Creating Real Jobs from Invisible Assets

We primarily depend on the government or business to create jobs so we can earn a living to provide housing, transportation, medical care, education, entertainment and all that is needed for ourselves and those we love.  We give away our money in taxes and hours of our life in working with the hope that government or business will provide for our needs.   We may give up our freedom and neglect our families to serve government and business in return for the wages and benefits they promise.

Sometimes this system works.  As it does, business tends to become greedy and rewards those at the top with a salary and bonus for top executives that may be 400-500 times the salary of the average worker.  When government grows, it creates a larger bureaucracy with red tape and waste that dampens the spirit of enterprise and personal responsibility necessary to economic health.

When the system isn’t working, corporations and the banks that support them become fearful and hoard resources needed to create jobs.   For their own survival, costs are cut back and jobs are lost. In lean times of great need, governments become overextended in attempting to care for citizens.  Raising taxes and using credit hurts the very people government is attempting to rescue.

When we depend on corporations, we become consumers, addicted to the things we can buy.  We fall into the trap of believing we need just a little more, the new improved product, or something it seems everyone else has.  We build stuff so we can buy stuff, locked into the system as consumers.  What we consume becomes our goal in life and what we own becomes our identity.

When we depend on government, we become clients.   Over time we come to expect and take for granted the assistance that is offered.  We learn to manage the system in order to receive what we need.   A battle arises in negotiating our rights and benefits with those who make decisions about how government programs are administered.

The group of people that refuse to depend on corporations or government are entrepreneurs. They may seek the blessing or assistance of both government and business, but they depend more on their own effort to create what is needed for economic survival in this world.  Few are able to take this route because it requires creativity, great determination, resistance against failure, a worthy product or service and an initial investment to get started.

Entrepreneurs take risks without the safety net of corporations or government to back them up.  They tend to be fiercely independent and sometimes rough in their pioneer spirit. They are often willing to do “whatever it takes” to succeed and may lose friends or family in the process.  Although figures vary, one conservative study showed that 34% of business start ups fail during the first 2 years and by the end of 4 years, 56% have failed.  Of those remaining, some are still at a break even point.

Is there is a safer way to invest and build on our social relationships collectively rather than independently?  Can we cooperate in a way that creates a livelihood for those who are connected for the common good?  With a believe in abundance, there is enough profit to go around for everyone to share.  If we realize that WE are not broke, then maybe we can find a way for many to prosper.  Some are suffering financially, but the GNP of our country is sufficient for everyone to make a living if we can create ways to provide an opportunity that neither government or business is doing.

A responsibility we all share is to provide a ladder up for anyone ready to climb it. By creating jobs through our connections around community needs and resources, we can. Collaborating for the common good will strengthen our neighborhoods and families through economic development opportunities made available to everyone.

Who wins in a profit/nonprofit partnership?

Social Business has become a term describing any enterprise that serves the common good and creates a profit at the same time.   The business world is learning that what is good for people and the planet is often good for business as well.  To be sustainable, business must integrate social networks and serve other interests alongside the financial bottom line.  A true social business attends to the needs and concerns of everyone in the marketing system.  Everyone is respected as a stakeholder and treated fairly with opportunity to benefit from business transactions.

In a partnership including more than company employees, management and stockholders or owners, benefits are mutual for all participants.  Goals are modified so that everyone who contributes to the work of the business profits from any success.  Even the definition of success may change as profit comes to mean more than monetary.  Google and other social media businesses demonstrate the value of treating everyone with meaningful advantages.  Subprime mortgage derivatives and credit default swaps that show little regard for homeowners, investors and the larger community demonstrate what can happen when justice, trust, integrity and care are not employed for the benefit of all.

Balancing social and financial profits takes on survival value for businesses in a world that is becoming more conscious of hidden or external costs to consumers, workers, communities and environment. This balance is also needed for any nonprofit project that requires material resources to fulfill it’s mission.  If a nonprofit chooses to partner with a for profit company, it is important that the goals, needs and health of each is addressed.  In an ideal partnership, the for profit company will benefit from growth of their business at the same time that the nonprofit organization will grow in effectiveness by using commercial profits and resources to meet their own goals and expand their impact.

