Catching the Entrepreneurial Wave to Reconfigure the Spiritual Capital of a Nation

A Catalytic Effort in Venezuela
by Jesus Sampedro

Editor’s note: This content was originally published for the Christian Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Event. This content is shared with Denver Institute for Faith & Work with consent from CEF. Jesus Sampedro is a speaker at “Business for the Common Good” on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.

The idea of redeeming societies though innovation and entrepreneurial ventures is at the heart of this writing. Avi Jorisch, in his book Thou Shalt Innovate, refers to the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam, or “healing the world” as a fundamental and distinctive factor in the Israeli society and as a driver to have them considered as the “start-up nation.” Israel is referred to as having more startups per capita than any other country in the world; a disproportionate share of their innovations also wind up making the world a better place.1 A commitment to improve the lives of others, to follow the scriptural mandate be a “light” into the nations, and to add value seem to be integral to these breakthroughs for Israel and for other countries that have adopted the biblical worldview. Charles Handy notes, “The only justifiable goal of an organization is the creation of added value. That could be by creating something which was not there before, or if it was, to make it better, cheaper or more accessible. A successful company is one which continually adds value. When a business stops creating added value, it will cease to exist.” According to Briscoe, “a company or career which glorifies God adds financial, material, ethical and spiritual value for all interested parties or shareholders.”2 The value-adding, transformative, or redemptive efforts of Christians in the global marketplace have a positive impact in any department, organization, industry, nation, and even across the globe.

Here is an opportunity to explore the Venezuelan reality and to look at how a “Mission Of Business” (MOB) can transform a nation in crisis, especially by instilling spiritual value into the system. Close to 3 million people (>10% of its population, including many business and professionals) left Venezuela between 2015–2018,3 and thousands of companies have closed. Some strategic questions are: Who will close the market breach left by the big and mid-sized companies that have closed and/or left the country? Who will bring the value-added dimension needed to spark development? Who will activate the creative spirit in the collective? How will venture capital be attracted? Who will witness and model Christ in the marketplace? The answer might be in the small entrepreneurs—the many who are seeing those realities as open doors and opportunities to emerge (even grow) in spite of the national crisis.

Now, the most pressing question is whether the causes of the model that made the country’s system decline have been cleared out or they are still alive in its own ashes. Are those entrepreneurs organizationally ready, technically trained, ethically shaped, and motivationally resilient? Although there seems to be a “supernatural” sense of motivation and resilience among many of the Venezuelan entrepreneurs, still their driving force is not necessarily based on vocation and/or calling. It is mainly based on necessity. Most could not afford a salary-based life in a system with the highest (hyper) inflation rate in the world and the lowest salaries in the region. The issue is that in spite of having high levels of resilience, there is no certainty about their capacity in the other key areas that ensure entrepreneurial success and sustainability (organizational readiness, technical know-how, and ethical standards), which then exposes them and the nation to a higher risk.

Marketplace ministries like CBMC (Connecting Business and Marketplace to Christ) in the region are trying to “surf” this historical “wave” of entrepreneurship. Their aim is to help build a movement around biblical principles, with high expectations to help through the reframing and strengthening of the bases upon which the national business and professional system is built.

A Paradox in the Entrepreneurial Panorama

In Venezuela, more than half of the population (>17 Million) are in “start-up” age, but only 15.4% of those are willing to do so (2.7 Million). Dunia de Barnola, executive director of the non-profit organization Venezuela Competitiva, estimates that only 1.57% (274,750) of Venezuelans begin a project that is able to sustain itself over time. There in opportunity to improve, she says.4 According to some of the latest world indexes (including the World Bank’s Doing Business Report), Venezuela is at the bottom of the innovation, competitiveness, and entrepreneurship indexes. Venezuela is 188 out of 190 countries in the ease of doing business index. In the area of competitiveness the country is 132 out of 140; in innovation it is 132 out of 140; and in the entrepreneurial system index hold it is 112 out of 130.5 De Barnola also says that “one of the major problems facing the national entrepreneurial system is that Venezuelan ideas are registered in other countries because of the existing bad climate to do business.” At the same time, in spite of the negative outlooks in these indexes, the country is 12 out of 55 among nations with the best entrepreneurial attitude—7 out of 8 Venezuelan entrepreneurs who fail turn into re-entrepreneurs.6 The interpretation of this apparently paradoxical data leads many to pay attention to the urgent call to stop the entrepreneurial mortality rate in the country. But the question remains: How can it be done?

Spiritual Capital as the Foundation of Other Capitals

One of the signs of an ethical crisis in a country is the erosion of its spiritual capital (intangible wealth) that leads to the erosion of all other capitals. According toDavid Brooks, “Ignoring spiritual development in the public square is like ignoring intellectual, physical or social development. It is to amputate people in a fundamental way, leading to more depression, drug abuse, alienation and misery.”7 Creating better states of existence, especially in unhealthy societies, is related to the intentional creation of different kinds of capitals. According to the OECD, capitals that must be preserved for sustained wellbeing over time are natural, economic, human, and social capital.8 At the organizational level there is a need to build three types of capital such as “imagination capital, entrepreneurial capital and relationship capital.”9 Building around this variety of capitals helps in the pursuit of sustainability and in avoiding the risk of being irrelevant in a discontinuous world. Even so, the most relevant and foundational to all other capitals is spiritual capital. The spiritual capital of a nation is composed of intangible factors, including levels of trust, work capacity, proprietary rights clarity, governmental effectiveness, and efficiency in the judicial system. A healthy country is usually one where people trust themselves, trust each other, and trust the country’s capacity to overcome challenges. There is a direct relationship between the level of spiritual capital of a nation and the capacity of that nation to develop economic capital.

