Jeff Haanen

Category

Economy

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EconomyNonprofitWork

The “Culture Hole” in Our Annual Giving

 

So many charities, so many choices. This time of year, year-end fundraising appeals pour into our mailboxes. How are we to decide between the many worthy nonprofit causes that are asking for financial support?

If you’re anything like Kelly (my wife) and me, you have to make this choice carefully. We’ve set aside a certain amount each year in our charitable giving budget, and we want our donor dollars to make an impact.

For us, there are two giving categories that won’t budge anytime soon: the local church and the poor. We believe we have both a duty and a joyful opportunity to support our local church (Littleton Christian Church) as it proclaims the gospel to our community and nonprofits like HOPE International that are serving the poor and marginalized throughout the world. I believe these two categories should be universal priorities for Christians.

But I think many Christians have often overlooked a third category for charitable giving: culture. Actually, I believe the culture category is necessary considering the redemptive scope of the resurrection and what it means to be a follower of Christ in this world. Education, the arts, scientific research, leadership development, even politics (Did I really just write that?). The broader arena in which we work and live needs generous donor support – and without generous culture patrons, our entire civilization is negatively affected. Not a small claim to defend!

Here are three reasons why I think we all need to add “culture” to our annual giving priorities:

  1. Not all good activities our society needs are profitable, and thus, they need charitable support.

Imagine if you had to buy a $20 ticket to go to church each Sunday. Would you be incensed? What if you grew up in a community with no symphony, or you never visited an art museum or arboretum as a kid? Do you feel like other children should have that experience today – even if they can’t pay for it?

We live in the age of philanthrocapitalism – a view that says philanthropists ought to act like angel investors, and nonprofits should cease with this fundraising nonsense and act more like businesses.

Many nonprofits should indeed develop earned revenue streams (book sales, event ticket sales, or fee for service). And many organizations need to vastly improve reporting and metrics. But some valuable human endeavors are simply not profitable. And never will be.

Two examples:

(A) Education. It’s not profitable. It just isn’t. When a Ph.D. student spends five years studying medieval Hebrew manuscripts, or a kid learns a multiplication table for the first time in second grade, there’s no way these activities can – or should – be profitable. Experiments in for-profit higher education, like the University of Phoenix, haven’t gone well. The point is that education is good… and costly. And it will perpetually require donor and/or government support to impact lives and shape an educated citizenry, which our businesses, churches, hospitals and, yes, schools, depend on.

(B) Science. Building the large hadron collider, a massive particle accelerator, is costly. Really costly – to the tune of about $13.25 billion. Now, why on earth would anybody fund this? Because this activity could push all of humanity forward through a new scientific breakthrough. It’s not profitable – but it is valuable. Cancer research, a children’s hospital, the chemistry department at your local university – each need donor support.

I fully understand the need for sustainability in the nonprofit world. Trust me: as the executive director of a nonprofit, I understand this. We actively work on minimizing risk and diversifying our income streams.  But it’s also worth remembering that there are incredibly valuable human endeavors that require generosity and can only flourish with the support of people who think private schools and preserving primate habitats – “culture” – are worth donor support.

  1. Christianity leads us to invest in a broad scope of redemption – and a broad commitment to human flourishing.

Colossians 1:19-20 says, For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” All things, many theologians have pointed out, means the individual soul but also neighborhoods, cities, and entire areas of human endeavor, like art, law, manufacturing, agriculture, retail, and investing.

Or take a less-quoted example: Zephaniah 3. When God judges Israel for her sin, he says, “Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.” God is judging not just individuals, but cultural norms that had become unjust. He speaks to government leaders, the media (ancient prophets functioned in many ways like the media of today), and corrupt religious leaders.

God’s law, given through Moses at Sinai, lays down a vision for a just society, not the private salvation of individuals nor isolated acts of charity. As soon as he tells people to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God,” he follows up by mentioning the integrity (or lack thereof) of their business practices (Micah 6:8-11).

God cares about all of his creation, from neurotransmitters to nuclear energy. And because of human sin, each area of the world is distorted due to sin. Syria is crumbling, spiritual emptiness is rampant, caustic partisan division is paralyzing Washington, and refugees are suffering.

Anthony Bradley, a theologian at The King’s College, defines human flourishing as “a holistic concern for the spiritual, moral, physical, economic, material, political, psychological and social context necessary for human beings to live according to their design.” Does our giving reflect this broad view of human flourishing?

We can’t change all that has gone wrong, not give to every cause. But we can do something. Why not pick an area of culture – like spurring on the generosity movement, contributing to the formation of a potential leader, or even giving to a bunch of scholars thinking about culture – and give generously? 

  1. The poor need us to give to “culture.”

Last week I was talking with my friend David, who, through his career, has become personal friends with many high ranking government officials in Africa. One day, he took an emerging leader from the Congo (a lawyer by trade) to visit one of the world’s biggest private equity funds (hundreds of billions in assets). The fund manager said, “We’re interested in investing significantly in the Congo. But we can’t yet. Because of the scope of the investment, we need to see political stability for at least 10 years before we invest.”

The young leader went away encouraged – knowing that this investment could create thousands of jobs for his countrymen – yet knowing he needed to work on building networks of moral integrity in the upper echelon of leadership in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help stabilize a county that’s been torn by civil war.

