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No Shady Business February 13 2015

           

 

The scope of global poverty can easily become an overwhelming thought. Moreover, the thought of having an impact on poverty or trafficking can feel as impossible as counting grains of salt. What if it didn’t have to be so daunting?...

Work of Worth believes that the cure for desperate poverty and human trafficking is opportunity. Furthermore, Work of Worth believes it can provide that opportunity. However, not just any opportunity will do. Work of Worth is not interested in “shady business,” because people deserve better than “just getting by.” Work of Worth believes that the well-being of each employee - and their family, is just as important as the well-being of their employer. For a job opportunity to truly improve a person’s quality of life, certain standards must be met… Here are just a few:

We don’t want our partners’ employees to feel:

  1. Exploited – Work of Worth ensures its partners are committed to paying their artisans a fair wage and requiring an appropriate amount of work hours. 
  1. Unskilled – Work of Worth’s partners are committed to turning the traditional business model on its head. Instead of hiring the most qualified and highly experienced workers, they employ those who need dignified work, and are dedicated to meeting them where they are.
  1. Hopeless – Work of Worth hopes that every artisan believes they can provide a better life for their children than they dared to dream. We believe it is possible. 

We want our partners’ employees to feel:

  1. Safe – It is of upmost importance to Work of Worth that the men and women our partners employ feel emotionally and physically safe. Some of these men and women have been enslaved previously, or are at high risk of being trafficked. Where poverty is rampant, often the choices made are extreme, sometimes even unthinkable.
  1. Respected - When you instill in someone your belief that they have something (a valuable skill) to offer the world, they will begin to believe it too. Work of Worth believes that commerce, properly implemented, can bring sustainable, lasting, change to communities around the world.
  1. Empowered - Jobs that bring dignity transforms the landscape of generations. It paves the way for education and a life filled with hope and security instead of struggle and fear. 

It IS possible to provide people with jobs that bring dignity! So let's put our money where our mouth is and purchase with purpose.  

Join the movement! #noshadybusiness 


Meet Zara September 17 2014

Meet Zara… radiant, humble, gracious. Her sparkling eyes help tell the story of how the training and employment she and her husband received from Village Artisan in India have enriched their lives. Her thankful spirit shows no sign of the bitterness that you might expect from someone with such heartache. Zara was married at 16, and would say that she began to view her husband as a companion only through hardship. After the death of her in-laws, they sold the little they had and struggled to find dignified work for many years. Their lives were forever changed when she and her husband were employed by Village Artisan. Now their three children can go to school, there is enough food to go around and the quarreling with her extended family has ceased now that they can pay their share of the bills. As a result of the training and employment in producing handicrafts they have received from Village Exports, Zara and her family have a bright future.

 

She wears a smile because someone fought for her. Fight for someone today by joining us in the movement of opportunity.


Asha’s Story: Goat Farming for Empowerment and Transformation April 15 2014


When Work of Worth founder Barry Morehead travelled to India in 2012, he found himself confronted by the poverty and lack of positive economic opportunity in the rural areas. But, through the Business Development Center (BDC) in Bangalore, he also had the chance to meet some truly amazing entrepreneurs who are transforming their communities all across India through business. This is the story of one of those world-changers. Meet Asha:

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“My husband and I used to work for a charity called Neerekshe, a family-run trust started by my husband’s parents in their home village of Muranpur in Karnataka,” says Indian entrepreneur and Business Development Center (BDC) Bangalore graduate Asha Sangster. “I [was] the principle of a school that provided quality English medium education for six to eight villages in and around Muranpur, and my husband was a church planter and social worker. 

Tucked away in the state of Karnataka in southwest India, Muranpur’s approximately two thousand residents live in abject poverty, surviving entirely on livestock and seasonal agriculture, dependent on rainfall in a drought-prone area. Rampant malnutrition, lack of economic opportunity, and absence of medical facilities make it a poverty trap in need of the empowerment and training that Asha, her husband Sangster, and the Neerekshe Trust sought to provide.

“One of the struggles I encountered as a teacher was the regular attendance of students, especially girls,” says Asha. “Most of the children [in Muranpur] work for their parents looking after cattle or herds of sheep and goats, or working in the fields… Education was a luxury, especially for girls. I always had a dream to provide regular jobs for parents and part-time jobs for students. This way we thought they would have the opportunity to attend school and continue their education.”

