Posts

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

GRSpring-Header

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.

FullSizeRender

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.

So Detroit May Flourish | by Jonathan A. Moody

Detroit-Header

“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.”

JonathanandFam

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

Human Dignity (fm.) | by Esther Moody

I, like every woman in this era, stand on the shoulders of my mother, my grandmother, and her mother before. I could never adequately communicate how grateful I am for their labor in our feminine respects.  But, somewhere in this great Feminist Movement, the roles of women in society became oddly siloed. How did it happen that women cannot be mothers and wives and good business people?

Like many women, I have several books on the topic. The metaphors vary, from authors speaking of what “hats” one wears, what “box” we function in, even to what “buckets” we allocate and divide a certain percentage of our capacity.

None of this is news. I have nothing new to say on the topic.

At least that’s what I thought.

Until I took this shot while traveling recently.

IMG_7547

I captured this moment while I myself was wearing my baby. And I responded, I responded to my own image, my own art.

I know this story.

I live this dialogue every day. I seek to balance this struggle every night as I lay in bed reflecting on the bitter-sweet season of mothering young kids. As I replay the sweet moments, the teaching moments, the learning moments, the moments I missed in my haze of busy-ness, I plead for grace and a new understanding of my greatness for the next day. Lord Jesus, please.

It wasn’t something I understood to be missing from my own life, until I perceived it in this woman’s life. Dignity in mothering and laboring. I long for what she has in this moment. A simplified life of provision and care-taking. Something that seems so inherent to a small, central american village population, but for which I am misunderstood here at home; a calling beyond my family that is somehow just as equally for my family.

Look at this image again. She carries what must be a 3-year-old who naps on her back while she stands with her goods in the market. Her strength is only equal to the weight she carries. She stands with her peers, with her child on her back. She stands with, not behind, not just out of the way. She is not relegated to second class citizen because her child might be loud. She is not written off and marginalized as “just a mom.” Her strength is respected and actualized by her peers.

If a woman’s dignity is rooted in her creation in the image and likeness of God, then as I carry my babies, as I labor for the good of my family, just as the Proverbs 31 woman did; through this, I somehow portray the image and likeness of God. What a beautiful image, both fervent and compassionate, equally strong and supple, life-giving, absolutely revelatory. Indeed, not only is her own dignity affirmed, but her child’s dignity is assumed because of it.

Her child is given space within the family unit, and society as a whole, to be not a deterrent to provision, but a welcome addition to a way of life that supports concurrent roles. How would these women respond to these western ideas of hats and buckets? These women are given the space in their community to work for the good of their family.  And, the community doesn’t look down of them when they bring their family into the process.

The plurality of our God is astonishing. He has indeed created us in His image, He is everything to everyone. He is the Alpha and the Omega, He is Jehova Rapha, He is Jehova Jireh, He is Jehova Tsidkenu, our healer, our provider, our righteousness. Through His sanctification we are healers, we are providers.

In this image I see the plurality of our God and the astonishing infusion of his righteousness into Motherhood. How righteous is it to provide for your family, while we simultaneously care for them?! Through the Lord’s redemption of our work and dignity as Mothers and women, we may affirm our children’s dignity and work for the good of our family at the same time.

IMG_5880

Esther Moody is the founder and principal of CreateFlourish, a design and branding firm, based in Grand Rapids, MI.  After receiving her B.A. at the University of Tennessee, she has lived and worked in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, GA and western Michigan.  She balances all of this with her role as a stay-at-home mom, which is why her husband refers to her as a “momtrepreneur.”  She resides in Ada, Michigan, along with her husband, Jonathan, 4 year old son, David, and 1 year old daughter, Ruby.

Antonio, A Focus on What Works | by Patrick Oetting

PoettingPost-blogheader

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.  

 

How We Wrote a Book Together | By Chad Jordan

ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s a new book that was pre-launched at the Global Leadership Summit. I wrote it on behalf of PovertyCure. It didn’t start out as a book, though.

missions_toolkit_p5_2I was asked to write some content around global missions that could be included in a PovertyCure DVD package. With the help of the PovertyCure team, we asked for input from the global network, we interviewed some of the partners, and we asked some tough questions. The responses were amazing. You had a lot to say.

I run a small international consulting firm and a finance platform for emerging entrepreneurs, both of which have been a part of the PovertyCure Network for a while. When the responses from the network started coming in, I was really encouraged. I was proud to be part of a network willing to engage in a sometimes taboo conversation. You didn’t just talk about what was wrong with short-term missions, but you offered valuable perspectives and solutions. You gave me an extra boost to keep going, and you helped turn this book into something so much more than what was originally planned.

At the end of the gathering phase, it became clear that a little content wouldn’t be sufficient. The vision needed to expand, because the information we’d gathered proved so rich. Laying everything out in front of me, the book began to emerge.

In the book, we get to hear perspectives on global missions from people who have been engaged for decades, and people who are just starting to get involved. We get to hear from people who work domestically, and from those who work only internationally. There are opinions, there are facts, and there are unforgettable stories included in the pages.

There are some hard truths and sobering realities discussed in ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact, but there’s also a great deal of hope. In working to put the information into a coherent form, it was important to me that you were left with a sense of solution, not just confusion. I highlighted organizations that are doing a good job of combining missional attitudes with intentional action. I highlighted your ideas, your insights, and your opinions surrounding how we can do missions in a way that will produce the greatest good while doing the least harm at a local level.

Hopefully when you read the book, you feel empowered to act, not scared to move. By offering a variety of perspectives in one place, I tried to compile a resource that would inspire continued action as we simultaneously ask and process those tough questions.

As I really went through the submissions from PovertyCure’s global network, I was impressed with the sheer number of responses, but also with the thoughtfulness of each person. Clearly, the conversation around global missions is one you are all eager to have. That’s exciting. It means we’re onto something. It means the time is ripe to dive into the topics we discuss in ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact.

So to everyone who sent in a response from the global network, to all of PovertyCure’s Action Partners, to each person we interviewed, thank you for engaging. Thank you for agreeing to write a book together.

Chad Jordan is the co-founder & CEO of Arrow Global Capital and author of ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact.