“Faith and Business on the Razor’s Edge”: Some Post-Op Notes

During the past year I’ve had a distinct pleasure hanging out in Kenya working with Churches that work with businesspeople. Lately, the concept of integrating religious faith into business has been somewhat of a headline topic.

Yesterday, I had a piece run in the CRCNA’s Do Justice Blog, a publishing site (presumably) for members of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The site is maintained by sub organizations the Center for Public Dialogue and the Office of Social Justice. Here are a few notes to supplement the reading:

The piece kind-of dances around the always-entertaining experience of driving in Kenya. I’ve written about this in more detail previously on this blog.

One of the important paragraphs talks about the complexity imbedded in simply warming a piece of bread to a crisp:

There are over 400 components that make up a toaster. These components are all made out of a number of different materials: copper, iron, nickel, plastic, and a few others. Of course none of these materials are used in the toaster as they are found in nature. Iron, copper, and nickel all need to be smelted and plastic (usually) is made from oil. Keep in mind that a toaster, which remarkably costs only the equivalent of roughly an hour of work, is just one product. Most estimates claim that at any given time there are upwards of 10 billion products available in our economy.

Here is the full video of the embedded link. Watch for the full story of the toaster along with much much more:

The whole point of sharing the story about the complexity inherent in a simple toaster is to show how incredibly complex we have made our modern world. The seemingly odd and sort-of funny thing about this is that my piece was tagged in the category “simple living”. I think simple living is something we should all strive for, but we must recognize how extraordinarily complex even the simplest life is in our modern reality.

Admittedly the piece comes off as a little vague, but that’s entirely the point. The world is so complex that if you’re certain what is best to do, then you’re probably not in a position to make any sort of decision with significant impact. I’m reminded again of one of my favorite movie quotes, “Certainty, as it turns out, is a luxury for those on the sidelines…” I’ve written about the call of a Christian being specifically vague before, this oxymoronic phrase somehow is the best descriptor I’ve come across.

Finally, I’m a little surprised none of my economist (or soon to be economist) friends have recognized the reference in the title to the Harrod-Domar growth model. The analogy is a bit nerdy, so I’m really not overly surprised. I really expected at least one shout out.

One Day in Kenya

“Prediction is difficult”, Danish physicist Niels Bohr once quipped, “especially about the future.”

This quote teaches us a few things. (1) Nobel Prize winning physicists can, in fact, be funny, (2) exact science is not actually an exact science, and (3) prediction is a fools game. 

As I stand on the curb in front of a petrol station across from Ambuere Business Plaza on the main road leading into Kakamega, a bustling city in Western Kenya, I realize, I have no idea what the day is going to hold.

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Cautious Optimism

Harvard Business Review recently posted a summary of a new book which outlines the Seven Reasons Why Africa’s Time is Now. The book looks to be good and is a must read for anyone who is interested in the topic of global business, worldwide development, or, like a former professor of mine, just generally interested in stuff. Each of these seven points, listed below, are extremely valid and well informed. There is however always more to the story.

Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States once said, “Give me a one handed economist! All my economists say, ‘On the one hand… on the other…'” The purpose of this post is to provide the other hand to these seven points. To present the data in an alternative perspective. To broaden our gaze onto Africa’s horizon. My goal is not to discredit the optimism for the future but simply to raise some areas of caution to keep in mind. So, here are some notes and thoughts from a young development economist (not yet) on the work of a much anticipated new book and a recent HBR blog post, consider the following at what it is worth.

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SME Study

It occurred to me that I had mentioned my time at Hopeline and the SME (small and medium enterprise) study in recent blog writings but haven’t explained the details. Besides taking classes here in Ghana, our program also connects us, in pairs, with different organizations. We are to work with and serve this organization in hopes to learn about the organization and about Ghana by participating in daily activities. My placement is at Hopeline Institute. This organization provides business loans and training to entrepreneurs for the purpose of public sector development and empowerment. My assignment at Hopeline is in part for Hopeline and in part for Hopeline’s US partner organization, Partners Worldwide, as they lay the foundation for an organizational evaluation.

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