‘The disciple stands as an envoy or a receiver by which the kingdom of God is conveyed into every quarter of human affairs.’
So writes Dallas Willard in Hearing God (IVP USA). But what does it mean to stand as that envoy, through which the kingdom is brought into the world of business and social enterprise? Across the UK, Godpreneurs are seeking to do just this. Their mission is to blend business acumen with kingdom vision, using finely honed commercial skills to bring salt and light to the darkest places and to meet gaping social needs. Lucinda van der Hart speaks to some of them.
Giving first fruits
Liz Warom // templespa.com
‘My faith fashions my thinking; it’s who I am,’ says Liz Warom, managing director of skin-spa brand Temple Spa. Liz’s Christian faith and the business she launched with her husband Mark 15 years ago are intricately woven together. ‘It would be very hard to separate the two,’ she says.
The company’s brand philosophy, printed on the product packaging, begins: ‘Your body is a living temple…’ Its obvious source is 1 Corinthians 6:19, but it is subtle enough not to overwhelm those who are unfamiliar with the Bible.
The company gives away 10% of its profits to a number of charities, including two founded by Christians: Mercy Ministries UK and Safehaven Ministries (run by St Peter’s, Brighton). The tithe, of course, is another biblically rooted concept.
‘Giving back “first fruits” is something that we’ve woven into our business since day one and I believe it’s one of the major principles we stand by,’ Liz says. The company plans to increase the percentage it gives away over time. It doesn’t make commercial sense, but we run our business on two economies, one being profitable financial growth, of course – no one can employ people, create jobs, opportunities, manufacturing and export without profitable growth – but the other is more spiritual.’
Liz and Mark’s business decisions, several of which she describes as ‘pioneering’, are built on the foundation of more than 30 years in the beauty industry, many of which she spent working closely with The Body Shop’s Anita Roddick.
Liz says that the decision to launch a business or social enterprise has to be taken seriously. ‘You’ve got to know what you are doing…you’ve got to count the cost,’ she says, citing Luke 14:31.
She concludes: ‘It’s always going to cost you more than you planned. It will take you twice as long and sales will be half what you have projected. But that shouldn’t stop you going ahead and doing it if you feel that it’s right.
Risk is relative
Claudine Reid MBE // pjsgroup.co.uk
Fourteen years ago, former Cabinet Office social enterprise ambassador Claudine Reid MBE had a sense that she and her husband Peter should invest in a disused warehouse in Croydon, Surrey. Their kingdom vision was to convert it into a multifunctional community space to benefit local people.
But friends and family expressed concern at their new venture. ‘People said: “Oh my goodness…that’s really risky!”’ Claudine says. ‘But someone else only sees a decision as risky because they’ve never walked through that procedure before…’
After significant building work and two years without government funding, the Reids had created a community facility incorporating a multifunctional hall, music studios, a children’s day nursery and a suite of offices. PJ’s Community Service was born.
Claudine now sits on the national panel for social enterprise and the Reids are in the process of putting that same building up for sale. The next step will be to expand their vision internationally, helping to launch other income-generating training organisations within marginalised communities.
The biggest challenge Claudine faces as a Christian social entrepreneur is in the distinction between work and ministry: ‘I really do see my work as my ministry. Sometimes the challenge is explaining that to people. For me, ministry isn’t about what happens on Sunday; it’s about what I do Monday to Saturday.’
Addressing poverty through commercial business
Grant Smith // handinhandgroup.co.uk
In a similar way, Grant Smith realised during the early years of his career that he wanted to use his time and entrepreneurial nature for the kingdom. He subsequently cut back his work in quantity surveying, aware that he could earn enough in three days a week to feed his family and pay the mortgage.
This enabled Grant to pursue the vision God was imparting to him and 15 years ago he founded Hand in Hand, a charity that supports African churches in meeting the practical needs of their poor communities. ‘But then I began to think: what happens next? Do these kids move on, or do they end up back in the slum, but with an education? And so we began to think: can we create sustainable jobs that are properly paid, training and apprenticeships?’ he explains.
This prompted Grant to found several businesses in Kenya. The Hand in Hand Group comprises four construction companies and a farm. The companies are commercial enterprises that seek to make a profit, so no donor money is used. Grant is committed to paying people fairly and creating apprenticeships and training. ‘We want to address poverty, but through a business rather than a charitable route,’ he explains.
‘In the West I have been extremely blessed and I have a responsibility to share the blessing and the easy life I’ve had with people who’ve had it much tougher,’ Grant says.
Prayer plays a key role in his approach. ‘We have a constant battle against corruption and cash flow. These are normal business challenges. We pray through them, for God to give us wisdom and show us how to respond.’
Grant has seen prayers answered, particularly in terms of investors who have come forward to back the business: ‘God has brought people into our path…We’re looking at the moment with an investor at putting £20m into building an office development in Nairobi. If you had said that to me five years ago, I would have laughed in your face.’
