Entrepreneurial help targets poverty issues

March 6, 2009
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When people find something that resonates with their identity, they want to protect it. For Partners Worldwide, a nonprofit Christian organization that strives to eliminate poverty through job creation, the secret to strong growth has been providing that something for entrepreneurs in the Christian community.

“It’s ownership. When people feel like this is theirs, that’s what they pay attention to first, or that’s what they protect. I think that’s why we haven’t experienced the same kind of downturn as most agencies,” said Doug Seebeck, president and founder of the organization.

Partners Worldwide links North American business people with entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Seebeck remembers a group of business people who came to help out when he was a missionary overseas.

“They were feeling like their only role was to write the checks. They said, ‘The entrepreneurs — they’re kept at arm’s length. They think because we’re wealthy, we must have cut corners and run people over to get where we are. Can we be part of the team that works on this instead of sitting out in the foyer waiting to be told how much money to write?’ That was literally their question.”

Seebeck, who left his job in business to work as a missionary, identified with those business people, and in 1997, he started Partners for Christian Development, now Partners Worldwide. The organization focuses on business mentoring partnerships, training in basic business practices, and improving access to capital throughout the world. It currently has up to 6,000 businesses in its network.

The first Partners Worldwide trip Seebeck led was to East Africa; now the organization serves in 20 developing countries and the U.S.

In 2008, the organization’s efforts resulted in 1,656 new jobs and 16,812 jobs retained.

“We went and met with Kenyan business people and crafted this vision, which is really guiding us today,” said Seebeck. “We want to work with small, medium and large businesses. We want to do these partnerships that focus on mentoring, training, coaching and encouragement. We want to focus on technology and access to capital, and we want to work toward a level economic playing field.”

There is a gap in many developing countries that budding entrepreneurs get lost in, said Seebeck.

“How do U.S. business people come and work with a micro-entrepreneur? There’s a woman who’s taking tomatoes from the field and selling them in the marketplace; she’s standing there with 20 other tomato sellers. That informal sector, which is really important, is what we chose not to focus on,” he said. “We chose to focus on the folks who have clawed their way up.

“Ten to 15 percent of the micro-entrepreneurs will make the jump to the formal sector. It’s a big jump. Once they make it, you know they’re for real, but they’re the ones that are often neglected. Their capital requirements are too large for the (nonprofit organizations) who do the small loans. They’re way too small for the banks to want to pay attention to. So that’s the sector we have to focus on, which has the greatest potential for job creation.”

Partners Worldwide’s staff of 12 will be housed in its new home at 6139 Tahoe Drive in Centennial Park at the end of March. Though the staff is small, the organization has 45 volunteer teams all over the world. Each team spends anywhere from two weeks to two months mentoring and working with budding entrepreneurs.

Seebeck’s goal is not to have a mammoth organization operating on large sums of money, but to help individuals take the vision upon themselves, with Partners Worldwide as an aid. To help get the word out, Seebeck, along with local writer Timothy Stoner, co-authored a book documenting some of the organization’s stories.

The new book is titled “My Business, My Mission” and has a May 8 release date, which coincides with the organization’s open house at its new home.

Notable numbers

  • There are 175 mentors in North America; 503 in-country.

  • Affiliates loaned a total of $2.2 million to 1,885 businesses.

  • Network includes 6,000 businesses and 7,000 farmers.

  • 47 affiliates have been established in countries currently served.

  • 44 partnerships connect teams of business people to businesses in developing countries.

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