Why I Want to Create Wealth

rich-dad-poor-dad

Land was wealth 300 years ago. So the person who owned the land owned the wealth. Later, wealth was in factories and production, and America rose to dominance. The industrialist owned the wealth. Today, wealth is in information. And the person who has the most timely information owns the wealth. The problem is that information flies around the world at the speed of light. The new wealth cannot be contained by boundaries and borders as land and factories were. (p.95, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the rich teach their kids about money—that the poor and middle class do not!)

Chew on that above paragraph for a few days and you’ll start to realize how profound Robert Kiyosaki’s words on finances are to a variety of realms. Think about it: the latest news—the most timely information—has power to sway masses of people that can influence a nation’s election. Yet this is true in a thousand other areas as well. In terms of social good, for example, if victims of human trafficking were equipped with the right information at just the right time, we could significantly reduce if not eliminate modern day slavery.

Kiyosaki’s best seller has given me huge insight into the significance of wealth creation. Most people work the majority of their lives for an employer, sending most of their income to the bank for loans and to the government in taxes. For the most wealthy, however, Kiyosaki points out that no matter how much we try to tax them to redistribute wealth more equally, they always find loopholes to evade the system. So taxes never affect those who are the most well-off. His words came to mind during last night’s Presidential debate. Donald Trump has successfully evaded our tax system his entire life. Yet after watching I thought to myself, “As offensive as I find the man, he was probably right when he accused Hillary’s financial supporters of also tapping into tax evasion loopholes.” The wealthiest people always do.

Kiyosaki’s advice is not to avoid paying taxes, but rather than spend our energy complaining about the wealthy not sharing (because essentially they never well), he encourages readers to focus on wealth creation. While reading his Rich Dad Poor Dad book last week, I came across a similar challenge from a vastly different source: a workshop at a Christian conference focused on international development by means of business.

“It’s time to ask, ‘what causes wealth?’” our white-haired facilitator said.

  • Churches consume it.
  • Families consume it.
  • Governments consume it.
  • Nonprofits consume it.
  • Only businesses create wealth.

Kiyosaki had expressed similar sentiments through his cash flow charts: much of what poor people and middle class people consider to be assets actually consume our income. And just like our workshop facilitator said, Kiyosaki emphasized how in government, successful budgeting is combined with spending (a.k.a consuming):

The government ideal is to avoid having excess money. If you fail to spend your allotted funds, you risk losing it in the next budget. You would certainly not be recognized for being efficient. Business people, on the other hand, are rewarded for having excess money and are applauded for their efficiency. (p.85)

Spending as close to the amounts allotted us in our budget to avoid losing money for future seasons is also a common practice for many churches, nonprofits and aid organizations-places often dedicated to fighting poverty. Our workshop facilitator, however, pointed out that “Good intentions don’t end poverty. Enterprise and freedom end poverty.” Many organizations are beginning to recognize this with the development of social enterprise, high-bred fusions of business and non-profit worlds. But we need to keep pushing, beyond providing jobs for people.

“Instead of training job seekers, we need to train job makers,” our workshop facilitator instructed. And he backed his advice up with scripture:

“Remember the LORD your God, because he is the one who gives you the ability to produce wealth,” (Deuteronomy 8:18 NIV)

Just a Cupcake Between Us: Homeboy Industries Tour

Often we strike the high moral distance that separates ‘us’ from ‘them,’ and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us.
img_8703

Miguel and Jose share their stories. “Prayer needs to be followed by action,” Jose says.

Father Gregory Boyle wrote these words in Tattoos on the Heart, a book filled with down-to-earth descriptions of life among a community stricken by gangs and gang activity. Father Boyle’s several decades of ministering in this community have resulted in Homeboy Industries, a combination of services and social enterprises that employ men and women straight out of incarceration and anyone wanting to leave street life.

