On of the things that stood out to us in chapter two of Generous Justice was this passage (pg 30):
But what do the gleaning laws reveal to us about God’s will for our relationships? Why was it that landowners were not allowed to harvest out to the margins of their field? God did not want them to squeeze every cent of profit out of their land, and then think that by giving to charity they were doing all they could for general community welfare. The gleaning laws enabled the poor to be self-sufficient, not through getting a handout, but through their own work in the field.
How can business owners follow the same principles today?
Our friends at Azizi Life are a living example of the answer to Dr. Keller’s query. We’ve asked them to share their experiences and reflections on “Kingdom Business.”
Azizi Life is a social enterprise in Rwanda, East Africa which aims to share Jesus’ love by participating in local initiatives for income generation. Begun by Tom MacGregor in 2008 under the Christian development organization Food for the Hungry, Azizi Life now encompasses two small companies. Azizi Life’s craft company and Experiences cultural tourism are both on track to be profitable and sustainable. They are also moving forward toward the vision of local ownership. But for Azizi Life “the bottom line” is not the bottom line.
Today during our weekly Bible study with the artisans, one of the weavers asked us to read 1 Corinthians 13 – the chapter about love. She asked each of us to examine our own attitudes and actions to see if we were living with a heart full of love for those around us. Because, she pointed out, without love all the rest is pretty much pointless. I guess operating a biblically-based business or social enterprise is probably a bit more complicated than this, and I bet there are a million different theories out there for best practice. But in my mind, this artisan managed to sum up all our efforts and plans with Azizi Life in just a few words – it starts and ends with Love.
In our work in Rwanda with Azizi Life, we do not profess to have it all worked out, and we have made plenty of mistakes. There is still so much more we need to learn and so much we need to do better. In all honesty, it often feels like we are blindly stumbling forward, and God just keeps shoving us in the right direction. A classic example of this is the story of how we ended up in the export business. Like a good entrepreneur, I carefully crafted a business plan for our new crafts company and was even granted $6000 in seed money. We decided to start off just selling products inside Rwanda, keeping costs and logistical nightmares low. I had worked hard on that business plan. But I had also made the fortunate error of praying and giving the whole project, its direction and purpose, to God. Despite our in-country sales plan, God kept giving us partners from North America who wanted us to export. One after another, customers, mentors, and volunteers kept coming our way. So we became exporters of Rwandan handicrafts, waiting almost 5 years to begin focused sales in Rwanda.
This is what everything else is built on:
- We love God
- We understand the business is totally His
- We work to follow His direction and serve Him and others through it.
That love and obedience to God’s leading must be at the very heart of every single plan you make. Without it, I personally believe it is impossible to run a biblically-based business, no matter how great your ideas or plans are.
As I understand it, normal business practice is about maximizing the amount you get from your customer and minimizing the cost so you create the highest possible profit. However, if you are determined to show love to everyone around you, this business model cannot really be followed. But the crazy thing is, it is my belief that you will still be profitable even if you operate almost in completely the opposite way.
Show love to your employees by treating them fairly and paying them generously. Care about each person, their goals, and their family, providing help and prayer support. Your staff in turn will become more than employees. They will become partners, working with more dedication and effectiveness than you can imagine.
Show love to your suppliers in the same way. Do not try to force their prices down or leverage your power against them; that is not loving. Treat them and pay them fairly, and they too will become your partners and will work tirelessly to help you achieve your goals.
Do not try to lead your customers on – where is the love in that? Show them love and respect, and that you value them. Help customers to see the value of the product or service you are offering while being honest about every part of it. Do not even try to hide how much money you make to cover your costs. Charge your customers a fair price and they will become your partner and tell their family and friends about all that you have done. There is no greater advertising campaign than this.
Do not hate the competition. Bless them and pray for them, looking for ways to help each other. In time, they may become partners and you can help each other grow.
This love-based business model turns a machine that is fighting against itself into a number of intertwined partnerships that can move forward for the mutual benefit for all. Improving the community around you and thus increasing the number of potential customers, employees and suppliers. This is a long-term view, and few in the business world believe it can work. We are only about 6 years into testing this theory, but so far the results are looking pretty good.
Tom MacGregor is a UK native who, at age 30, stepped off of his career track as a chartered commercial insurance broker and decided to apply his business skills to help generate income in rural Rwanda. In addition to starting two social enterprises in the last 7 years, Tom also started a family. He and his wife Ritah Uwera married in Rwanda in 2013 and are expecting their first child, a girl, in August.