Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing

Part two of two. See part one here.

Cleaning out my bookshelves, discarding and reorganizing, I came across Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing, co-authored by Chris Horst and Peter Greer of Hope International, a mission organization addressing poverty trough microfinance. I had already written about entrepreneurship, and wanted to find what I had missed. I observed that I had missed a lot! Human flourishing is the goal and purpose of entrepreneurship from their perspective, more than the creation of wealth. Entrepreneurship is a tool or strategy for that purpose.

In a chapter entitled The Flourishing of People and Places, Horst and Greer explain that “entrepreneurship occurs when people use their God-given skills and abilities to create and grow, organizations.” Whether through tables, telephones or airplanes, entrepreneurs serve others, solve problems and help humans flourish, they fulfill the creation mandate to exercise dominion so that the whole of creation can flourish, including humans.

Horst and Greer connect human flourishing to the biblical word shalom, the idea of “may it all be well,” that is whole, complete in relationship with God, ourselves and others. In the absence of entrepreneurship, people will look to other endeavors to fill the existential emptiness and bring superficial happiness or fulfillment. “Entrepreneurship creates the opportunities for people to experience what it means to be truly human.” A more complete version of human flourishing, things beyond personal gain, economic well-being that entrepreneurship provides, according to Horst and Greer.

Jon Mackey, founder of Whole Foods, challenges Milton Friedman’s famous notion that the only social role of business is to maximize investor profits. Rather, Mackey’s role as an entrepreneur is to provide satisfying employment for his workers, and high-quality food for customers. Cooperation between worker, store and customer, where each benefits, and mutual satisfaction and benefit, is the final “payoff” for the company, rather than stockholder profitability. Mackey found that this approach to business can be profitable as well – profit is not unimportant, but it becomes a means rather than the end.

Horst and Greer quote Dorothy Sayers as saying that work is “not a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.” Thus, work can be understood and experienced as the fulfillment of the human purpose to glorify God. This is reminiscent of the Westminster Catechism statement that “the chief end of man” is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

This led Sayers to conclude that work “should be thought of was a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself. And that man, made in God’s image should make things as God makes them, for the sake of doing well, a thing that is well worth doing.”

Horst and Greer point out that the first activity of God in Genesis 1 is to work. The first command God gives in the garden is to work; by tending the garden, the humans are to steward creation. Work is given as part of the gift of being made in God’s image to steward the gift of God’s creation. Horst and Greer suggest that this requires entrepreneurship.

Another example they give is that of the singer Bono who came to see business, particularly entrepreneurship, as a primary solution to poverty: “Free markets have enabled more people to escape poverty than any other economic system in history.” Research from the Brookings Institute and Yale University affirms that job creation is the central weapon in at the war on poverty, and the centerpiece of communities that flourish. Thus, “entrepreneurship has a central place in the flourishing of people and places.”

Furthermore, Horst and Greer contend that more than 50% of GDP in high-income countries is generated by small businesses who employ more than 60% of workers and account for 60-80% of all new jobs. They then reference Michael Novak making the case that the free market has one of the most significant roles in enhancing human flourishing. Economic freedom and entrepreneurship are necessary contexts for large-scale escape from poverty. “To combat poverty, countries must open their borders to trade, make the business climate conducive and welcoming to entrepreneurs. In developing countries, business provide an estimated 90% of all jobs.” Small businesses are the lifeblood of every economy. It’s where creativity and innovation happens according to Henry Kaestner, himself an entrepreneur who formed a global consulting and investment organization. “When passionate and driven individuals work hand in hand with corporations, good can be carried out on a large scale.”

“Create-sell-invest-give: this is the consistent cycle of any flourishing entrepreneur….Human flourishing is the heart and soul of entrepreneurship.” Through entrepreneurship, poor people are being freed from intergenerational poverty. In developing countries, micro-enterprises are being formed and developing. Horst and Greer write: “We are microfinance practitioners and have seen firsthand the power of unleashing entrepreneurship in the developing world.” When done with the love of Jesus, helping hardworking men and women start or expand a business breaks the cycles of physical and spiritual poverty. Small, simple entrepreneurship has been a profound tool in the economic and social recovery of Rwanda after a devastating and almost fatal civil war.

Horst and Greer conclude: “We believe in entrepreneurship….Human flourishing is not possible without the role of entrepreneurship….Entrepreneurship creates the opportunities for people to experience what it means to be truly human….Entrepreneurship is a means by which people and places can thrive.”

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