Tattoos on the Heart  was one of my favorite reads last year was so I was excited to see Homeboy Industries firsthand when I visited a few weeks ago. The absence of an “us” and “them” mentality was apparent as soon as I stepped off the bus. The first person who met us wasn’t Father Boyle or a seminary graduate. Nope, our tour guide was Jose who shared how he had arrived at Homeboy Industries eight years ago as a seasoned gang leader. In fact, from the salesmen in the gift shop to clerks in the bakery, everyone we met were people who shared similar stories. Jose introduced us to one of his colleagues who had arrived just three months earlier. Sweat poured down this young man’s face as talked with us, no doubt one of the first tours ever to hear his story.
img_8697

Tour with my CCDA buddy Albert; Father Gregory is in the office behind us

Father Boyle was present as well but he only joined us momentarily for a group photo. The rest of our time and interaction was left in the capable hands of trainees, men and women who have or are currently going through Homeboy Industry programs.

Our guide shared with us how Homeboy Industries was established in 1988 in gang-neutral territory in the middle of LA. When they first arrived at the current location in 2007, the surrounding businesses didn’t want them. Business owners protested and police harassed them but eventually they came to see Homeboy Industries as a positive presence in their community.
img_8693

Homeboy Industries likes to give recognition: from birthdays to sober birthdays and a plaque on the wall for passing your GED

I found it hard to keep track of all the positive aspects as I made notes in my phone while our guide lead us past the homework center, computer center and legal department. He also pointed out one of their most popular services: tattoo removal that’s free to the public. He told us that they currently have a waiting list of 1200, unless a tattoo is gang-related and visible, then those requests get bumped to the front of the line.

On the second floor, our guide directed us into the group therapy room.
“Therapy is mandatory for those going through Homeboy Industry programs,” he explained and shared how many professional therapists volunteer at the center. Plus they have several full time therapists. At the back of the group therapy room was a big window that overlooked the bakery which is one of several social enterprises that Homeboy Industries has started. These provide work experience for Homeboy trainees and include:
img_8689

View of bakery from back of group therapy room.

Camaraderie at the Cafe

Right before we departed, homeboy Miguel shared his story describing how he had sat outside for two hours the first time he came to Homeboy Industries, working up courage to enter the office. When he finally did, he felt the brotherhood in the place instantly. Similarly, earlier our guide told us how during an economic downturn they had to let 300 guys go, but they all showed up to work the next day saying “we have nowhere else to go.”

However, no one gets fired at Homeboy Industries; instead they are just told to come back when they are ready. Additionally, Homeboy Industries is a place of innovation where wishful thinking become reality. They are currently creating a volunteer fire department simply because it is a dream of a lot of the guys to be firefighters.
14407603_1153340004714324_145095330_n

Hillary Swank buying pastries at Homeboy Cafe.

At Homeboy Industries, former rivals bake bread side-by-side. Former enemies work together to print t-shirts with messages of hope.

“We work hand in hand with rivals and that’s just a common courtesy,” our guide told us.

Before we left, I purchased sweets for my roommate’s birthday from Homegirl Cafe. The customer in front of me was Hillary Swank. The space between her and the trainee behind the counter was about the size of a pink-frosted cupcake.

The Virtuous Woman: A Social Entrepreneur

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Neighbor and dear friend of mine when I lived in Bangladesh

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.

To Buy Can be Better Than to Give

IMG_7900My uncle booked a group table at the event I had invited him and my aunt to attend. When I offered to pay for my seat, but he said, “I’ve got you covered. Give whatever you want as a donation to the organization.”

We were at a Nepali fundraiser dinner for Friends of WPC Nepal, an organization dedicated to helping end and prevent human trafficking along the Nepal border. The founder is from a border town herself and growing up watched many of her childhood playmates leave for “opportunities”beyond their small town, only to never return.

At the back of the room was a display table where the founder and her daughter were selling beautiful, high-quality jewelry made by women in Nepal. The jewelry enables Nepali women to have employment in a solid community and prevents them from being trafficked into the sex trade. I thought about how much money I had allocated for this night and toiled between writing a check or purchasing a piece of jewelry.