 “We had ten acres of land, [so] we wanted to [utilize that resource for] an income generation project. I started keeping few goats and sheep in the farm. We asked a young lad who had dropped out of the school to help graze the goats. When the time came we would sell our goats and earn some extra income for the charity.” 

Asha and Sangster wanted to expand the business, but had neither the capital nor the knowledge of how to start and run a successful farm. But the dream remained.

Then pieces started falling into place. From 2008-2011 Asha and Sangster had the opportunity to work with friends in the UK who ran a dairy farm, and they learned a bit about farm management from the experience. Then in 2012 the director of BDC Bangalore asked Asha if she would like to join their 3-month Entrepreneurship program.

“I was thrilled,” says Asha. “Because this was a short, part-time course, even as a homemaker and mother I was able to attend the evening class. BDC equipped me to plan and prepare a detailed financial cash flow for the first two-years [of the business]. This helped me to start putting each piece in the puzzle for our dream to start a business.”

“BDC was a stepping stone for me. It gave me an opportunity to meet other business owners and business teachers [skilled] in marketing and planning, which helped me [further] develop a passion for business. It also helped me to understand the value of entrepreneurship and the great need [in] India for honest business and providing employment where every customer and employee is valued.”

“When we worked in the rural Karnataka, I noticed the way the rich farmers exploited the laborers,” says Asha. “[Workers] were treated like slaves: minimum wage and no days off. They never felt they were created in the image of God like their masters… [But] I also noticed that the laborers did not work hard and [had no commitment]. They were unskilled and dishonest, and there was a lot of wasted time and energy. The work place was very inefficient… We wanted to have a business where the employee is respected and he or she can earn a good income, and also be invested in the farm where they work.”

“Only God could change people,” she adds. “We want [our employees] to know that God created them and He loves them. We are hoping and praying that the way we treat our workers… will be a great witness.

At the end of the 3-month training, Asha’s business plan for the goat farm ultimately won the BDC’s business contest, and she was awarded a monetary prize for start-up capital. Equipped with newfound knowledge, confidence, start-up capital and 10 acres, Asha and Sangster were ready to begin. Taking the final plunge, Asha used her wedding jewelry to get a loan from the agricultural bank, and in June 2013, she and her husband started STARS Farm in Raichur.

Since then they have met with tremendous success and attention. That initial investment enabled them to fence an acre of land and build a shed for 60 goats. Asha and Sangster networked with the local agricultural college and have begun an ongoing, collaborative research project on the farm, which itself enabled them to build a bio gas unit and compost system, and develop a fodder cultivation scheme. As they grow, profits are continually poured back into the farm, allowing further growth. Further growth creates more jobs for individuals in the community, more economic development, more positive, personal relationships, and, back to the starting point, more girls afforded the opportunity to stay in school.

“Our vision for the Farm is to have a team of men and women from India, seeking to empower and transform our lives and community through Christian discipleship, training and income generation through modern scientific farming,” says Asha. “We are developing the farm as a model farm for the local villages so we can train local farmers too.”

There seems to be no end in sight, and Asha dreams big: plans are in the works to expand to 150 goats. They will need an electricity line, lights, a borewell for constant water supply, surveillance cameras, fencing for the whole property, and more trained workers. For the more distant future, Asha aims to develop a brand for future meat processing capabilities, goat milk cheese, and goat milk handmade soap…. She even hopes to create a craft unit and a children’s storybook based on farm life.

“As a Christian I had grown up thinking that business is for those people who love money and not for those who want to serve the Lord,” Asha adds. “Seeing the corruption in business and politics in India, I did not believe that economy and wealth belonged to God. BDC helped me to think that economy of this world belongs to our God our maker and [that business too can be] an opportunity to be in the world, not of the world.”


Economic Expansion and Social Justice: Tooley and Novak weigh in March 28 2014

 On March 4, 2014, Forbes.com Op/Ed section published an address delivered by author, philosopher, and theologian Michael Novak at the Catholic University of America on January 14, on the first anniversary of the university’s School of Business and Economics.

Now there’s some controversial words in there, but whatever you think of Novak’s arguments of building businesses as a necessary bulwark against the leviathan of the state, there’s some incredibly important thoughts here, and its an important contribution to the ongoing and growing conversation about the role of Christians developing and utilizing small businesses and entrepreneurship in the fight against global poverty.

