At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

The Future of Entrepreneurship

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The issue of poverty can often seem overwhelming and too big to tackle. A group of young entrepreneurs is giving me reason to believe the future of poverty relief might be brighter, though.

During the last weekend in September, I accompanied a student group from Regent University, where I teach, to Orlando, Florida for the Fall Enactus Leadership Conference. Enactus is a unique worldwide student organization with 1,600 chapters in 39 countries. It is dedicated to using entrepreneurial creativity and the power of market forces to improve communities, effect social change, and address poverty. In addition, the chapters also compete against each other every year to determine which school has made the most significant difference with their projects.

The organization states on its website:

Enactus is a community of student, academic, and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better, more sustainable world.

The group states its purpose as “To enable progress through entrepreneurial action.” It derives its name from the following:

  • Entrepreneurial—having the perspective to see an opportunity and the talent to create value from that opportunity;
  • Action—the willingness to do something and the commitment to see it through even when the outcome is not guaranteed;
  • Us—a group of people who see themselves connected in some important way; individuals that are part of a greater whole.

This is good news. In a world full of poverty where about one billion people live on less than three dollars per day, we need creative solutions. To give you an idea of the good news coming out of Orlando, I want to profile a couple projects that have gained national and international attention over the last couple of years.

Belmont University

Belmont University is the Enactus 2012 world champion. Among its fourteen active projects is its flagship project, Spring Back Recycling (SBR). SBR is a non-profit organization that employs formerly homeless or incarcerated workers in recycling mattresses, and provides opportunities for sustainable employment and small business training. Belmont students developed the concept, business plan, supply chain, licensee structure and operations manual for the project. More than 15,000 mattresses have been recycled, and 250 tons of waste diverted from landfills to date.

In addition to receiving mattresses from individuals and a consortium of retailers covering five states, SBR is also currently in talks with the U.S. Navy to receive an additional 13,000 mattresses from two aircraft carriers for a pilot program this fall. The organization’s second licensee, Spring Back Colorado, opened in August, and the team is currently negotiating licensing opportunities in five other cities.

Flagler College

The Flagler Enactus team is the 2013 U.S. champion. Flagler worked on several projects this year including helping St. Augustine’s (FL) St. Francis House with Passport Pretzels, a hybrid job-training program aimed at homeless men and women that teaches culinary skills.

Another project is Soapy Tales, a company that develops, creates and sells all-natural soap. A third project is a partnership with St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility to create a cable certification program, providing the opportunity for youths to be certified in copper, telecommunications and fiber optic cabling. These new skill sets can help participants land a job that pays fifteen to fifty dollars an hour.

Enactus is not explicitly a Christian organization but its approach has attracted a number of Christian schools to start chapters such as Belmont University, Oakwood University, Samford University, Azusa Pacific University, Notre Dame, and Regent University, to name a few.

These schools, and many more like them, are creating real value and changing people’s lives for the better. The Enactus model is one way that we can solve some real problems, one person at a time.

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