A little personal background: I don’t enjoy shopping and rarely spend money on clothing, let alone jewelry. I’ve largely adopted my parents’ and grandparents’ model of thrifty living and generous giving. However, as I’ve become more aware of systems of commerce and the people impacted by those systems, I’ve realized that buying cheap clothing in order to write a larger check to a charity working against human trafficking is counter-intuitive when the cheap clothing was made by slave (or underpaid) labor. Or pinching pennies to purchase inexpensive chocolate so that you can have more pennies to donate towards an orphanage is hypocritical when you consider that the cocoa was sourced by child labor and conditions that harmed both people and planet leading to the need for an orphanage!

Furthermore, earning something causes people to value it more and feel greater self-worth than receiving a handout. Earning money can give people the ability to make choices previously unavailable to them, fosters self-esteem and provides opportunities that would not otherwise exist. As the founder of Sari Bari, an enterprise in Kolkata, India, which enables women to leave the sex trade by providing seamstress work, wrote after the first distribution of pay checks to the women, “a job does what a hand out can not…it gives hope and belief in self” (Power of a Paycheck). Case in point: before starting the Sari Bari business, the ministry team had worked for several years in the red light district, but during that time only one woman had left the sex trade. Yet since they began the Sari Bari business in 2006, 117 women have left the trade to find freedom and new lives!

In With Justice for All argued, John Perkins wrote, “Far more than they need our money, the poor need us—people. People with skills who will work with them and teach them how to become self-sufficient” (p.13). I strongly believe that providing people with dignified work is one of the best ways to end poverty and prevent human trafficking. Because of this, I chose to purchase a necklace rather than make a strict donation. Also, I chose it for myself in order to wear it as a conversational starter and promotional piece. When people ask about my necklace, I can tell them about Hetauda House, a place of safety for at-risk girls in Nepal.

I am not against gifts or donations, but sometimes it can be healthy to weigh all options. In this scenario, I felt like buying was a better investment in a cause I believe in than straight up giving.

Note: a few of my other favorite social enterprises that do similar work include the following:

If you know of others you’d recommend, leave a comment.

 

10 Benefits of a Community Yard Sale

yard saleMany people think I run an annual to bi-annual yard sale simply to make some extra cash. Although my yard sale earnings contributed towards paying off student loans, the intangible benefits I receive from managing these sales extend beyond the monetary. Following my most recent sale this past weekend, I jotted down ten reasons I love running yard sales in my neighborhood:

  1. A core value of Christian Community Development gets lived out. John Perkins talks about the three R’s in Christian Community Development: Relocation, Redistribution and Reconciliation. Hosting a yard sale in my community is a way of living out the “Redistribution” piece. Most of the stuff I sell comes from wealthy people, who have discarded their belongings when moving, or from hoarders who have passed away and can no longer benefit from their earthly possessions. I get joy when hosting these sales by seeing how the discarded possessions of wealthy people get repurposed by my low income and working class neighbors.
  2. Low-income neighbors, immigrants and refugees can outfit their homes and families. Many refugees and first-generation immigrants purchase clothes, dishes, house ware and furniture at a reduced rate to outfit their households. Yard sales like mine offer our neighbors the ability to buy these items at low-cost (say a couch for $10-$20 or a shirt for $.25)…and that’s far more dignifying than receiving handouts!Shoes lined up for the sale
  3. International development happens at a grassroots level. In addition to buying for their local families, some first-generation immigrants purchase affordable items to ship to their relatives and friends in developing countries. I see this as powerful, grassroots community development that supersedes the work of giant organizations and mega NGO’s which often intrude with foreign ideas about what people need. Since yard sale goods are selected and shared by people who were once local residents there and know the community, culture and needs, the “aid” coming in the form of boxes filled with bargains is likely to be what’s both useful and appreciated.
  4. Leftover items find new homes. At the end of my sale this past weekend, I took five bags of remaining clothes to a clothing exchange where a group of working-class friends (who value repurposing items over buying new) rampaged through them and discovered all sorts of wearable finds!
  5. DJ at yard saleOffers intermediate employment. With the last two sales, I’ve been able to employ a couple friends who were in-between jobs.
  6. Get to meet my neighbors. Hosting a yard sale connects me and my household to our neighbors, literally our front-door community.
  7. My neighbors meet each other. Simultaneously, my neighbors get introduced to each other at the sale, oftentimes some of whom previously knew no one else in the area.
  8. Ideas for future community gatherings percolate. During the course of these neighborly interactions this past weekend, we discussed hosting a progressive music night—something similar to a progressive dinner in which we would go from one house to the next for a different genre of live music. Conversations like this highlight the gifts that each person brings to our local context.
  9. Professional connections form. This past weekend, for example, I was able to introduce my assistant to a potential employer whom I’d been trying to connect for a couple of months!
  10. Our neighborhood gets safer. Knowing one’s neighbors builds trust and has proven to be the leading cause in crime reduction.

