Unlocking our imagination

I work with a lot of entrepreneurs. As a result I get to pick their brains to work out what makes them tick, how they find their ideas, how they fund their ideas and how they execute them. They have taught me a lot about lateral thinking, faith and risk (in a non-religious sense).

The tragedy is that few of them are Christians and the guiding principle invariably always comes down to money. Most of the guiding principles behind their business success are about maximising profit. In one conversation I had this week a successful business owner told me that he was trying to find the right business coach to help him with his dilemma: he was stuck and he felt that he couldn’t grow his business beyond its current $16 million turnover!

The difference I find with Christians in the entrepreneurial space is that their business principles are informed by their faith. The outcomes they are looking for extend far beyond money. Instead they use wealth as a leverage to pursue activities that build social capital and lead to social impact, and of course the furtherance of the gospel.

As Baptists we traditionally draw the bulk of our membership from the middle classes. We are the denomination of the manager class rather than the entrepreneur class or the big end of town ‘old money’ class. As such our decision-making culture is geared towards stability and safety. We are risk averse, which means we often miss out on leveraging our unique opportunities in favour of keeping inside the lines. What would begin to happen if we shifted our culture, at least incrementally, towards a more entrepreneurial posture?

The Pearlettes +1 – mobilising forgotten people.

Could it be that we simply don’t trust God enough because culturally we are programmed for safety? I was inspired this week whilst watching The Shark Tank, a US television program where budding entrepreneurs make a pitch to panel of successful and experienced entrepreneurs in the hope of attracting investment. The investment is measured not only in money but in experience and contacts. Some of those pitching to the ‘Sharks’ look and sound polished and dynamic, others like Sarah Oliver seemed rather ordinary. Looks can be deceiving, as Sarah had a unique idea that she pitched to the Sharks.

It all started for Sarah designing knitted handbags as gifts for friends and family. The bags grew in popularity and Sarah started selling them in between raising two children. Sarah was keen not to manufacture overseas. Furthermore she saw an opportunity to involve people the workplace has long since jettisoned: retired people. The response was overwhelmingly positive and Sarah soon found herself with a whole team of knitters, who named themselves The Purlettes +1. The average age of the knitters is 88, and the ‘+1’ refers to the sole male knitter of the collective – Hector, a retired publisher, artist, cancer survivor, and Navy veteran.

The next step for Sarah was to apply to go on Shark Tank. Sarah’s presentation was well received and all the investors wanted to join in and make sure she could grow her business by expanding and including even more retired knitters. She gave up 30% ownership in the company in return for US$250 000. Sales subsequently skyrocketed.

The ‘mission’ of the venture is described on their website: “Our mission is to launch a movement to engage seniors in the economy with passion and purpose by offering them an opportunity to participate in a company creating handmade luxury goods.

As sales of the handbags have grown over time, we became more committed to creating a sustainable, profitable business with beautiful products that supports continued participation by seniors. This mission is so important to us that we amended the Articles of Incorporation of Sarah Oliver Corporation in December 2014 to become a California benefit corporation. A benefit corporation is for-profit business structure that includes a social mission as part of the legal foundation of the corporation, and allows the Board of Directors to make decisions that take that mission into account.”

(The appearance on the Shark Tank was in 2016, since then the knitting group has discontinued due to inflexible labour laws which do not allow the unique model used by Sarah Oliver Handbags. See more here: https://youtu.be/Il2Sf_oSZSo)

In the last edition of PRAC we featured Christian entrepreneurs who leverage their business success to invest in social enterprise, social innovation and mission. The church is in a unique position to occupy this creative space in our communities. We are not driven by profit, and that frees us up in our thinking beyond the limitations of mere profit. We can imagine ways of using our collective financial clout and combined knowledge and skills to address needs and opportunities in our community.

I have a basic assumption that if you have had an encounter with Christ that your life is then subject to an ‘illumination’. You think differently about yourself, others and world around you. You think differently about purpose and ‘mission’ and you are no longer driven by personal greed for either money, power or both. Freed up from the confining shackles of greed, enlivened and illuminated by our faith we need to be the creative people in our neighbourhoods.

We need to be at the heart of social innovation that leads to social impact. We have infrastructure by way of buildings and property and a gathered community who can work together. We share the same values and are united in our faith in Christ. We are the last people who should be lacking in innovative ideas and action. It’s time to examine the degree to which our cautious culture may be holding us back.

 

Stan Fetting, Crossover Operations Manager, Nov 2017