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GOOD NEWS: The soybean farm launched by Aslan in Mozambique.
Aslan Global Management
GOOD NEWS: The soybean farm launched by Aslan in Mozambique.

Model behavior

Poverty | In hard times it’s still possible to focus on human flourishing

Issue: "Moneymaker," March 23, 2013

In the news business it’s no revelation that we focus on the bad news more than the good. If it bleeds, it leads. Forget that I ate the best mango of my life in war-torn Sudan, or that I had one of my best meals—masgouf, or grilled fish—hot off the embers outdoors in occupied Iraq. Famine, persecution, and war were all around, and that’s what I was there to report. Even now, I’m looking closely into flourishing arts communities in Afghanistan—but you’re unlikely to read about those in headlines anytime soon.

For Christian journalists who want to tell all the bad news under the banner of the Good News—the gospel story of Jesus Christ coming to seek and to save the lost—this is the daily tension we live in. Marvin Olasky, our editor-in-chief, is fond of saying, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the streets declare the sinfulness of man.” At WORLD we often remind one another that our task is to focus on the streets, but never to forget the heavens stretched over all. Redemption is a constant we can look for in every area of life.

It’s in that line that a trusted adviser, Paul Larsen, co-founder of Aslan Global Management, recently challenged me: “Why do we think we have to keep studying poverty? When are people going to start studying human flourishing and act on that?” 

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Paul has been working in two “impoverished” places in the world—sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. Using a business model instead of a donor model, he and fellow investors have launched large-scale farming operations that draw on a mentality even Americans are in danger of losing: wealth creation instead of wealth redistribution. 

So over 2,500 acres of once-undeveloped land in Mozambique now is planted in soybeans and sunflowers. In 2013 the farm operation is expected to grow to 5,800 acres (see “Patient for profits,” March 9). There’s no transfer of Western wealth to “impoverished” Africa here. This is a long-term, thoughtful business plan designed to grow a local economy up out of the ground of an empty tract of land.

What kind of human flourishing comes from this kind of wealth creation? First, new employment for a four-person (three men and one woman) senior management team. Second, part- and full-time employment for over 100 skilled and unskilled farm workers. Third, an economic boost in the wider community as the farm launches an extension service that involves 62 smallholder farms in the area. And finally, a market-driven food supply in an area long accustomed to imports and the whims of government food distributors.

Ample biblical basis exists for wealth creation on the way to human flourishing. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah we see a business model emerge, as the cup-bearer to the king (who could be enjoying a life of ease) doesn’t ask King Cyrus for “entitlements” for the exiled Jews in Persia but instead navigates political, geographic, and social hurdles to create wealth, if you will, by working to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and making a way for the Jewish exiles to return, where we know they jump-started businesses, reopened markets, and planted fields.

Pastor Matt Chandler highlighted in a recent sermon the biblical model for building communities of human flourishing—in short, Zechariah 7:9-10: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy … and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” Practical applications are law enforcement, charity, infrastructure, and freedom to buy and sell.

Instead of Kenya, let’s study Singapore. Instead of Babylon, let’s look at Jerusalem. Instead of listening to Washington talk of impoverishment under mandatory spending cuts, let’s look at flourishing Estonia and Finland—countries that have lowered both government spending and taxes, and watched their economies boom as a result. And instead of being rugged Americans who look to our individual devices to help ourselves, let’s look to building communities around the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” In that, we may flourish.


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