Healing, Hope and a Cigarette: Story From Thistle Farms

Jennifer by a Blooming Thistle

Jennifer by a Blooming Thistle

“I was born into a Catholic family, the youngest of 12 children, and abused at a young age,” Jennifer began. “At 12-years-old I started smoking pot and at age 13 left home to hitchhike to California. Instead I was trafficked and forced into a life of prostitution and drugs.”

I had just met Jennifer earlier that morning when visiting Thistle Farms, a social enterprise in Nashville, Tennessee that works in partnership with the nonprofit Magdalene to rebuild the lives of women who’ve been caught in cycles of dealing drugs and selling their bodies. In conjunction with providing housing and counseling, the program trains and employs women to create beautiful candles and beauty products from natural products such as the thistle. Last year, the successful business met the $1 million sales mark, as covered in a piece by NPR.

A month before my visit I had emailed the farm asking if I could interview one of the women there. In response, Jennifer, their PR woman, had replied saying she would be happy to connect me with one of her beautiful sisters and mentioned that she herself was a graduate from their 2012 program. I had prepared an interview that wouldn’t delve too deeply into the personal life of someone I didn’t know, aiming to ask questions concerning the social enterprise from the perspective of a woman in the program. Yet after attending the midweek “Meditation Circle” with dozens of other visitors, staff and volunteers, she had lead me outside to a table between their shop and alley so we could chat in private and Jennifer herself shared her life story with me.

Thistle Farms

Shaped like a thistle, this art piece collects rain water. They don’t like to waste anything but to repurpose what others would discard both to care for the planet and as a metaphor for the women whose lives are being rebuilt.

“At age 16 I met a man who got me pregnant and at age 17 we married,” she continued. “I thought my life had turned around. But after giving birth to a second child who was stillborn at age 19, I became so upset with the world I divorced him. I left my other child who was two-years-old with my mother and started working at a gentlemen’s club.” She gazed off at the bleak sky. Although the day was overcast the June air was warm and humid here in Nashville.

“Before long, I was on the street, jumping into strangers’ cars and selling myself to support my drug addiction. I moved from marijuana to meth to liquid meth to heroine. I was trying to be something I wasn’t. Even my eyes changed color from their natural state to a murky brown from all the poison.” I gazed into her shining blue eyes that matched the light blue t-shirt she was wearing and wondered how they could have ever appeared a murky brown.

“Finally, I started to attend church with my sister, all the while I was still doing heroin.” She paused for a puff on her cigarette, the one addiction she had not yet kicked. “Then one day I set up an appointment with the priest for confession. While there I told him I needed a rehabilitation program that would last two years. In the past I’d gone through 90 day ones but they’d left me unchanged. He said he would find something for me and the next time we met up he told me about Magdalene. It was exactly what I was looking for: a two year program that was out-of-state in Nashville and away from Dayton, Ohio, where I was living. Hearing that a place like that existed, I walked away with a big smile on my face, the first time my sister had seen me smile in years!” Jennifer beamed as she recalled that moment.