The point has been well made by documentaries like Poverty, Inc. or books such as Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing that entrepreneurship and business does more to alleviate systemic poverty than charity ever will. But that’s not to say that charity isn’t necessary. On the contrary, what we most need is a certain kind of moral fiber among business leaders that turns wealth creation into societal benefit. Earning more money can mean the chance to buy more whisky and prostitutes, or it can mean the chance to invest in your kid’s education. The formation of ethical leaders, especially in business and government, is critical to poverty alleviation. (Gary Haugen has also made the case that the rule of law and preventing violence from sweeping through countries is also critical to development work.)

In summary, if we care about the poor, we can’t just give to the next natural disaster or emergency fundraising appeal we get in the mail. We need to build up institutions and the people who lead them because it leads to jobs, stability, and cultures of virtue that can put poverty to rest for good.

The Most Generous Country in the World  

Americans are the most generous people in the world. We give away over $1 billion dollars a day. We give away $373 billion a year – and 73 percent of that is from individuals like you and me. (Though we give the most by total contributions, Australia and New Zealand edge us by a greater percent of people who give to charity each year.)

And people of religious faith are the most generous of all Americans. It’s controversial, but true. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute reports that the average annual giving among the religious is $2,210 per year, whereas it is $642 among secular Americans. Christians even give to secular causes more generously than secular people.

Each year, Kelly and I strive to give more generously for the core reason that God has first given generously to us.

It’s makes me excited to give this year to the church, to the poor – and to the cultural endeavors that God so loves (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19).

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EconomyWork

The Missing Piece of Colorado’s Pension Crisis: Rethinking Retirement on Labor Day

 

Labor Day, the federal holiday dedicated to honoring the dignity of work, is a fitting time to take a fresh look at Colorado’s pension problems and offer a new perspective.

This June, news outlets were in an uproar when Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) CEO Gregory Smith praised a paltry 1.5 percent return on 2015 investments as “good” news. With 500,000 Coloradans depending on PERA for their retirement, the $28 billion gap between assets and what is promised to retirees has hard-working men and women simmering.

The fear and frustration is understandable. But to face this challenge, we need more than clever accounting tactics or scapegoating nervous fund managers. We need a better story about ageing, retirement, and the purpose of our work.

Three simple truths can help.

1. We’re not getting any younger, but we are living longer. The Denver Office on Aging forecasts that by 2035 the number of Coloradans older than 60 will swell from one-in-six today to one-in-four. Actually, the entire developed world is aging – and living longer, too. In 1900, most didn’t live past 50. Today, American life expectancy is 78. For the first time in world history, Americans who retire at 65 must think about how they will spend 10-20 years of leisure time.

2. The idea of retiring at age 65 needs retiring. In the late 1800s, Otto Von Bismark established a retirement age of 70 for disabled German workers – even though life expectancy was only 47. During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt feared that unemployment among youth could create conditions like those under Hitler and Mussolini. So his administration offered pensions to older workers to incent retirement and open jobs for younger workers. The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 and set the retirement age at 65 (when life expectancy was still only 63).

You can see the problem. Today we encourage productive, able, bright citizens in their 60s to stop working and start collecting a pension. This is misaligned with a Boomer generation that’s often more interested in meaningful contribution than sipping piña coladas on a cruise ship – and expensive.

3. We should honor the contributions of public employees at any age. To solve the pension crises, we need to decide between two stories about our work.

One story says work is about toiling for 35-plus years until retirement, when you take it easy, play golf and enjoy long trips to Arizona. After all those disagreeable years of labor, you deserve a vacation—for two decades.

The other story is that work is about creative service and making a satisfying contribution to our world. In the words of English writer Dorothy Sayers, “Work should be the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction.”

Gary VanderArk is a not-so-retired physician living in south Denver. In his late 70s, he continues to teach medical students, serve on nearly a dozen nonprofit boards, and bike 20 miles a day. You’d think the founder of Doctors Care, a nonprofit that has helped thousands of Colorado’s medically underserved, might finally hang it up and retire. When I asked him why, he said with a broad grin, “I believe it’s more blessed to give than to receive. I’m enjoying myself too much to stop.”

What if we stopped encouraging retirement in our 60s, and began to publicly praise the contributions of snow plow drivers, police officers, and educators who serve with excellence well into their 70s, as some do?

It would mean more men and women might “long enjoy the work of their hands,” as the Hebrew prophet Isaiah once said. The desirable side effect is people pay into PERA for longer and draw fewer benefits, thus helping resolve Colorado PERA’s funding crisis.

We could start this Labor Day by finding a public employee at a backyard cookout and thanking her for serving.

Photo Credit: Retire

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EconomyFaith and Work MovementWork

The Top 5 Struggles of Christian Business Leaders

Behind the veneer of confidence, bold risk-taking, and decisive leadership, all of us in positions of influence struggle – especially CEOs.  Considering these challenges tend to be perennial challenges for Christian business leaders, what experiences and/or resources can pastors, para-church leaders, and other business leaders provide for the executives in their network? What still needs to be done in the faith and work movement to serve leaders in this area?

Recently I grabbed the phone and called my friend Greg Leith, the CEO of Convene, a group that serves other Christian CEOs, to ask his opinion on the topic:

“Greg,” I said, “Based on your experience serving Christian CEOs around the country, what do you believe are the top areas that Christian CEOs struggle with?” 

“I’ll tell you,” Greg said, in a matter-of-fact tone. Turns out, they had recently just polled hundreds of CEOs connected to Convene about the tension points they feel on a daily basis.