Until both groups understand their need for each other, each will operate from the assumptions of competition and scarcity rather than belonging and abundance.  Every decision or policy will be measured by who gains he most and who loses the most.  Suspicion and self interest will poison the relationship.  Results will not best serve either the social good or business interests when they are viewed in opposition to one another.

So the answer is that everyone wins.  Policies, attitudes and practices that give attention to all stakeholders provides for the most sustainable social business.  The strongest social enterprises will be those that are financially sound.  The strongest companies are those that work according to the ethical, moral, social and spiritual values that guide most nonprofit organizations serving a cause greater than their own existence.

The next question is to find those who are willing to play a game where everyone wins.

Ministry as Business or Business as Ministry?

We get suspicious when faith and money are mixed.  Thoughts of a greedy Judas Iscariot, gold in the Vatican, or Jim and Tammy Baker’s Heritage USA Theme Park come to mind.  Add the prospect of business and you come up with New Era, the investment/fundraising pyramid scheme fraud of a generation ago. Or we might think of an honest but failing religious thrift store, job training endeavor or private school that always seems to operate in the red in need of donations to be bailed out.  Best to keep faith and business separate. Far away from each other to avoid contamination of either.

One of the most exciting stories in the gospels is in John 21 when Jesus tells the disciples to throw their net on the other side of the boat after catching nothing all night.  Immediately they had a catch of 153 large fish.  The excitement was not just the pleasure of catching fish, but the income Jesus produced for career fisherman who had gone back to work after the crucifixion. In the book of Job, God rewarded a rich man, Job, with twice the wealth he once had, after going bankrupt.  The apostle James writes that God takes an interest in business endeavors when he teaches us to say, “If God wills”, then we will go into this city or that city, do business there and make a profit.

So God seems to have the courage to mix business and faith, even though the human heart is sorely tempted to love mammon or God, to pursue one or the other.  He allows the freedom for us to go off base and fail in business or in our faith as each seems to operate by different rules.  Divine guidance even seems to enjoy leading us into that very conflict.

Maybe so we can learn.  Learn what’s important and what’s not, what we need and what we don’t, what is right and what’s wrong with us.  We may even learn something of God’s nature as the One who marries our own desires, strategic planning and hard work to Divine blessing and provision.

One point of wisdom is recognizing the difference between doing ministry as business and doing business as ministry.

When we do ministry as a business, the bottom line is financial sustainability and profit.  When business principles determine the final decision as we are dealing with human lives, spiritual values, personal relationships and God’s reputation, our plans often fall short of both business and spiritual goals.  Compromises may include management and presentation of facts in a way that promote a successful material outcome.  It might be advantageous to cut off questions or demand order/compliance as a condition of participation in order to make a venture prosper.  Common kindness, generosity, sacrifice and honesty may cost too much.  We can’t allow some ministry practices or principles of justice and mercy because they might jeopardize the support needed to carry on ministry at all.  That’s ministry as a business endeavor.

When we do business as ministry, however, principles of justice and mercy, honesty, compassion and stewardship determine what must be done.  St. Paul was in the tent-making business.  His preaching made him unpopular enough to be stoned and put in jail more than once.  This doesn’t help your brand or maximize human resources.  Choices are made to do business in a way that enables and encourages ministry.  What will create the best social/spiritual environment?  What decisions result in the multiplication of good works and increase wisdom of the community?   Which practices reveal faith and hope by example?  These aren’t simple questions to answer, but they are in the forefront rather than the typical concerns a board of directors might have.

Doing ministry as ministry and business as business may be less complicated, but doesn’t follow the stories of fishermen, tentmakers, farmers and businessmen recorded in Scripture.  Doing business as ministry requires the creativity and courage to find wholeness in all we do with clear priorities.  It demands freedom from fear and tradition.

Converting Social Capital to an Economic Resource

No conversion of social capital into financial capital is valid unless the value of social capital increases in the process.  This is common sense from a practical perspective.  If your connections, good will, hope and trust diminish, you lose the core of future productivity.  The energy becomes negative and not only hinders any hope of financial gain, but decreases what is needed for growth.