For example, Novak writes:

“There is a whole world of economic activity to be built. It is the role of entrepreneurs to bring to these vast possibilities down-to-earth imagination and practical experience in producing success. There are fortunes to be made in the poor regions of the world, whose worth can be used for ever more investment, donations to cultural institutions, and help for many different branches of civil society, including local groups.

Think what a great vocation it would be to place oneself in solidarity with the poor of the world by setting up networks of assistance to small business formations in this or that poor country or region, in order to help lift its peoples from unemployment and its resulting poverty. Such poor persons need small amounts of start-up money, technical and practical support, instruction in many bookkeeping or other business skills, and links to the wider world. What a great work a new generation of young Americans could produce, speeding up the move of the last billion human beings to break free from poverty.”

 President of the Institute on Religion & Democracy Mark Tooley weighed in on the blog Juicy Ecumenism  saying that:

 “Creating new businesses is a Christian moral imperative…. Only business can meaningfully alleviate poverty, fund charity, and sustain liberty. Why aren’t more Christians speaking of business and economic expansion as central to true social justice?”

And Christians are pursuing Christ-driven justice in this manner worldwide (and should more!) – starting bakeries and factories in the slums of India to employ women trapped in the sex trade, exporting goods and training disenfranchised women with solid business skills in East Africa. These are sustainable and holistically transformative solutions.

That said, human brokenness in business must be acknowledged just as much as brokenness of states. As much as, as Tooley and Novak argue, “business must stand as a bulwark against the leviathan of the state,” so a bulwark must also be erected against the leviathan of business and the yet fiercer leviathan of greed within the human heart. Free enterprise, rightly construed and executed in the manner spoken of by the authors, has enormous potential to break chains and lift individuals and community out of poverty, but the pursuit of wealth also has the potential to trample the weak and to be abused. Given the burden of history (particularly when we’re talking about Western economic interests in the developing world), perhaps Christians ought to be talking not only about increasing businesses and entrepreneurship, but also pursuing justice through checks and balances on freedom in supply chains, opting for fair trade (or beyond fair trade) and fair wage options, and redeeming businesses new and old.


Work as Worship March 21 2014

For those of you who like it short and sweet, here’s the breakdown: Work Matters.

In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church N.T. Wright writes:

“The point of the resurrection… is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die… What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it… What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom.”

Back during my days at Covenant College this was drilled into our heads over and over again. “Calling” was the term that was thrown around - this divided into our “Big C” calling (believing and following our Creator) and our “little c” callings (our relationships, activities, passions and, yes, our work).

The divide between the sacred and the secular breaks down when we view our vocation thru the lens of the kingdom.  (I wrote more about the holistic redemption narrative a few months ago in a blogpost here: https://worththefightingfor.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/holistic-redemption/)

Check out this video by RightNow Ministries: 

 

To pursue work that falls within our passions and is directed in a manner meant to build the kingdom and glorify our Maker is a solid, meaningful thing. That’s why it’s so cool to me when I see those who work towards providing others, particularly the oppressed or those who lack opportunity, with opportunities for meaningful work. Work can give dignity, power for the powerless, opportunity, joy, and the pride that comes with doing a job well. This can be truly transformative. If Christ-directed work can be a conduit for worship, then providing work for the impoverished or oppressed can be a work of worship in and of itself, perhaps even exponentially so.

Organizations like Freeset and Sari Bari that provide jobs for women coming out of sex trafficking, or the efforts of my own little team in India, working to start a café and bakery for the same purpose, have the potential to transform people and places both in physical circumstances and in hearts. When organizations like Work of Worth are able to import and sell products made by entrepreneurs across the globe – the capital of those profits can be used to grow those little companies, providing more jobs with fair wages and opportunities around the world. Work, worship, and justice, are quite often intertwined. 

 


Q&A with the Founder March 07 2014

            The author of this article recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Barry Morehead, the founder and visionary behind Work of Worth. As always, Barry was passionate and enthusiastic as he answered my questions, giving some valuable clarification to Work of Worth’s efforts and plans. See below:          

 

What do you mean when you talk about “Freeing the Oppressed?” Who are the oppressed?