“The first one is universal and common among everyone we polled,” he said. The #1 challenge facing Christians CEOs is:

1. Loneliness in leadership. 

If there’s any experience common to all executives, it’s loneliness. In whom do you confide when all complaints go up the chain of command, and not down? When you’re expected to make the decision, set the example, and lead the way? When revenue is down and you sense being in over your head?

It’s tough to share these challenges with other people at church, many of whom can’t identify with the responsibility of leading large staff teams or deciding on major budget issues. Even spouses can sometimes be hard to confide in for wisdom on actual business decisions.

If there’s any one place the Church can start in serving executives, it’s in providing a safe place for relationship among decision-makers.

2. Complexity in a rapidly changing, information-saturated world. 

Opportunities come and go at the speed of the 24/7 news cycle. Big data (and little data) pour into our pockets through iPhones. No information is inaccessible, yet almost all information is incomprehensible without a larger story or framework into which it fits. Filtering the wheat from the chaff is an ever-present challenge in the Information Age.

The truly scarce commodity in today’s business culture is not knowledge, accurate metrics or access to markets, but wisdom.

3. New technology.

Only a decade ago, CRM software or mass communication tools were so expensive only the biggest corporations could afford them. Now every start-up has free access to high quality email communication tools (like MailChimp), event registration (like Eventbrite), or shared calendaring or data storage (like Gmail).

This is great. But new technologies just keep coming. From manufacturing improvements to new software programs, companies are born each day that aspire to be the next unicorn (start-up valued at over $1 billion), offering the tool that will ensure business success for their customers.

So which ones are necessary, and which are simply noise? Who can help here?

4. Balance between profit, people, excellence and God.

Greg shared that this challenges is such an issue among executives that they formed their last national conference around the subject. We pretend like answers for Christian business owners are easier to come by than is really the case. In all honestly, questions abound:

  • Should we return more profit to our shareholders, or raise the wages of our employees?
  • Should we spend more on manufacturing in efforts to build a higher quality product, or will the market bear a similar price using less expensive materials?
  • Should I extend grace to my manager who just yelled at his employees – or fire him?
  • Should I spend time praying or hustling to land the next deal?

To say that the purpose of business is to serve the needs of the world is easy; to make actual decisions on what needs get prioritized often is not.

5. Integrating Christian faith with day-to-day business practices. 

“So many don’t have a clue as to how to integrate their faith into daily business practices.” Greg shared that so many of his CEOs are wonderful men and women who desire to bring God into their business, but often don’t know where to start. They lack, according to Leith, a theology for their actual work life. What’s really lacking are resources that are accessible (“They’re not going to read a tome by Tim Keller”) and directly applicable to what Christian faith says to day-to-day decisions on hiring, firing, profit margins, strategic planning, supply chains, prices, marketing or HR policy.

To this end, Leith and his team are creating more short video resources on topics like “theology for hiring” for busy business leaders eager to learn, but without the luxury of extensive leisure time for academic study.

Moving forward, I wonder what kind of experiences, resources, and communities are needed to address this growing need among the influential, yet often lonely, business leader.

A version of this post first appeared on the Green Room blog. Image credit. 

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EconomyWork

Banking Alone

 

Recently I received an urgent plea from Mike, a young investment banker in New York.

Mike had just graduated with his BA in financial economics from Columbia University. Having read my review of Kevin Roose’s Young Money, he knew that investment banking meant 100 hour work weeks, acidic professional environments, and often working for the kinds of banks that Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone in 2009 called, “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Mike knew he needed to prepare spiritually before jumping into a position even as a junior analyst. Before he started his job, he wrote me in an email, “I’m taking advantage of this in-between phase to search for ways to sustain some semblance of a devotional rhythm once my time becomes exceptionally scarce in the near future.”

Mike then confessed the reason for reaching out to me. With utter humility, he wrote, “I’ve been on the hunt for someone, anyone, whether a notable figure or otherwise, who is a force in their craft and who lives a purposeful life of working to usher in the fullness of God’s kingdom in the financial capital of the world so that I can emulate their practices.” Mike was searching for a guide, whether in history or alive today, who could help him navigate through the treacherous waters of a soul-suffocating industry — and leverage capital markets as a force for good.

But after searching for books on Christianity and investment banking, he came up empty- handed. “Nearly all of my own personal discipleship has come from books,” Mike confessed. “I just haven’t had many great leaders in my life (until recently)—so I was tempted to think that I’d find someone who has written something. My approach hasn’t worked.”

After I read that line, my heart sank.

Here Mike had the foresight to see that work isn’t morally neutral, and that working in his industry will present both deep temptations as well as opportunities. And so he searched for mentors who could guide him. But he found none.

He felt alone.

Mike then concluded by saying, “The last line in your review says ‘perhaps it’s time for more Christians to head straight into finance,’ which I obviously agree with. But where will industry relevant discipleship come from when we get there? If you have any resources for me, I would hugely appreciate them.”

After I read this email from Mike this past fall, I felt a resolute conviction to finish building the 5280 Fellowship.

Mike was humble and wise enough to reach out for wisdom on how live out his faith in his work — but he also was isolated from those who could speak truth into his profession. Depending on that path he takes moving forward, he could either leverage billions of dollars of capital to fuel healthy businesses and bless communities around the world — or end up a disillusioned, exhausted, depressed spreadsheet jockey who measures his personal value as a human being in dollar figures. The decisions he makes about his work life will affect him forever. 