Thistle Farms

Jennifer next to an American chestnut tree that taught her a life lesson.

“I wanted to go immediately,but there was a one to two year waiting period! I knew I couldn’t wait that long and called regularly to see if they could get me in sooner.  Finally, out of complete desperation, one day I told them I wouldn’t make it unless they let me in. The woman on the other end of the line asked me, ‘How soon can you come?’ I wanted to tell her ‘tomorrow,’ but then realized I had to figure out a way to get there. Jennifer laughed with her raspy chuckle and brushed her chest-length, dyed blond hair behind her shoulder.

“I arrived on March 10, 2010, and didn’t unpack for 60 days.” She ended up staying, however, not only graduating from the program but moving now into the role of PR & Development, giving tours to daily guests and explaining the history and partnerships of the organization.

“It has not been easy,” stated frankly. Then with a spark in her eye she exclaimed “but I surrendered to love!”

Thistle Farms

A scrumptious quiche and salad I purchased at the Thistle Cafe.

After hearing the story of her amazing life turnaround, it was my turn to ask some of the questions I had prepared. “Have you gotten to share your ideas for Thistle Farms? For example, improving processes or developing a new product?”

“Yes,” Jennifer replied. “I suggested that the women working at the cafe not wear uniforms. At first they were wearing all black, but that made them feel like they were separate from everybody else, and they already felt like people were coming to see ex-prostitutes on display.”

When I asked Jennifer about her own, personal dreams, she replied, “Jail saved my life; Thistle Farms saved my soul.” Then she added with a smile, “My long-term goal: get to heaven. I know there’s a hell on earth and there’s a heaven on earth and you can choose!”

Jennifer’s present reality is that she has a lot of accrued expenses like lawyer fees and child support and she plans to tackle those. “I want to be able to support myself financially,” Jennifer said. “It has taken me five years but I’m finally getting my own car and apartment and naming it the ‘GG Bandbox’ (Jennifer’s’ family calls her “GG”) But I dream of having a cabin in the country someday.”

Me and Jennifer

Me and Jennifer in front of some Thistle Farm products.

Motioning to the business beside us I asked, “How would you describe the Thistle Farm brand?”
“Healing, hope, love, all natural, community, life, abundance, joy, laughter, MUSIC!” she yelled the last word. Then interjected “Brenda, can I have a cigarette?” when another employee passed by us.

After she had lit it I asked, “In what ways do you listen to your customers?”

“With my mouth shut.” Jennifer replied. That made me laugh. But she continued, “If things don’t sell, we nix them. But we try all of them,” she said, referring to ideas customers offer them.

She told me that Thistle Farms only has one fundraiser per year because Becca doesn’t like to constantly ask people for money. Otherwise, they post concrete needs such as lumbar supplies on their volunteer page.

Thistle Farms

The unassuming structure where this social enterprise is housed.

When I asked about partnerships Thistle Farms has with other businesses, organizations or nonprofits, Jennifer exclaimed, “All over movement. I LOVE movements!” I knew that Thistle Farms partners with multiple organizations. She had just told me about their first national Thistle Farms conference coming up this fall where Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of Half the Sky will be speaking. And earlier during the tour of their facilities, Jennifer had described all sorts of organizations they are partnering with globally and locally. For example, guys in prison built the cabinets in their cafe.

My final question was “What do you consider your bottom line to be? In other words, what does success look like for you?”

Jennifer replied, “Love heals. The women on waiting list get in.” Later as we parted ways, she added, “The bottom line is definitely women on the street—there’s nothing below that!” I wasn’t sure if she was referring to the business definition of the “bottom line” but in the end it didn’t really matter. I’m sure the Thistle Farm’s founder Becca would agree!