A foundation of prayer
Duncan Heppell // kidslox.com
At the start of this year, Duncan Heppell, who formerly worked at Lloyd’s of London, co-launched his first start-up. Prayer has been an essential part of the process for him. ‘God has given me peace and assurance that when I bring my concerns to him he can bring things to bear on the situation at the right time,’ he says. ‘You can call faith a risk, but it’s not: it’s an assurance. But it takes courage to put that into practice.’
With the aim of helping parents and carers of children and young people regulate content and monitor their children’s mobile phone use, Duncan helped launch Kidslox, a mobile phone app and website through which a parent can monitor and, if desired, limit a child’s phone usage. Phones can even be remotely programmed to switch off at certain times using the app.
Duncan’s involvement with the project was inspired by his own parenting experiences. He has two children, one of whom is a teenager. ‘When you can now spend so much time living in a virtual world that’s outside of the one you live face to face with your friends or family, it can be a very dangerous thing,’ he says. ‘My faith has inspired me to try to be as open as possible with my children, to help them not go down channels that are difficult to come back from.
‘This tool…solves a problem that is only going to get more difficult.’
From hedge funds to honey
After a dramatic conversion to Christianity, former hedge fund manager Martin Zuch changed career direction, launching two banana farm projects in the African bush. Martin went on to found Give Hope International, a charity that has built primary schools in Zambia and Ethiopia, as well as setting up a child sponsorship programme. His latest project enables communities in Zambia, Congo and Malawi to support themselves through a beekeeping enterprise. But it hasn’t always been easy.
Your first project, banana farming, actually failed from a financial perspective. How did you reconcile that with the sense that God was calling you to turn your hand to those projects?
I experienced some serious difficulties in my life around that time; in my family as well as in my finances. It was not an easy time. Prior to having invested into the farms, I was a successful city worker. I had a lot of money. I was confident and prideful that I could do anything. Having had these major failures, I was brought to my knees. It gave me the opportunity to know God better and rely on him…I see it very much as being refined in the fire. That refining is still going on.
Tell us about your latest project…
I found a business partner who is a Methodist missionary in Zambia. He had started a beekeeping operation but needed funding for it…I’m a businessman, so this isn’t just a social enterprise; I saw the opportunity to make money. But it has taken longer to do that than initially expected. We are in year four and we haven’t made any money yet. That’s because we put all the money back into building the beehives. We build 200 to 300 hives a day, five days a week. Any profit is made through reinvesting it in the business.
I’m now setting up a company in the UK called Mama Buci, which means ‘mother honey’. I’ll be marketing the honey in Europe. We’re certified organic and won a Great Taste award in the UK last year… Now we’re in process of getting our Fairtrade certificate.
You’ve talked about the way your Christian beliefs have shaped the ‘macro’ of your career direction. How does your faith affect the micro: your day-to-day business decisions?
It impacts everything. I pray about everything. I’m also proactive in doing things about it. I write all my prayers down…and I look for a peace. I follow HTB’s Bible in One Year reading programme; I hear many of my answers through that. If there are three doors before me, I’ll open them all and see which one is the way…it’s a bit messy, but it works.
Have you seen answers to some of those prayers?
We now have 40,000 beehives in the bush and we are sustaining 6,500 families. I could never have done that with two commercial farms…this is a different level. So I have seen answers to prayer, but not how we always expect them. There are also unanswered prayers.
What advice would you give a Christian looking to move into social enterprise?
Get in touch with the Transformational Business Network. You can see what opportunities are available, go abroad and visit projects, and pray into it.
If I had done that at the beginning I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes. But in a way I had to make those mistakes because otherwise the Lord couldn’t have taken me on the journey.
We asked the Godpreneurs...
Does your faith make you more of a risk-taker in the business world?
‘The major element in that is personality. Some of us are more entrepreneurial and risk-taking in the way we go about our business, others are more conservative… As long as you are doing everything with integrity, with the gifts God has given and using those to the maximum, then everything is over to him. If a particular enterprise doesn’t work, there’s no sense of personal failure because you have a sense of confidence that your future and identity is in him.’
Mark McAllister, CEO, PA Resources
‘I am a risk-taker. I don’t know if this is because of the way God has made me, or because I trust God. We are liable for £20m or £30m of investment monies – which we would owe if we went bankrupt – and I can sleep at night. That is a gift God has given me.’
Grant Smith, CEO, Hand in Hand Group
'It does make me more of a risk-taker, but I’ve taken some bad risks. Each time something has gone wrong the Lord has sustained me with something else.'
Martin Zuch, founder, Give Hope International and Mama Buci
'No, I wouldn’t say 'I take more risks than the average person…We’ll always do our research. Risk is relative to the information and support network that you have.'
Claudine Reid, director, PJ’s Community Service