The 5280 Fellowship won’t be a silver bullet for all our working woes. But I think it can provide young professionals like Mike a broader theology that touches even investment banking; a community of discernment focused on morally thorny professional issues; a network of like-minded friends working in diverse sectors across the city; practical way to engage the hard issues of our city; and a disposition to listen to God’s voice in the midst of trials.

Mike is taking a noble path. He’s chosen neither retreat (condemning a “godless, money-obsessed” industry), nor accommodation (adopting the prevailing secular values of his profession). He’s headed straight into the darknesses as a bearer of light (Matt. 5:14). After I read his email, I couldn’t help but admire his courage.

I think it’s time we joined him and started journeying this path together.

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ArtCraftsmanship & Manual LaborCultureEconomyEducationFinanceMediaNonprofitPoliticsScienceTechnologyTheologyWorkWorld

Announcement: Launch of the 5280 Fellowship

Today is a big day.

Today my colleagues and I at Denver Institute for Faith & Work, in partnership with Gordon College, announce the launch of the 5280 Fellowship, a 9 month experience for emerging leaders beginning in the fall of 2016.

After years of planning, design and forging partnerships, each element of the program has fallen into place. And now what we are now offering is, I believe, one of the best faith-based fellowship programs in the US, and perhaps Denver’s premiere leadership experience for young professionals.

I know those are big claims. But I believe the 5280 Fellowship has the potential to deeply impact Denver for generations to come. And I’m not alone.

Some of Denver’s finest pastors – like Robert Gelinas (Colorado Community Church), Brad Strait (Cherry Creek Presbyterian), Rob Brendle (Denver United), Brian Brown (Park Church) and Hunter Beaumont (Fellowship Denver) – believe the Fellowship can be a life-changing experience for young professionals who want to deeply engage themes of calling, work, and culture.

Young professionals like Steven Strott (Cool Planet Energy Systems) and Amy Wofford (The Commons at Champa) see the value of connecting to a community of faithful leaders in Denver and articulate how important work is to the flourishing of a city.

And Dr. Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College who has deeply studied the world’s most effective leadership program, the White House Fellowship, believes this program, which has been modeled largely on his research, will give young professionals:

  • “deep relationships that span the city,”
  • a vision for how “the gospel provides a kind of connective tissue, helping us to see how does science and technology relate to the arts and entertainment,”
  • and a “catalyst in your career for the prospering not only of the wider culture, but also your life.”

Needless to say, if you’re asking big questions about the role of Christians in culture; if you’re interested in the relevance of the gospel to all of life; if you’re wondering about your own calling; and if you’re up for a challenge that could catalyze your career — then I encourage you to learn more at an upcoming info session.

Some of you may also be interested why we built the program as we did. On this blog, over the next several weeks, I’d like to peel back the veil on the principles underlying the Fellowship and why we built the program as we did. Blog posts will cover topics like:

  • Why Some Doctors Read the History of Opera: Leadership and Liberal Arts Thinking
  • EQ: Why Being a Good Conversationalist Might Be More Important Than an MBA
  • Why Nothing Before Age 20 Matters (And Why Your 20s-40s are the Most Critical to Career Success)
  • Calling: Learning to Listen to the Caller
  • Spelunking, Cave Formations and Culture Change
  • Our Common Longing: Meaningful Work
  • The Church in the World: Reformation, not Revolution
  • The Future of Higher Education: Friendships and the Information Deluge
  • The Golden Web: Mentors, Networks, and the Hidden Leadership Curriculum
  • Mission: Larger Than A Two Week Trip Overseas
  • Scattered: Being the Church Monday-Saturday
  • Significant Work: Developing a Taste for Tackling Big Problems

The launch of any new educational experience is really just the beginning of a conversation. This is a conversation on what it means to be fully human in this time and this place. I’d like to take the chance to invite you into this community.

I’d love to hear any and all feedback as the conversation grows. I hope you’ll consider joining me on this adventure into our own souls, the life of our city, and the heart of God.

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomy

Consumerism: What Do People Really Want?

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Consumerism Gone Wild. It was first published on patheos.com. 

Perhaps the best response to wealth disparity in America today can be summarized in two words: Karla Nugent.

Karla NugentKarla is the Chief Business Development Officer at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting in Denver. In 2014, she won the Denver Business Journal’s 2014 Corporate Citizen of the year award. Why? Denver’s economy is booming, and as the economy has required more skilled laborers, Weifield has hired more electricians. In the building boom, Karla saw a chance to serve.

Behind Karla’s leadership, Weifield opened up a philanthropic arm that donates to four communities: women & children, head of household, military and “less fortunate.” But they also brought the needs of the community right into their company. She created an apprentice program in partnership with Denver Rescue Mission, Stout Street, and Peer One – local nonprofits that work with the homeless, formerly incarcerated and other at-risk communities.

Weifield hires people coming out of homeless or other at-risk situations to work in a pre-fabrication process. If new trainees can complete the process, Weifield will pay for 100% of their education to become fully certified electricians. Thus far, 43 out of 45 apprentices have made it through the program.  Many have gone from homelessness to making an average of $50,000/yr.

After an in-house graduation ceremony for new electricians, a mother approached Karla in tears and said, “Everybody had given up on my son. But you believed in him. You gave him a new life. Thank you.

Fury or Faithfulness?

Debates of wealth disparity in modern American life can generate a lot of fury.

There’s fury over the 1 percenters. How can CEOs make so much money while the wages of lower and middle class Americans stagnate? Isn’t capital bound to accumulate in the 21st century – unless we levy steep taxes on the wealthy?