Thistle Farms is a social enterprise of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Thistle Farms houses the bath and body care company, Thistle Stop Café and paper and sewing studios.The community provides housing, food, healthcare, therapy and education, without charging residents or receiving government funding. Thistle Farms and Magdalene stand as a witness to the truth that in the end love is the most powerful force for change (description taken from the Thistle Farm Facebook “About” section). Their one annual fundraiser is this weekend, October 12-14, in Nashville, Tennessee. This interview is a paraphrase based on notes and listening to a conversation with Jennifer on June 4, 2014.

Community Fitness Center

Ladies Night at Gym

Ladies Night at Gym

It’s been nearly five months since I began working at Rainier Health & Fitness and I would be amiss not to feature it on my own blog. As stated in the tagline, the gym is dedicated to “encouraging healthy lifestyles, strong bodies and authentic community through an accessible and high quality fitness center.” What makes this place different from other gyms? At RHF we aim to foster community and racial reconciliation, emphasize overall health rather than bodybuilder appearance and offer our services at affordable rates.

As an arm of Urban Impact, a faith-based non-profit dedicated to breaking cycles of poverty through community development, Rainier Health & Fitness is a social enterprise that aims to make quality fitness affordable for our neighbors. All of us on staff believe that God desires restoration and wholeness for creation, and a big part of that is physical health for humans. A major factor that keeps people in poverty, however, is lack of health. When people are unable to work, they and their families continue to struggle in the cycles of poverty. We simultaneously seek racial reconciliation that’s lived out in an authentic community, a purposeful intention of being located in the heart of one of nation’s most diverse zip codes.

How do these ideals play out practically? RHF has reduced rates and a sliding scale so people with lower incomes can afford to sign up. They can alternatively volunteer three hours each week in exchange for membership. In order to keep the emphasis on health rather than appearance, the walls do not have mirrors on them. Twice a week, the classroom is curtained off for a “Ladies Night” so women can workout in a separate space from men (while many women from all backgrounds appreciate this gesture, it particularly appeals to women from East Africa).

I love getting to be a part of this gym and community which lines up with my passion for community development and holistic health.

Green Stoves in the Slums

ashadesh

Today I’m sharing a guest post about a social enterprise that’s taking off in India. This piece was written by a friend who does community development and lives in the slums of Kolkata. 

Ashadesh is a social business in Kolkata­­­­ that helps us take action. Many people in South Asia use charcoal to cook with, which causes respiratory diseases and death and also harms the environment.

Why do they cook with dirty fuel?  Because they have no choice.

In order to get a gas cylinder hooked up, they need to pay a large up-front fee.  After that, they can get ongoing government-subsidized gas for the long haul.  Ashadesh helps people through the paperwork and subsidizes this up-front cost.  After getting over this unjust barrier, they’re set.

Unlike the poor, you and I have lots of choices.  You and I can offset (make up for our environmental degradation/climate change) our carbon.  This means roughly 5% of the price of a flight goes directly to help get gas connections for the poor at an affordable rate.  By using clean fuel, the person using their new gas connection emits much less carbon, and thus offsets our carbon output, or footprint.

Here’s how holistic the business is:

Health is improved.
The environment is protected.
The poor save time and money.
The unjust system is overcome.
Dignified jobs are created.
Rich and poor partner together.
This ethical business is prophetic in a culture of corruption and exploitation.
The business will be completely handed over to locals within two years.

And on top of all that, my teammate who runs the business, and his family, live in the very slum community where they do business.  As they share life with their neighbors, they share struggles and hope in a very personal and contextualized way that makes sense and is tangible.

Now, I don’t think it’s up to us to save the whole world, nor do I think we can do it overnight.  But I want my actions to match my belief.  I want to be a faithful steward of natural resources and a faithful neighbor to the poor who have less choice than I have.