On a deeper level, however, if relationships are harmed in the process of converting social assets into financial support for programs, staff or facilities, you have just betrayed yourself as an organization.  The heart, the core purpose and life energy of an organization established to good must first do good for it’s own members.  To offend, divide or harm members in our attempt to do good is to violate the basis of what we claim to stand for.

Individuals may certainly disagree and even choose to come and go based on the changing direction of organizational goals.  This is different than seeking financial gain at the expense of social capital that has been built up over a long period of time.   Whenever social capital is redeemed to make a step forward, relationships should be strengthened at the same time, increasing the value of relationships used for advancement.

An example of increasing social capital at the same time it is used to accomplish a goal or it is converted into material benefits is when the group can feel a corporate pride in what is being accomplished  through the work, expectations, compromises made in the conversion.  Another gain in social assets can be seen when the visible result of using relationships to accomplish something of lasting value attracts new membership or deepens the commitment of current members.  Skills developed in converting social capital into tangible assets without harming mutually beneficial connections becomes an additional value to the organization in the form of new skills, experience and knowledge.

The joy of spending time together, trustworthiness that is maintained, willingness to sacrifice for hope of future benefits, ability to manage conflict, keeping primary purposes and values in focus, collaboration, use of individual gifts and making space for differences are essential to the health of any organization.  To be diverted away from these benefits in order to meet any fundraising goal or employ a new strategy is an unacceptable risk.

The nature of our social and spiritual life together will change.  Different priorities will arise.  New learning and goals will arise.  New methods of accomplishing the purpose we came together are necessary.  Our relationships will be tested.  But know that social capital is not to be squandered on an ambition that reduces the care and concern everyone feels for the organization, it’s work, and each other.

Be sure a careful accounting is being made with every change or challenge to the equilibrium of your group.  Never place such value on what can be seen or counted in monetary terms that securing it places your reason for existing at a risk that is too great.

What is Social Capital?

Ned worked hard all his life upholstering and repairing furniture.   He never had the heart to charge anyone what his time was worth and put himself into every project.  As an artisan, Ned was accomplished, but as a business owner, he could barely made ends meet to provide for his family.  As more people began to discard old furniture and replace it with inexpensive modern furniture, his business failed.  Ned retired and put his meager life savings into a bad investment and ended up penniless.  He hasn’t been able to work for 23 years but during that time Ned and his wife Emma have been in good health, traveled and enjoyed benefits he could never afford while he was working.

The wealth Ned knew later in life came not from his work or good good luck, but from his four sons and three daughters.  They were all anxious to see that Ned and Emma had whatever money could afford because of gratitude they felt for the love and care they all received through the years.  I only met Ned during the last year of his life. During my last visit a week before he died, all his children and grandchildren were around the bed and I reminded him that he was a rich man.   Rich in relationships and goodness.  Ned looked up from his bed at his descendents and smiled, acknowledging his riches.

This wealth is social capital.  Ned’s social capital was turned into financial capital through the gifts of his family.  When made by obedience to moral principles, the transformation of social capital into material wealth multiplies social connections and rewards rather than depleting them.  Good will, generosity, gratitude and loyalty is multiplied through relationships and stories of caring, sacrifice and hope.  Social bonds are only strengthened when friendship forms a legitimate basis for buying and selling that serves the common good of all stakeholders.

Social capital is created wherever people genuinely serve each other without seeking personal gain.  Friendship for the sake of friendship alone increases social capital.  Likewise, caring for family members simply because they are family and a need exists will build commitment to community that can lead to practical help or increase in material resources.

Among our most valuable assets are the relationships we hold dear.  They are filled with hope, potential and security.  Guard these assets, but be willing to share or give them away.  This is how social capital increases.  Don’t squander friendship or treat it lightly.  Don’t take it for granted or allow it to be destroyed through neglect or abuse.

Practice the faithfulness that Ned did with his family.  Encourage, listen, support and serve those in your social network.  Treat each one with respect and care.   Watch your social capital increase.  Live with the wealth that Ned and Emma earned with each kind word and deed.  This is the recipe for true riches.