There’s fury over plans to redistribute wealth. Haven’t government schemes to redistribute wealth trapped people in the welfare system – and been even less effective when given as aid to developing nations? Who is the government play Robin Hood – stealing from the rich and giving to the poor? Doesn’t it do more harm than good?

There’s fury over wasteful consumption. How can we pay so much for new houses, cars, cable TV plans, and trips to Cancun — while racking up ever more debt? Doesn’t our uncontrolled spending ignore the plight of the poor farmer in Nicaragua or the working single mother in Detroit, just looking for a chance to “make it?”

Much of this fury is understandable. I’ve felt it too. But is there a better way to heal the growing economic divide?

After observing people like Karla, I’ve decided to ask a different question: what do my low-income brothers and sisters really want? When we actually ask the poor what they really need, the answer is resoundingly clear: We want a good job.” 

Jim Clifton, the president of Gallup, says in The Coming Jobs War: “Of the 7 billion people in the world, there are 5 billion adults aged 15 and older. Of these 5 billion, 3 billion tell Gallup they desire a full-time job. Only 1.3 billion actually have a good job” (Gallup defines a good job as one with 30+ hours of work a week with a consistent paycheck from an employer.) Which means that 1.7 billion people are just looking for a good job to support their families. 

When it comes to wealth disparity, the biblical testimony clearly has a central role for generosity (Mk. 12:41-44, Js 1.5, Matt. 5: 45, 7:11; Eph. 5:1, 1 Tim 6:6). God himself is generous. He gives freely to us, and we are to imitate his generosity with our time, skills and financial capital.

But the Bible also places an emphasis on allowing the poor the dignity of working to provide for their own needs. 

Take the Old Testament practice of gleaning (Lev. 19:9-10). First, land owners were to leave the margins of their field unharvested. Second, they were not to pick up whatever fell to the ground. And third, they were to harvest their fields only once. Why? To allow the poor and resident aliens (immigrants) the chance to provide for their families through working the field and collecting enough food to support themselves.

It is not only through charity, but through work, that God had always intended to heal the inequalities of society and provide for the needs of the world.

So what would it look like to do this in modern American life? Let me suggest three ideas:

1. Create space for both generosity and gleaning in your company. Give generously of your profits. All mature Christian business owners I know do this. But also consider a program like Weifield Group’s apprentice program – whereby you reserve a portion of total new hires for the difficult-to-employ. My friend Wes Gardner also does this at Prime Trailer leasing – to the benefit of both the new employees and existing employees, who are energized by a renewed social mission of their company.

2. Teach, trust, give time. This the mantra of Julius Walls, former CEO of Greyston Bakery. Greyston provides the fudge brownies for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and also practices “open hiring.” Applying the concept of the biblical jubilee, Walls’ employees can be hired no matter their background. How can this work to hire ex-cons and former alcoholics? Teach, trust, give time. Teach them to do the job well; trust that they can do it; and give them time. Trust is key. Walls found that he was often the first person to have ever really trusted them. And the results were transformative.

3. Think big. John Coors was born wealthy. Heir to the Coors beer fortune, John has often felt a deep obligation to care for the poor, widow, orphan and foreigner (he has 10 kids , 6 adopted.) After seeing many donation-based schemes to help Africa’s poor collapse, he created 1001 Voices, a private equity fund in South Africa investing in high growth potential businesses in South Africa. Their first investment was in RedSun, a South-African raising processing business. It’s expected to create 3,700 jobs in 18 months, and provide workers with an average salary of $4,916/yr, in a municipality where the average household income per year is $2,625.

I can understand all the fury around modern wealth disparities. But instead of stirring up more online ruckus and partisan blame, let’s ask a different question. What would it look like to follow Karla’s lead and give to others the same gift God has given to us: the gift of work?

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EconomyWorld

Obsessed With Work – or Just Bored?: Bringing the Conversation About Work Across Acoma Street

 

It’s well past 1pm. Across Acoma Street, I see a woman in her early 20s, baggy sweat pants and cigarette hanging out her mouth, tossing an empty Mountain Dew bottle in a dumpster that’s been parked in her driveway for months. She squints at the sun, as if it’s an unwelcome guest disturbing her slumber.

Next door is a man, mid forties, sitting on his porch. Can of Coors Light in hand, he chats with his cat, as if expecting to hear a punch line to a joke. A broken beer bottle shimmers on his sidewalk.

Of course, being the upper white middle class office dweller that I am, I type emails furiously at my computer, staring at them both, wondering why they aren’t working. But maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked.

Some argue that our culture is obsessed with workBut is that really true?

To be fair, yes, it’s true for a narrow slice of the population. The top 10% define themselves – find their deepest worth and value – by their achievement. David Brooks describes them well. They’re often raised by “Uber moms” who give their kids Mandarin lessons at age 4, are playing Bach symphonies by 6, and refuse to eat anything other than Whole Foods veggie booty by age 8. These kids, says Brooks, “turn into the junior workaholics of America…By the time they’ve applied to schools, they’ve started six companies, cured three formerly fatal diseases, played obscure sports like Frisbee golf. When I ask my students what you are doing spring break, it’s like ‘You know I am unicycling across Thailand while reading to lepers.’” 

The upper crust, many of whom are left-leaning, Ive League educated, urban and areligious, are often workaholics. And though I’m none of those, I too can make work an idol. 

But truth be told, this is the minority of the American population. The majority of Americans view work as a disagreeable necessity to be avoided at all costs. 

