, and a host of other civic connections.

Their approach is tailored to the specific needs of Detroit’s diverse population pockets. Pastor Richardson describes is best, “We’ll leverage whatever the assets are in that specific community so there’s not cannibalization on this cookie cutter approach.  Every community has its own special, unique assets.”

When asked about the top challenge to their work, Pastor Richardson responded,

“The sentiment of the people is they want to thrive but there are philosophical barriers when it comes to race, and when it comes to education, and when it comes to what is called the ‘shadow economy’ (economic and business activity done outside of legal structures due to significant barriers).”  Therefore, they encourage others throughout the city to focus on more than economic development. The goal is to remove barriers that block any part of an individual’s life – spirit, soul, body, socially or financially.

The task may be daunting, but the case for hope is greater than the case against it.  As Pastor Richardson points out, “Since 2011 up to 2015, there has been a massive effort of people coming together to love on the city of Detroit in special ways… Our asset is people.”

Detroit has a bright future. But, where challenges exist, I’m confident that there are local solutions that can catalyze lasting change.  To quote Pastor Richardson one more time, “People need to know that Detroit has what it takes to be a thriving, world-class city, just as much as any other… There’s hope in this city.”

It inspires me to see the body of Christ in Detroit reach far beyond the Church walls with a holistic view of what the Gospel has to offer.  I am confident that there is a cover story in Detroit’s future that reads “Detroit Makes You Flourish.”

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Jonathan A. Moody is the Managing Director of PovertyCure, an Acton Institute Initiative.  

In this Together: Finding Solutions to Poverty as a Community | By Chad Hayward

The Bible calls us to work together as the body of Christ for His purposes. This is true for Christians as individuals, but also for Christ-centered organizations. The Accord Network works to unite Christ-centered relief and development organizations to serve the world’s poor.

In order to begin to help these odv3c8PVX3j8BfOhUMaaGryTKB9Y0pSqtycGD16b0zmE,UwaR--g6oRF7Ri7mbB5WWp-wJBAC73aC-k-VFRI9OA0rganizations work together this question has to be addressed: What does holistic, Christ-centered, transformational development look like? The Principles of Excellence in Integral Mission serve as the Accord Network members’ answer to this important question.

Over 160 individuals representing more than 20 countries and countless NGOs had a voice in shaping these principles. It was a lengthy process, but the end product is well worth the effort to collaborate and work together. The principles represent the views of many different individuals and organizations. This gives them much more value than if they were created by a single individual or organization.

These principles endeavor to describe holistic Christian relief and development at its finest. They are meant to be an aspirational framework against which organizations can evaluate themselves. They are quickly becoming the standard by which excellent Christian relief and development is known.

Accord Network believes that the sharing of information facilitates learning among the members of our community. We also believe that collaboration is necessary for each organization to have a maximum impact on ending poverty.  This is why we appreciate the conversation that Poverty Cure shepherds.  Shared ideas—and shared best practices—will help us serve the poor most effectively.

Chad Hayward is the Executive Director of the Accord Network.