On Saturday I had the opportunity to be a judge for several middle and high school students who were creating small businesses. They spent the day learning how and then creating a businesses plan. One important caveat was they student team had to describe how their business would honor God. The judges awarded a cash gift to the best team. I was asked to give some final thoughts, and I stated that these young people demonstrated to me the power of business to create good in society.
This morning during my reading I had the pleasure to learn about Peter Omidyar, who was the founder, along with the first employee and President Jeffrey Skoll, of Ebay. Omidyar Network is his new business venture, which invests in small businesses, social entrepreneurships, and non-profits that are in the business of helping people. The category of business that Omidyar’s new offering would be listed in is venture-philanthropy. Omidyar focuses on “five main areas of investment: financial inclusion, consumer internet and mobile telecoms, education, property rights, and open government.”
Organizations, such as KIVA.org, which provides microloans are supported with both financial and process support. The process support helps the organization run more effectively and efficiently. “Omidyar’s network “provides money for the charity,” but it also has a human resource department that will help the organization hire the right people. The organizations he supports find that the help with running the business is more important than the money itself.
Omidyar has also bought into the idea that there is money at the bottom-of-the-pyramid. He is a believer in impact investing, but is also a firm believer in taking a risk. “He has concentrated on trying to build viable businesses that sell to the poorest consumers, where costs must be pared to the bone.” Examples are D.light, “a provider of cheap lamps that use solar energy, eliminating the need for kerosene lamps. Bridge International Academics that provide children in Kenya with a decent education for $5 per month. And Microensure, “a firm that gets mobile-phone companies to provide free life-assurance as an incentive for loyal subscribers.”
This is a fairly new endeavor, and it has a long way to go. However, I think this demonstrates the power of business to create good. Omidyar, just like other social entrepreneurs, is seeking new business models that can not only meet social need, but be run effectively and efficiently, thus creating excess value.
Business is about meeting needs. A non-profit business’ mission is to meet a client’s need. A for-profit business is about meeting a customer’s need. There is mission in both cases. One is trying to make a profit while the other is trying to effectively use the funds donated. In both cases the organizations are trying to have higher levels of productivity. They are both trying to create more output with less input.
Business is completing your mission. The mission is first and foremost providing service. It is not profit. If we lose that fact, then we lose the reason for being in business. We lose our soul. This is when Jesus’ words ring out “what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul.” It feels good to meet a need; it doesn’t feel good to sell a substandard product to steal from someone else; or to provide a substandard service because we are serving a particular demographic.
Business is amoral, neither good nor bad. It is us that make it that way. Business, as we have seen in many cases, can be exploitive, but it can also be a huge power for good, and that we have seen too.
And that is my thought for the day!