Though I’d rather not believe it, the statistics are convincing.

Each year, Gallup does a poll on workplace engagement. Over 70% of Americans are either “not-engaged” from their work or “disengaged,” meaning that over half of Americans are either just punching in and punching out, bored with their day-to-day tasks, or are actually so disgruntled they’re actually working against their boss’s agendas.

Cross reference that poll with worker “satisfaction.” By this count, a majority of employed Americans are ‘satisfied’ with their work. Not jazzed, but embracing a it-could-be-worse attitude.

But the most disturbing labor force trend has nothing to do with either engagement or mild satisfaction. It’s the labor participation rate. Today America has a 62.6% labor participation rate, the lowest rate in nearly four decades. Though we often pat ourselves on the dropping unemployment rate, that doesn’t count those who’ve stopped looking for work. (It only counts those who want to find work but can’t.)

I have several friends who own businesses in the trades. Everyone of the them is currently looking to fill positions for middle skilled and high skilled labor. And everyone of them says nearly the same thing: “We simply can’t find enough people who want to work hard.” High pay or not, taking a look at the American workforce today, you’d think the Protestant work ethic is a relic of the past.

Often we have an image of the hard working American that’s just trying to get by if only they could get a lucky break. Unfortunately, this is largely a fiction.  Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart: The State of White America from 1960-2010 illustrates what our real blue collar America looks like. Consider Murray’s “Fishtown,” a statistical construct of white, blue collar America. Instead of the hard-working, industrious and virtuous American small town, today Fishtown is inhabited by women who routinely have children out of wedlock; less than a third of kids grow up with both biological parents; churchgoing rates have plummeted; and men “claim physical disability at astounding rates are are less likely to hold down jobs than in the past.”

But if this is broadly true – that the majority of America would rather not be working – we have a big problem on our hands. Why? Consider the warning about those not wanting to work in the book of Proverbs:

“I passed by the field of the sluggard
And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense,
And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles;
Its surface was covered with nettles,
And its stone wall was broken down.
When I saw, I reflected upon it;
I looked, and received instruction.
“A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest,”
Then your poverty will come as a robber
And your want like an armed man.” 

(Proverbs 24:30-34)

Poverty is often a direct result of not working. Work produces wealth; laziness (by and large) produces destitution.

(I want to acknowledge that a good number of those living in poverty in the US are indeed working, but can’t afford to pay the bills on the wages they make. For these people, I’ve made the case publicly that we need to create good jobs for these people.)

But contrast that dire warning again laziness with the promise connected to those who do their work well:

“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.”

(Proverbs 22:29)

Work was meant to be an outlet for human creativity, a contribution to the well-being of our neighbors, the way we build a robust economy and human civilization. If a growing percentage of America sees work instead as a mere exchange of hours for dollars, a way to extract value from a community for personal gain, the entire system of our shared human civilization begins to deteriorate.

For a long time, those who’ve spoken about “faith and work” have primarily been that top 10% – those already inclined to see the value of work because they were raised with that ethic by successful parents.

But the real challenge moving forward to is begin conversations with our neighbors who live on the other side of Acoma Street. The opportunity here is to find a shared vision for work which crowns rich and poor alike with dignity, as all have been given unique skills that can be put to use to enliven families, communities and organizations.

The right view toward work can offer individuals not only a means of financial support, but a valued role in the community. Neither apathy nor idolatry need guide our view of work. Instead, a renewed emphasis on vocation, which is a life of service to God and man, can infuse our culture and economy with hope.

At minimum, it should make me quit typing and walk across the street and meet those who are not quite as “obsessed” with work as I am.

This post first appeared on denverinstitute.org

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EconomyPoliticsWorkWorld

Let Them Eat Chicken: Religious Intolerance Is Bad for Business

 

by Chris Horst and Jeff Haanen

Denver is on the rise. Construction cranes line the streets around Union Station. New residents arrive faster than we can house them. But as Denver surges, will our city be a place where religious people are permitted to live and work? Given the recent news, it’s a fair question to ask.

Last month, a Denver federal appeals court ruled against Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic ministry serving low-income elderly and dying people in Colorado and around the world. The nuns believe new federal health care requirements force them to violate their faith by mandating they pay for abortion-inducing drugs for employees. Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, one of the nuns serving at Little Sisters of the Poor,  said, “We… simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith.”  

Then, last month, the Denver City Council impeded the approval of a new restaurant lease at Denver International Airport (DIA). The “normally routine” approval process met a roadblock when several members of the Council decided the religious and political views of the restaurant’s owner — Dan Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A — did not meet their approval. To our knowledge, the Council has not interrogated the religious views of any other entrepreneur attempting to do business in Denver, nor has it defined which religious views are permissible.

Councilman Jolon Clark said Denver “can do better” than working with Chick-fil-A. Councilman Paul Lopez said his opposition to Cathy’s religious views is “really, truly a moral issue on the city.”

These two events illustrate a new hostility some Colorado lawmakers have toward religious expression. It’s important to clarify exactly what these lawmakers find inappropriate. 

The Little Sisters of the Poor operate dozens of nursing homes worldwide for “the neediest elderly of every race and religion.” They do not discriminate in who they serve and only ask our government to allow them to provide health care plans to their employees that do not violate their most deeply held beliefs.

