The Bible may not be the first place you’d look for examples of social entrepreneurs-men and women who enter the business world with a purpose beyond making a profit. However, I believe social entrepreneurs existed even back in Old Testament times. When social wrongs needed to be made right, men and women who loved God extended that love by helping their neighbors much like social entrepreneurs do today. Perhaps few have recognized these individuals as “social entrepreneurs” because people have traditionally viewed them as saints. And saints seem impossible to mimic. As Bornstein put it in How to change the world: Social Entrepreneurs and the power of new ideas, “One can analyze an entrepreneur, but how does one analyze a saint?”(p. 92).
One such saint is a woman I have re-identified as a social entrepreneur: the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31. As I unpacked each verse, I discovered traits that could be applied to any woman desiring to honor God through her business and social engagements. Let’s take a look, verse by verse:
Proverbs 31:10. A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
She’s high-value because quality traits define her character. These traits form the foundation of all she does-from caring for others to starting a new business.
Proverbs 31:11. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
The people she is close to trust her. She handles money and resources wisely. Furthermore, she can be trusted with people, finances and key information. She is dependable, delivering on what she said she would do.
Proverbs 31:12. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
Throughout her entire life she works for the good of those to whom she is close. She gives herself to this work for the long-term. It is not a passing phase that she tries for a couple of years and then moves onto more interesting endeavors. She offers life and energy to those whom she’s around in a fashion that’s consistent and sustainable.
Proverbs 31:13. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
She is an ambitious, hard worker. She does not limit her products to one source, but utilizes renewable forms of both plant and animal materials for constructing her products.
Proverbs 31:14. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
She will gather resources from distant lands. She is not content with the limitations of local options and is willing to travel to secure quality products. In order to do this, she is aware of what is available in the world beyond local market.
Proverbs 31:15. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.
Although an ambitious business-woman, she does not neglect her family and the people closest to her. She ensures that her family is well-fed and nourished. She also treats her employees well, even rising early in order to feed them.
Proverbs 31:16. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
By considering her purchases, I infer that she shopped around before securing this vineyard. Besides, she had already made a profit from other endeavors and with those profits, she invests in this new enterprise.
Proverbs 31:17. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
She has physical strength and stamina and is relentless in her work (nowadays we might denote this as #womenwholift).
Proverbs 31:18. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
I used to think that a lamp not going out at night was an indicator that this woman never slept. Perhaps, however, this actually means that because she is only buying quality products, she will have the sort of oil in her lamp that lasts through the night. In the King James Version, trade is called “merchandise.” Another interpretation could be that she leaves a lamp on for traders who might arrive in the middle of the night.One thing, however, is certain from this verse: Her business secures profits.
Proverbs 31:19. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
Like Ghandi, this woman is a spinner. She engages in the same basic skill work as any other woman or servant girl of her time and culture would do. In Globalization, spirituality, and justice, Groody wrote, “Gandhi grounded his life on the plight of the poor, and he dedicated himself to living in solidarity with them” (p. 157). The virtuous women seems to build similar solidarity by working with her hands.
Proverbs 31:20. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
Her business is about more than making a profit so family can live in comfort! She is concerned for the poor and needy and gives of herself to help them. The heart of a true social entrepreneur.
Proverbs 31:21. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She is prepared for life hardships and challenges. She is not intimidated by seasonal changes or nature’s difficulties. Boldness defines her outlook even for the more difficult seasons.
Proverbs 31:22. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
She dresses in a way that garners respect. Silk and purple were items only nobility could normally afford perhaps because they were imported from faraway places or possibly simply because of the silk-making process at the time (Good, p. 959).
Proverbs 31:23. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
She will only be closely connected to those who are also respectable. Conversely, by association to her, close relationships, such as a spouse, automatically gain respect.
Proverbs 31:24. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She produces quality products and keeps her merchants well-supplied.
Proverbs 31:25. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
Strong character enables this woman to be hopeful and optimistic. She is not anxious but can smile because she has prepared for the future.
Proverbs 31:26. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She does not waste words gossiping, but considers others when speaking. Her words are both kind and intelligent to all she’s around, whether training employees or networking with other entrepreneurs.
Proverbs 31:27. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
She is responsible with all that she has been entrusted. She is not lazy but equipped herself to manage her household.
Proverbs 31:28. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
She has not neglected family in all her business endeavors. In fact, those closest to her are first to praise her.
Proverbs 31:29. Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.
She does not settle for meritocracy.
Proverbs 31:30. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
She is not defined by outward appearances but rather her relationship with God.
Proverbs 31:31. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
She deserves the reward she worked hard to earn. She will receive civil recognition. She does not praise herself; others do that for her, as do her good works.