When Business Aims for Miracles

Minneapolis-St. Paul business professionals are some of the inner city's most effective social entrepreneurs
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While some social ministry leaders are tapping government funds, Minnesota evangelicals are blazing a different trail: the business world, which they find richer not only in funds but in skills and leadership. These faith leaders are combining biblical piety, corporate funding, and a "just do it" business manner to produce a civic witness for Christ on a scale beyond what their seminaries prepared them for—all free of government bureaucracy and church-board stalemates.

General Mills, for example, was so compelled by Bethel Seminary graduate Alfred Babington-Johnson's vision for healing a broken African-American community that it offered funding and 100 volunteers to help create an award-winning soul-food manufacturer and packing company in north Minneapolis. Stairstep Initiative's Siyeza Inc. employs 80 people (and expects to hire more than 175 at its peak capacity), 80 percent of them from poor neighborhoods. The $4.3 million investment, created through an alliance of 49 black investors, General Mills, and US Bancorp, produced a $94,000 return at only 10 percent of factory capacity last year.

Based on projections and new contracts, debt will be eliminated in less than five years, after which workers will have an opportunity for a stake in ownership. Siyeza's mission is to demonstrate God's friendship to disfranchised people, Babington-Johnson says.

"God does not just say he loves us, he shows it, and so must we," he says. "Our desire is that the manifestation of God's power in this community-building work translates into What must I do to be saved? But for many that won't happen until they hold stock papers in their hands."

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