SCORE On A Global Scale

March 14, 2005
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One of Hollywood's favorite themes is that business people are the exemplars of cutthroat greed. Too, TV scriptwriters routinely portray civil servants and teachers as humble, selfless people striving for the greater good despite the corporate egos' mindless scrabble for more booty.

Well, maybe that's the entertainment industry. But obviously, those who make millions scourging business on the silver screen don't know about tithing firms like Padnos, in Holland, or the millions that West Michigan firms pay so workers can upgrade their skills and pay. Too, the screenwriters seem unaware that Spring Lake's International Aid had the first business-donated loads of medical supplies en route to tsunami victims before the mainstream media tooted its trumpet about "American stinginess."

We bring all this up because it came to light this week (see story on page B3) that West Michigan is home to another entity as remarkable as International Aid.

In fact, if grinding global poverty can be regarded as a continuing disaster, an association of Christian business missionaries here called Partners Worldwide constitutes one of the most impressive forms of international aid.

Partners Worldwide consists of Christian business people helping novice businessmen in the Third World. Partners Worldwide has a few thousand members, many of them in West Michigan.

It wants a million.

And it wants them not to convert the "heathen," but to seed their ordinary, every day expertise in nations that have little but poverty. After meeting their counterparts face-to-face and getting to know their firms, Partners Worldwide missionaries return to their own companies. But they continue to advise their understudies via the Internet and make periodic visits for further face-to-face contacts.

Members encounter some shocking sights: People laboring in sweltering heat with ancient equipment that would make a MIOSHA inspector faint. Such enterprises often exist amid elbow-to-elbow masses suffering poverty and disease and threats on a scale beyond anything this country has seen since the Civil War.

Yet, the global petroleum industry started in a lean-to in Titusville, Pa. Scorching barns and freezing garages have been the origins of companies ranging from Remington to Ford and Amway to Hewlett-Packard. Partners Worldwide believes the same can happen in Bangladesh and Uganda, nations where commerce is almost moribund and no middle class exists … yet. Member partners help novices prepare business plans and then show them how to keep the plates of production, marketing, networking, sales, accounting, personnel and customer service spinning atop their disparate wands.

Beyond that, Partners Worldwide possesses and is growing a fund to provide limited amounts of capital to jumpstart tiny businesses and to help slightly older businesses take new steps and hire more people. Unlike so many World Bank and U.S. foreign aid programs, the capital doesn't pass through government officials' pockets to numbered Swiss accounts.

People with ideas and the drive to carry them forth have existed as long as humanity. But in places such as Nairobi and Dhaka and Cairo, the know-how and entrepreneurial tradition has been absent. Members of Partners Worldwide are spending substantial sums of their own to provide that knowledge and foster that tradition.

Maybe their work will create new markets some day. But these business people seem animated merely by the Christian impulse to help others.    

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