I recently spent 7 months in Guatemala City working alongside local businesses and nonprofits committed to the social and spiritual renewal of their city. Unfortunately, I quickly became infuriated with the thousands of short term missions teams who came to Guatemala with bright shirts that often said things like, “serving the least of these,” or “transforming Guatemala.” Despite the good intentions, many of the North American efforts undermined the local leadership and community driven efforts by providing goods and services for free that locals could have been buying locally to support their own economy.
As a young man who grew up in urban poverty in the US and was a recipient of good intentions gone wrong, I have become committed to exploring best practices to sustainably solving social problems—and I am convinced that God is raising up a generation of young leaders who also are exploring the intersection of non-profit and for profit models, their faith and their work, and their desire to see change both abroad and at home.
Increasingly, there is a need for transformative business models that are scalable, have measureable results, and strong biblical foundations so that they can be embraced by church/missions endeavors, as well as integrated into larger community development and economic development strategies. However, to date very few models have been specifically designed to simultaneously address: 1) the social, spiritual, environmental and economic needs of communities in a sustainable way, 2) Christian’s mandate to stand in solidarity with the poor; both locally and globally, and 3) have results that are measurable and scalable.
As Eggers and MacMillian (2014), state in The Solution Revolution, “private enterprise for public gain no longer need to be an oxymoron” (p. 7). Yet, foundations, businesses, and non-profits keep giving poor people material goods, or implementing new programs, or developing more non-profits, hoping that it solves poverty.
Large societal problems have to be more than opportunities for only compassion, charity, or even evangelism; the problems are actually a market opportunity. Not an opportunity to exploit, but an opportunity for transforming the way that society has recently thought about business and its role in the spiritual and social renewal of people and places.
Personally, I have been asking myself, how can we engage believers in utilizing their buying power to create long term sustainability both globally and locally? Is there a way to meaningfully engage mission sending agencies, churches, and short term missionaries upon their return in staying connected with the countries they spent time in? Is there a business model that could intentionally disrupt poverty in the US as well as in the developing world?
I call the model I am developing the Glocal Social Impact Model TM, and to further explore it a group of us started CocoWorks! a U.S. based for-profit company. Our commitment is to source coconut based products from a social entrepreneur in Guatemala also committed to impacting his local community. Once the products are in the U.S they will be packaged, labeled and distributed by low income community residents and high-risk youth in urban centers. Churches, short term missionaries, and coconut product lovers can now not only purchase a fantastic product, but will be aiding in wealth and job creation both in the developing world and in the U.S.
Justin Beene is the founder of Building Bridges Professional Services a business model that employs at risk populations to provide fee-for-service landscaping and construction services; Justin has also founded CocoWorks! a business that seeks to connect an urban community in West Michigan with an urban community in Guatemala through the production and distribution of coconut based products.