If this past week of hate and tragedy has taught us anything, it’s the need for Christianity to reach beyond church walls. I see a growing interest among Christian leaders feeling called to create social enterprises and solutions, with clear social missions that move beyond the walls of churches and classrooms and connect with the larger concerns of the communities they serve. This call to ministry at the intersection of faith and social entrepreneurship focuses on a triple bottom line: one that integrates social, environmental, and financial gains on behalf of the common good.
But creating social enterprises that work on behalf of others isn’t all that new. The church is one of Christianity’s first experiments in social enterprise for community benefit.
While Peter and his brother Andrew may have been the first among Jesus’ disciples to be called to work on behalf of others (Matthew 4:18-22), throughout the centuries followers of the Way of Jesus have participated in God’s justice and healing work in the world through social enterprises. And the church has been the catalyst or incubator for hospitals, private colleges and universities, civic organizations, social services, and other centers of care for centuries all around the world.
In fact, some of the greatest social reformers of our country have been leaders who have drawn from the deep wells of their wisdom traditions and led out of ethical frameworks, coupled with a moral imagination, to shape what’s possible.
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This renewed nexus is inspiring. One such entrepreneur, Derrick Braziel, finds hope in the ideas of those who are often overlooked. He quotes Ecclesiastes 9:4 as inspiration: “Anyone who is among the living has hope – even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!”
Braziel’s faith, combined with his passion for creativity and entrepreneurship, led him to co-found MORTAR, located in the complexity of Cincinnati’s urban boom. Cincinnati also has the highest income inequality of more than 61,000 communities nationwide. Urban development can move so quickly that small businesses can have a very tough time catching and keeping up.
The MORTAR team sees plenty of planning going into “renovating historic buildings and creating magnificent green spaces that look awesome in the background of social media selfies,” but not so much for the existing community. MORTAR builds on redevelopment success by focusing on those who are ignored and underserved, lack access to resources like education and funding, and need help reaching potential new customers. Calling them “non-traditional entrepreneurs,” the MORTAR team works to “harness their inherent talents to not just make a dollar, but to positively participate in the rise of Cincinnati.” It offers under-served, low-income entrepreneurs and businesses – adults and youth – skill-building curriculum like business management and fundraising while connecting them to networks and mentors. MORTAR’S alumni are an impressive array of start-ups from food and fashion to services and social enterprises.
If we want to create a more just and fair world, I believe Christian social entrepreneurship will be an important path forward in the entrepreneurial sector. Sustainable change requires more than well-meaning people with novel ideas. Therefore, we must also build the capacity of Christian leaders to develop organizations for good that integrate entrepreneurial skills with the best ethical frames from faith that address meaning and purpose, calling and accountability, love and justice, and environmental stewardship.
To that end, the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) has launched an initiative called DO GOOD X to spur essential development of Christian leaders’ organizational acumen, skills, and best practices to build viable social enterprises. FTE’s goal is to catalyze a diverse community of Christian social entrepreneurs to launch impact ventures that tackle the problems communities face.
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The “X” in DO GOOD X is a symbol for an accelerator — that intersection where ideas and execution meet. “X” is also the Greek letter “chi,” which is short for Christ. The program will focus on convening, connecting, and empowering Christian leaders and institutions — inclusive of a focus on women and people of color — who desire to work at the intersection of faith, innovation, and social enterprise to help bring about God’s peace and healing in the world.
I believe with the right support and skills, diverse Christian social entrepreneurs will be among the next wave of change agents. They will be the leaders who will help the Church become a more faithful partner in creating a more just and loving world.