Chick-fil-A is in the restaurant business and is rated America’s favorite fast food. The Denver City Council has chosen to hold hostage the popular restaurant’s entrance into DIA not because the company has a history of discrimination towards its employees or customers. Consistently, Chick-fil-A outperforms its peers in these areas. It is solely because of the religious beliefs expressed by the company’s owner in 2012.

A year later, LGBT activist Shane Windmeye publically defended Cathy and Chick-fil-A in a Huffington Post article that described their friendship. Recently, The Denver Post Editorial Board rightly criticized the Council’s decision, asking, “Are corporate executives supposed to muzzle all opinion, or make sure their views mesh with the predominant outlook of politicians in cities where they’d like to do business?”

Denver celebrates its inclusiveness. But does our inclusiveness have room for religious people? To be clear, we do not believe these actions by the Council are akin to religious persecution, but we do believe they are unwise if we want our state to be hospitable to people of all religious perspectives — including views that differ from those of Little Sisters of the Poor and Cathy. 

In 2007, anti-Muslim sentiment lead to the beating and robbery of an Iranian-American salon owner in Long Island. Her attackers said, “Your kind isn’t welcome here. You don’t belong here.” Colorado should continue to be a place where all people feel welcome. We want Colorado to live up to the sentiment captured by acclaimed writer Marilynne Robinson: 

“Democracy, in its essence and genius, is imaginative love for and identification with a community with which, much of the time and in many ways, one may be in profound disagreement.”

The American experiment hinges on this very definition of democracy, on our ability to live peacefully with our neighbors with whom we hold divergent views. If the recent actions of our lawmakers are any indication, our inclusiveness only has room for views approved by whomever currently holds office.

Colorado has long been a beacon of freedom for people of diverse ethnicities, creeds and religious traditions. For now, the spirit of the West lives on. Two weeks after the Council’s initial delay of Chick-fil-A’s airport lease, a committee unanimously approved it. The construction crews are busy at work in Denver for now, but unchecked intolerance toward people of faith will not keep them here for long. It’s bad for business and bad for Colorado.

This post first appeared on denverinstitute.org. 

Jeff Haanen is the executive director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work (@jeffhaanen). Chris Horst is the author of Mission Drift and vice president of development at HOPE International (@chrishorst).

Featured photo of the Denver City & County building by Boston Public Library on Flickr, used under this Creative Commons  license.

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EconomyWork

The Expendable Worker: Looking for Hope in the On-Demand Economy

“Low, low prices.” With that motto, a generation ago Walmart took over the world of retail. For years Walmart seemed untouchable; they could consume any competitor with volume, price and efficiency.

Yet in the past several years, some have questioned whether the Walmart empire has a gaping hole in the center. Forbes reported in 2014 that “Walmart’s low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing.” Americans for Tax Fairnessfound that “a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year, or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.” When hourly workers go on strike to demand higher wages, often they’re fired.

Now, a recent New York Times cover story has highlighted the suffocating working conditions of Walmart’s successor: Amazon. Employing a sea of white-collar workers, Amazon has perfected the art of squeezing every ounce of productivity (and life)  from its employees.

“One day I didn’t sleep for four days,” said Dina Vicarri, who sold Amazon gift cards. Another ex-employee’s fiancé would drive to the Amazon campus at 10pm after becoming concerned about his bride-to-be’s nonstop working night after night.

Liz Pearce, who worked at Amazon’s wedding registry said, “I would see people practically combust.” Bo Olson, who worked in books marketing, said “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” The pressure to deliver faster and cheaper under the constant surveillance of Big Data has led to high employee turnover. A 2013 survey by PayScale, a salary analysis firm, showed that the average tenure for Amazon employees was one year.

Robin Andrulevich has called their human resource policies “purposeful Darwinism.” Hire overachievers with handsome incentives, drive them hard, and cut the lowest performers loose.

The conditions for warehouse employees at Amazon often are even worse. In 2011, Amazon came under scrutiny for brutally hot warehouse working conditions – they even placed paramedics outside for fainting workers. (They installed air conditioning after a public outcry.)

Walmart and Amazon today are fierce retail competitors with different business models. But they share at least one value: employees are expendable.

The Problem With the On-Demand Economy

Last week, I received the oddest email from Maren Kate, the former CEO of Zirtual, a company providing US-based online assistants — including my assistant Amber, working out of Utah. “It is with an incredibly heavy heart that I have to send this message. As of today, August 10th 2015, Zirtual is pausing all operations.”  I didn’t fully understand what was happening.

Later that day, I learned that Zirtual, which had been on track for $11 million in revenue in 2015, essentially  folded overnight. A round of debt funding didn’t come through, an within hours, 400 employees were let go and left to fend for themselves. Amber was dumfounded. She didn’t know what she was going to do for work.

Such is the lot of a new generation of workers in the On-Demand Economy. The Economist aptly titled an article on the phenomenon “Workers on tap.” The On-Demand Economy brings together computers and freelance workers (generally contractors) to provide a host of services: from chauffeurs (Uber) to home repair (Handy).

The problem with today’s On-Demand Economy – of which Amazon has at least taken cultural queues – is the same ailment plaguing Walmart and Amazon: employees are often seen as fungible assets. They may be human “resources” or even human “capital” (oddly, enough, and unlike money and machines, this capital can laugh and cry). But the unique lives of real people are often lost in the mix.

I can understand the desire of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to not want his company to become a lumbering “country club” like, in his view, Microsoft did. Frugal, productive and hard working are all good traits. But when companies drive employees, whether white collar or blue, to a place of desperation, we’ve made a critical mistake. And the mistake is dependent on our view of people. Are they assets or image bearers? Dispensable or deeply valuable?