Three Key Aspects for Transformation

To achieve influence and build spiritual capital through massive entrepreneurship requires a big effort, especially in shifting the collective worldview and reaching the major players of the system (including policy-makers, educational institutions, investors, and entrepreneurs, among others). The idea is to have entrepreneurs embrace the following three key aspects and place them at the core of the start-up ecosystem geared towards a transformation:

1. Benefiting-well.

Many have the tendency to focus more on what is missing rather than what is available. According to Arnoldo Arana, “As humans, we tend to seek for the opportunities, the talents and the circumstances we see flourishing in others. Other person or company does this well or has a good capability for such and such thing. In many occasions we do not value what we already have.”10 In all cases, what we do not have is out of our control—it is not usable by us. It is fruitless to focus on what we do not have; we only count what we have, nothing more nothing less. John Mason mentions, “We do not need more energy, ability nor better opportunities. What we should do is to take advantage of what we have.” This requires a deeper sense of reflection and conscience of the available resources, perhaps re-thinking the business essentials and engaging proactively in creative configurations (i.e., reusage of materials, re-configuration of processes, and seeking new sources of raw materials, among others). This requires people to ask themselves: What do we have? This connects to the question asked by the prophet Elisha who came to help the needy widow, “What do you have in your house?”11 She did not have to reach too far beyond her immediate, accessible, and natural range for new and miraculous sources of income. For a business person who cannot continue to operate a once successful business it is a time to rethink the “power source” or perhaps the “not so obvious source” through which a blessing from God could come. It might be a privileged location, a portable know-how, a key competency (i.e, reconfiguring and adapting business systems), an excellent team, a productive network, a key cluster of assets, or something else. The emerging market opportunities for entrepreneurs in Venezuela are varied and include segments like technology, artisan drinks, detergents, purified waters, ice-creams, training courses, etc. For many, however, it has meant focusing on the productive land and the privileged produce. There seem to be an explosion in the food and culinary industry, especially with initiatives that rely almost solely on the creative and careful curated processing of local ingredients (including teas, coffee, chocolate, marmalades, sauces, and desserts). This proves (to Venezuelans and the world) the hidden potential of a nation that has almost exclusively relied upon oil riches.

2. Failing-well

Relying extensively on “the next new product” as the main stream of income or as a source of competitive advantage means that innovation processes have to be at the center of the organizational strategy. However, when continuous and extensive experimentation is a much necessary part of the equation to remain relevant or positioned in the market, mistakes have to be tolerated at some level and must be treated properly. Failing-well, as a dimension of resilience, is something that should become part of the organizational culture and its competency set. This is obtained through the values of experimentation, humility, and patience, among others.

3. Doing-well

This refers to expanding the capacity to work well—wholeheartedly—with relevance, excellence, and integrity, aligning core competencies and purpose. In most developing countries, there is a need to enhance order through certain aspects that may ease long-term sustainability of work systems including protocols, systematizations, and procedures. Perhaps the most important of these aspects is developing character among entrepreneurs. Character should take priority over knowledge, and integrity over entrepreneurial skills. Once a business initiative flourishes, one of the most challenging things is for entrepreneurs to hold themselves accountable and focused, without losing perspective of their business, their family, and ultimately, their life. Character is at the core of this. According to Brooks, some intervening factors such as “social mobility, graduation rates, resilience, achievement and family formation” impact the spiritual capital.12 Entrepreneurship can become redemptive and be fruitful if built upon a solid and integral framework of Christ-like character. Business training needs character as a foundational subject.

Closing Thoughts

As with other nations founded and sustained on the Bible, Venezuela could have hope if, as a nation, the biblical worldview is democratized among most of its entrepreneurs, business, and professional people, if they are equipped through processes of integral discipleship (business, leadership, family, and spirituality), and if they are made part of a collaborative network committed to putting God first in all. Entrepreneurs can be the articulators of the new ethical order of the nation by committing to build the spiritual capital. This way they may develop other kinds of capital, sustain themselves in times of turbulence, and bear the biblical blessings of a nation that once was not, but is now under God.[

Hear More From Jesus Sampedro at Business for the Common Good

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Jesus Sampedro

Dr. Jesus Sampedro is founder and president of Global Leadership Consulting, a leadership training, coaching, and consulting firm. He speaks around the world on the integration of leadership, management, and spirituality related topics. He is a certified and licensed leadership coach-trainer at Lifeforming Leadership Coaching (USA) for Latin America.

Jesus has authored and co-authored various books, including the recent marketplace devotional Inspiracion para Liderar (2019), LIDER Exceptional COACH Transformacional (2019), New Thinking on Leadership (2013, Kohan-Page, UK), Visionary Leadership (2013), A Leadership Framework for Transformation (2008), and Character: The Leader’s Key Performance Indicator (2011). Jesus has taught leadership and business at Regent University, Mid America Christian University – MACU (USA), IESA, and UC (Venezuela). He was also a director at the Carabobo State’s Executive Chamber.

Jesus is part of the Christian Business and Marketplace Connection ministry (CBMC International) and serves as chairman of the Latin American ExCom. He is a founding member of the WEA Council for Business & Theology. He serves as assistant pastor at “Iglesia Comunidades Cristianas de Venezuela.”

Jesus holds a doctorate in strategic leadership (DSL) and an MBA from Regent University (USA). He is married to Gaby, a worship leader and an award-winning Christian singer. They have two girls and live in Venezuela.