Orphan care is all the rage, you hear about it in your church and I would even bet you don’t go more than a few hours without reading something online about someone else who is either adopting, or wanting your help with a new sponsorship program that helps orphan children.  It seems just a few years ago we barely heard anything on the topic, but now its everywhere.  Don’t get me wrong, every single one of us needs to do everything we can to help every orphan on this earth, and I am the first to say that we aren’t doing nearly enough, and that this push for helping orphans is a wonderful thing.   But I also want to spend a minute today pointing out that there are other ways for us to help, another side to the story that is rarely told.

Before I start here, I need to say that I sit in a sort of unique seat in this discussion, I spend a portion of my working days helping create sponsorship programs, and creating families from widows and orphans here in Ethiopia, but then I go to my day job where I create businesses in Ethiopia. You see this is odd because on the one hand my efforts go towards giving hope to those who have fallen through the cracks, while on the other I spend my days building guard rails making sure that people don’t have to fall.

That is what I mean by “going upstream”, it is the simple act of creating something that helps someone before they fall down.  

The orphan crisis is a preventable disaster.  

I have sat through story after story, listening to kids who come into our program at Bring Love In, while they tell of their lives and the often simple tragedies that brought them to the place where they were abandoned, or their parents died.  And nearly every time I leave the room with the same thought.  “This could have been avoided if only this family had a job”  yet the reality is this is a country where jobs are scarce, and so time and time again the same story repeats itself.

The solutions for these problems are different though than the ones we can use to help someone after they fall down, non-profit organizations and donation campaigns are not the answer, we have to look instead to business, and to creativity, and entrepreneurship. 

Which leads me to another important point; I think of the most frustrating things about the discussion on orphan care is that it often is all about child care and diaper changing, which then  leaves out many of us who have other valuable skills that we could be offering as part of the solution.   You see what I mean here is someone who might be an incredible businesswoman, or who has awesome skills in the area of administration, and these people leave the talks about orphan care thinking that the only thing that they can help with is a few dollars a month towards a sponsorship, or else they have to give up their lives as missionaries if they want to do any good in the world.

Not so!   

What I am saying is that there are a million ways to make a difference in the world,  and I come bearing proof. 

Understand first before I go further, that this other work I do here in Ethiopia is in no way affiliated with Bring Love In, no ministry funds are used to support the business, and no resources are shared (different office, different staff, different everything).  In fact the business that I am going to talk about here is a major financial supporter of Bring Love In, and it pays the entire living salary for my family and I so that we are able to donate of our time to the ministry.   

I want to use the company that I co-founded with Scott Friesen who lives in Austin, Texas as an example today of how all of us can apply our skills towards making a difference in the orphan crisis, even if we didn’t happen to be born with the best diaper changer skills.  

The company is called Verdant Frontiers, and what we do is create businesses in Ethiopia that give jobs, and bring markets to areas where they don’t currently exist.  For example our latest project is a cattle feedlot, and what we do is purchase young cows from local farmers, giving them access to a market for their products that is otherwise nearly nonexistent. The first phase of the farm is under construction now and 2015 it will purchase enough cows from local farmers to give the equivalent of over 2000 jobs to local pastoralist farmers, while providing another 300 direct employment positions as well.   Another area that we work is in the medical business, we invested in a local company and expanded its reach to where we now handle nearly 40% of all the medical diagnostic scans in the country through our clinics, we do CT, MRI and Ultrasound scans, for a fraction of what it would cost in the rest of the world.  And the cool thing is we do all of this not as a non-profit but we set these businesses up as real profit focused businesses that pay handsome dividends to our investors, and offer top paying jobs for locals.  

I sound like I am being all prideful, but honestly I am not, I am just super excited about this topic, and the results we are seeing from these efforts.  Lives are being changed, and God gets all of the credit, we are just happy to be the ones here on the ground getting to see all of this come together.   

The point here is that there are other ways to help, this business is just one example of how we can go upstream on the problems that are creating orphans in the world, and what really gets me fired up is the immense impact that we can have on the world when we do this.   I used to say that I was born 100 years to late, because I would read books about America during the industrial revolution, and it sounded like a time I would have thrived in, a time when progress was being made in leaps and bounds, and opportunity to change the world was all around you. Then my family and I moved to Ethiopia and I realized that another kind of industrial revolution was underway over on this side of the world, and that the more than 80 million people who live here are as ready as they will ever be to get to work making it all happen.    This topic is more fun to me than I can even begin to explain to you in words.

Ok, enough gushing, I get carried away when I talk about Verdant Frontiers, and all of the good that we are finally getting to see happen through these businesses we have been working on for the past few years.  You should go check it out for yourself and see what we are up to.  

But before you go I want to offer this simple challenge;  I believe that every one of us has a skill set that can be applied in one way or another to change the world.  We live in a time on this earth that is still full of suffering, but we also live in a time where the world is full of people who are ready to move forward and really make some progress on eliminating poverty in our lifetime. You might be an awesome diaper changer, or an incredible secretary, you might have a bunch of resources that you want to invest, or only your bare hands, you may be an incredible story teller who can share the gospel of Jesus one by one with everyone that you meet, but regardless of your skill all of us are called to do something, and I want to challenge us all to make sure we don’t leave this earth before we figure out our little piece of changing the world.  

Are you with me?!

Click here to go check out Verdant Frontiers, the beef farm, and read about all of the other neat things we are doing to build businesses in Ethiopia.

Levi

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