Restoring the American Worker

I have a 6-year-old who occasionally treats her 2-year-old sister like a fly. Slightly annoyed, she often escapes to another room or simply builds her fort with a “No 2-Year-Olds Welcome” sign in front.

I then sit her down and explain a core Christian doctrine: All people are people. Even whiny 2-year olds have dreams and emotions, fears and joys, failures and triumphs. All people are reflections of God, I say to her. The all have value.

In the biblical account, people come first, then work.People are not designed for a job – jobs are designed for people. God put Adam in the garden “to work it and care for it” after he endowed them with inestimable worth (Genesis 2:15).

Today, we often take job descriptions and try to jam people’s lives into small boxes. When this happens, souls shrivel.

It also leads to odd distortions. Young college graduates work hundred-hour weeks in New York private equity firms as their bodies and relationships shrivel. Manufacturing line workers do the same repetitive tasks for decades – and their minds deteriorate as the years pass by.

Yet the biblical account gives us a very different view of work. It is neither one of seeking self-worth from working at a sexy tech company, nor one of selling off every skill and hour we have to the highest bidder on the other side of an app.

Work, in the Bible, is fundamentally about creative service. That is, work is a way for us to use our God-given creativity and talent to serve the needs of others.

But in an age where Amazon rules – and can nearly set the price for any good it offers because of it’s unending drive for faster, cheaper, more efficient -is it realistic to think that a large retailer could provide a life-giving environment for its employees? Could employees become more than expendable assets and contribute to a fully human community?

Hope for Retail: The Costco Model

In the late 90s, Matthew Horst worked part-time at a grocery store. He was punctual, cared for his customers, and did quality work. But the lack of benefits and a cancerous work environment prevented him from realizing his potential.

When Costco opened a store in his neighborhood in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they hired Matthew. Even though he has always been classified as “special needs”, Costco took a chance on him.

Today, Matthew takes pride in a parking lot free of carts. He boasts to his friends at the eyeglass center, bakery and customer service desk. And he loves his customers.

His brother, Chris Horst, said it well: “There are many companies which ‘succeed’ at the expense of their workers. I am a firsthand witness to a counterintuitive company: Costco succeeds through the flourishing of its employees.”

A 2013 Businessweek article reported that Costco pays its employees $20.89/hour (compared to the $7.25 national minimum wage). Joe Carcello, a 59-year-old with an annual salary of $52,700 and a sizable nest egg for retirement, said “I’m just grateful to come here to work every day.”

President Craig Jelinek says about his employees, “We know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.” And so employees are paid well and treated with dignity – and contribute to a highly profitable model for retail.

Jelinek’s philosophy is simple: “This isn’t Harvard grad stuff,” he says. “We sell quality stuff at the best possible price. If you treat consumers with respect and treat employees with respect, good things are going to happen to you.”

Other big retailers that have tended to see employees as expendable assets, historically, have become casualties. K-Mart and Sears come to mind.

One has to wonder if Walmart (and even Amazon) are next.

This post first appeared on the Patheos Mission:Work blog at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/missionwork/2015/08/the-expendable-worker-looking-for-hope-in-the-on-demand-economy/Image: Pixabay.

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EconomyFinance

Review of Young Money

Today Christianity Today published my review of Kevin Roose’s Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash RecruitsThe book was literally hard to put down. As Roose unfolds the experience of eight young college graduates at the world’s most powerful investment banks, he captures the reader with a haunting portrayal of work that in almost every way destroys a soul. If I ever needed motivation to build Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I need look no further. 

Here’s the first part of the review:

Only halfway through his first year as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, Jeremy Miller-Reed fell into a deep depression. The 100-hour work weeks and endless Excel spreadsheets he could handle. But his boss, Penelope, he could not. Penelope looked like Julia Roberts but had the personality of Genghis Khan. Junior analysts dreaded her wrath. After assigning a 20-page memo to Jeremy over her vacation, she returned to find a single page missing. “You had all week to get this right!” she screamed. That night, Jeremy went to the roof of his apartment, lit up a joint, and cried in the rain, thinking to himself I can’t do this anymore.

In college, Jeremy, like most young financial analysts, was bright, motivated, and had high hopes. He graduated from Columbia University, and in the summer of 2010 was excited to begin a career at Goldman Sachs selling commodities—oil, gas, corn, wheat, precious metals. Lured by a starting salary of $70,000, plus bonuses of up to $50,000, he rationalized that a two-year stint as an investment banker would be good experience for a planned career in urban design or politics. It was a common decision among his peers. At Harvard in 2008, 28 percent of seniors headed into financial services, and at Princeton in 2006, it was a stunning 46 percent. But for Jeremy, it was a decision that would haunt him—as it would the sorry cast of Kevin Roose’s new book Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits.

From 2010-2013, Roose, a business writer for New York magazine, shadowed eight freshly minted investment bankers during their first two years on Wall Street, tracking their stories. From starry-eyed interns to disillusioned, exhausted, and depressed spreadsheet jockeys, Roose’s Young Money reads like a handbook for everything and anything than can go wrong with work.

Moral Black Hole

The work of young analysts is often mind-numbing. Most investment bank rookies spend days (and nights) creating “pitch books”—hundreds of pages of financial data for companies considering buying other companies. After hours of formatting cells, creating graphs, and producing Excel models, often pitch books would be blasted by bosses… (read more)

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