All businesses need investors.  My dear friends, I cannot think of a more holistic, social enterprise investment than this.

Will you join me as I offset all my flights and driving for work and leisure?  Not out of guilty obligation, but out of joy, freedom and hope.

Visit ashadesh.com.au right now to learn more and get involved.

Street Bean Espresso

Street Bean Café

Stepping into this sleek café located in Belltown, you might assume it’s just another Seattle coffee shop where you can order latte art and a biscotti. Yet the name–Street Bean Espresso–is packed with meaning, each word reflecting one of the founders’ goals. As stated on the website, their “aim is to accomplish targets that are social, environmental, and financial – a triple bottom line.”

Street: The primary purpose of this social enterprise is to provide a venue where young people from the streets can gain skills needed for employment and living. As more eloquently put on the website, they can “reclaim their lives away from (and yet in the midst of) the streets of Seattle.” Since it’s difficult to land that first job without employment history, an educational degree or diploma and sometimes even ID, the Street Bean enables youth to gain that work experience that’s essential for transitioning to any other company.

Bean: Dedicated to providing sustainable products and services, the café serves coffee that is grown in Guatemala where they’ve formed direct relationships with the farmers. The café partners with Agros International to ensure these farmers gain the greatest profit, benefit and land ownership that will in turn help eliminate cycles of poverty.

Espresso: Ultimately, Street Bean Espresso is a coffee shop dedicated to serving excellent coffee. While committed to doing good, they thrive on the fact that they are a competing business, a social enterprise, roasting coffee beans on the site for the highest quality product around.

It’s refreshing to see a social enterprise like the Street Bean that bridging demographic divides, empowering youth, sourcing from sustainable farms and providing a well-made product that’s on par with their competitors. Now that’s quality in a cup!

Tierra Nueva: Organic Farm Social Enterprise

Tierra Nueva Autumn

Last summer a good friend of mine did an internship at Tierra Nueva, a mini organic farm located nextdoor to Burlington, Washington. I got to visit her then and help harvest some of the produce in the fall both last year and this. What impresses me the most about this farm is  their dedication to three main aspects of healing.

1. Heal the land. The staff at Tierra Nueva is dedicated to growing organic produce on healthy soil. One of their farmers told me a few weeks ago that they want to move away from using motorized methods when cultivating the land. Every season, they leave about half of their two acres to rest while carefully cultivating the other half.

2. Heal your body. They grow wholesome, healthy food that nourishes both the farm staff and those in Seattle or other nearby towns who purchase their produce boxes. Customers are invited to join in on the farming process by volunteering at a work party or harvesting U-Pick items.  Plus, their website provides a delicious recipes list where you can search by produce type. I love that they partially fund their work through this social enterprise aspect.

3. Heal the community. The farm staff simultaneously works with both the local migrant community and people in recovering programs from the jail and juvenile detention. Two of the farm’s primary workers are a lovely couple–Salvio and Victoria–who speak Spanish fluently and were once migrant workers themselves. Another cool aspect is that women, men and youth in their recovering programs also participate in farm activities. For instance, one woman set up culinary classes in the barn where she taught group classes on how to cook with the fresh produce.

Update: I drafted this post on Wednesday this past week. This morning I was talking to my friend who interned at Tierra Nueva and she told me that this lovely farm is closing because the produce sales were not covering expenses. I decided to publish this post anyway as a case study of an attempt well-made. Many social enterprises are difficult to sustain because they lack the organization, structure and strategy behind them (although even business start-ups often don’t take off until an entrepreneur’s third or fourth attempt). A short peruse of their website screamed for the need of a marketer and web designer. Transporting produce all the way to Seattle required a lot of time and fuel. Their new farmer (who will continue farming on another plot of land) said this land could have been better utilized. Yet in spite of its shortcomings, the farm met numerous needs during its time of operation and many of their practices and principles could be replicated in a myriad of other settings to bring about holistic healing for communities.