 

“Almost half the world’s population, 2.5 billion people, live on less than $2 a day. And poverty, extreme poverty especially, is the root of many issues in our culture including human trafficking, [lack of proper] education, and the inability to eradicate preventable disease.

 

What we’re doing thru the businesses that we’re trying to start thru the Business Development Center is paying people a fair wage and treating them with dignity. With the jobs that we’re creating thru the Business Development Center, the entrepreneurs first of all have to agree to a set of principles. [Some] of those [are] that they will treat their employees with dignity and will not discriminate on the basis of sex or religion or caste or socioeconomic status, that they will treat people equally, and that they will pay them what their work is actually worth – hence Work of Worth.

 

Work of Worth, the organization that we’ve created here in America, originally was designed as an import and distribution company to support businesses, particularly manufacturing  businesses, that are being developed in the Business Development Center in India, in Africa, and other parts of the world - Businesses that are creating these jobs and treating their employees fairly. We created Work of Worth to support them with western commerce by importing useful items that would be in demand in the states and distributing those to individuals either thru retail venues or retail outlets like the web or distributing them wholesale via companies that would then sell them for us. All of this takes commerce [and] commercial dollars, and puts it in some of the worst places in the world where poverty is rampant and extreme, where we can pay laborers a fair wage and give them enough money to take care of their children.

 

            I’ve visited villages in India, which is where the whole concept got started, where single moms are trying to raise their families on less than $2 a day, and they don’t have enough money to clothe their children, much less educate them or provide medicine for them. Food is difficult for them as well. And oftentimes these moms are faced with extremely tough choices that we can’t imagine in our culture, like having to sell a child for survival. [Some of these mothers] will sell their daughter into sex slavery at a very young age just to get money to be able to feed their other children. And that is the root of Work of Worth is reversing and changing a lot… in areas of extreme poverty where people wouldn’t normally believe that they have hope.

 

Does that actually work? 

 

We’re providing that hope [in that] we’re providing jobs, and it’s working. I’ve been back to the same children 12 months after my first visit, and I saw the same moms and [now] they’ve got a sparkle in their eye and a smile on their face because they got a job, because someone chose to treat them with dignity. Sometimes they’ve got the kids with them at work if the employers allow that. And the kids are wearing uniforms, which means that they’re going to schools and getting an education. It works. We’ve seen it.

 

 

What’s the relationship between Work of Worth and the Business Development Center?

 

“The concept [for WoW] started with myself and other businessmen who had been to the Business Development Center and had met with [and trained] these aspiring entrepreneurs. [We] wanted to do something on an ongoing meaningful basis to support them thru western commerce and commercial dollars. So there is no legal connection between the business development center and Work of Worth… but we’re all fighting the same battle, so we’re all working together…

 

We will support the training that’s happening with BDC and I will continue to be involved as a visiting executive…. I hope to [keep connecting to business owners thru the BDC), not just the BDC in India but also the BDCs opening in other parts of the world like the one opening in Uganda.

 

Work of Worth’s primary aim is not to train the business owners, that’s the Business Development Center’s job. Work of Worth’s primary responsibility is to import and distribute items that come from these businesses that come out of, either the Business Development Center or other similar worldview organizations.

 

What else does WoW have coming up in the pipeline right now?

 

Something else that we’ve started and are moving toward… Work of Worth is more than fair wage, it’s more than fair trade and more than fair labor… Our goal is social change, social enterprise, philanthropy and worldview… We’re interested in a lot more than fair wage. We’re training employees how to treat their employees fairly. We’re providing them with benefits like retirement, which is unheard of in these nations.

 

We are actually now in the beginning stages… of looking at a certification so we can certify a product as a “Work of Worth.” We suspect that there’s eventually going to be two tracks, where some products are approved as a “work of worth” and some are certified as a “work of worth,” certification requiring much higher criteria…. We may also offer this to other organizations who are interested – Kanzi Crafts for example, or Freeset, if they’re interested in using our logo on their items as a certified “Work of Worth,” especially for those organizations that have helped us get started, we would gladly do that for them. Eventually we’re hoping that there would be some value in that certification and that organizations would seek us out to get [it].

 

I love this idea. For a long time I’ve thought: “there needs to be something more than just Fair Trade.” Fair Trade only goes so far, and we want to do more…. I can just see the stamp right now: “this item is a certified work of worth.”