Sisters in Kenya handle chickens while learning about social enterprise opportunities at a poultry farm. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara University
Sister Christine Imbali of the Assumption Sisters of Eldoret, in western Kenya, has been working to help low-income women and families end their reliance on her small community of Catholic religious women and other charitable groups. Instead of a charity, she wants to give families in the country’s fifth-largest city the option to be self-sustaining and to contribute an important aspect of a healthy city — nutrition.
Her idea: chickens.
“You cannot evangelize to people who are hungry, who are dying, who are not getting an education,” Imbali said. In April, she hopes to introduce poultry farming to her families in hopes that social enterprise, as these kinds of helping businesses are known, will take off in Kenya.
The notion of do-gooding chickens originated in July of last year at the third Vatican Conference on Impact Investing in Rome. The conference was part of a series intended to “serve as a vital, long-term, global platform around Pope Francis’ vision of ‘placing the economy at the service of peoples,’” according to the conference’s report.
It was there that Sister Eneless Chimbali, secretary-general of the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa, met Thane Kreiner, executive director of the 22-year-old Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, an “accelerator” of social enterprise startups at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school in Northern California. The center focuses on poverty, climate change and social inequality and works with a diverse range of industries.
Thane Kreiner, left, addresses a Sisters Blended Value Project workshop in early March 2019. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara University
But just eight months later, in early March 2019, Kreiner found himself more than 9,500 miles from Silicon Valley addressing 35 Catholic sisters from Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe at a social enterprise workshop in Kenya.
The meeting was exactly the kind of unexpected partnership the planners of the Vatican conference had envisioned, said Beth Collins, Catholic Relief Services’ managing director of impact investing.
For Miller Center and the sisters, it meant the start of a whole new movement.
Chimbali said she had long been asking herself how the sisters would remain relevant in their home communities as resources dwindled. For Kreiner, who knew that social enterprise worked best when it came from those deeply invested in their communities, the lightbulb went off when he heard Chimbali tell the Rome conference: “Sisters are always there. Others come and go, but the sisters will always remain.”
The only remaining problem was funding.
Back in California, John Ottoboni, chief operating officer and senior legal counsel at Santa Clara University, had been waiting for the right way to honor his wife, Nancy, who had recently died from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
As a young woman, she had stopped short of making her final vows as a Sister of the Holy Cross but continued to stay close to the order, and the friendship has continued through Ottoboni.
He saw Miller Center’s workshops as a meaningful way to keep alive the memory of a woman he describes as “the soul of kindness.”
“To continue to honor her memory is a joy, one that tempers the profound sense of loss that surfaces from time to time,” he said. “In a small way I felt like we were walking with (the sisters) on what may prove to be an expanded journey for them.”
The project, now known as the Sisters Blended Value Project, has generated ideas for social enterprise startups ranging from Imbali’s local poultry farming to health care programs. Miller Center hopes to replicate the March workshop at other ACWECA congregations. There are more than 400 member congregations, comprising some 30,000 sisters.
Kreiner expects that if he can reach 10 percent of the congregations over the next three years, the movement will spread through the sisters’ network to grow the number of social enterprises.
“Our idea at the end of this project is for you to transform your social ministries into social enterprises,” said Sister Cecilia Njeri, ACWECA’s president, in her opening remarks at the March workshop.
At the workshop, the sisters began by discussing the problems in their communities, then moved to how they could fix them. By the end of the workshop, the sisters each had a 90-second elevator pitch.
Some of the sisters had previous experience in business. Sister Juunza Mwangani of the Religious Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Zambia has a business degree, but prior to the workshop she had never blended her charity work with her business experience.
“I think in a lot of people’s minds there’s been this artificial distinction between doing good and using business strategies,” Kreiner said.
At the hospital where she works, Mwangani hopes to create a system where those who want private rooms, fast-tracked service and other accommodations can get them by paying more. The extra money will then pay for those who can’t afford to visit the hospital at all.
Another program will establish a school for middle-class girls, whose tuition will subsidize the fees of children from low-income families.
Sister Juunza Mwangani, center, participates in a Sisters Blended Value Project workshop with fellow nuns in early March 2019 in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara University
Mwangani also hopes to teach the rest of her community the things she learned at the workshop.
“I was tasked with coming back to teach everyone else in my community,” Mwangani said. “And I’m ready to do that.”
For many Africans, the most difficult adaptation will be to the idea of the church asking them to make their own way. In some communities, Mwangani pointed out, it has become expected that whatever the church offers is given out for free. With the social enterprise model, mindsets will have to change.
“The approach we have taken will meet a bit of resistance in some communities,” she said. “But we are not going to leave them behind. We are going to get them on board.”
Another hurdle is the slim success rate of startups, 60 percent to 90 percent of which fail.
But for these sisters, failure isn’t new. If a sister’s original idea fails, Chimbali said, the sisters will “be quick to start another direction.”
And together, they will learn from each other’s failures and successes — hoping to start a movement that could change their communities for generations to come.
“It’s my prayer that it does not end with this generation,” Imbali said. “But a foundation laid down to change the face of the community.”
Recently, a co-worker shared something that enlightened me. They always used a financial counselor to advise them on various decisions that they needed to make regarding their finances and investments. However, they didn’t seem to be satisfied with the outcome of their investments.
They shared with me that, after talking in detail with their spouse, they decided to learn more about investments and the stock market. They signed up for classes and realized they could actually manage their own financial portfolio. They took charge of their investments and began to see a positive turnaround within the first few months of releasing their financial counselor.
They seemed confident about what they had learned and we’re looking forward to managing their financial portfolio in the months and years to come.
The biggest fear that many people have, is the fear of not knowing what you don’t know. That sounds odd but it is true. What you do not know about your finances, or financial health, may seem scary to some to the point of denying its existence or choosing to deal with it when things get really tough.
God desires for us to have balance in everything we do. Having the confidence to handle your finances is a commitment you have to make to yourself. Hosea 4:6 states “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” KJV.
If people are bold enough to admit they do not know, they take the time to educate themselves in the areas that matter to them. So, why not us, children of the faith?
There are so many resources on finances. The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my area of struggle when dealing with money?”
Is it a saving problem? Most likely you have not established boundaries and self-control, and you may need to set up a budget to stick to it.
Do you have unrealistic goals and expectations that leave you disheartened each month when you review your finances?Set goals for yourself that will boost your confidence because you are able to achieve them. This will result in becoming a better steward of your money because you have established a level of faith in yourself that you are capable of meeting goals when you set them.
Are you drowning in debt? Find out the exact amount that you owe so that you can establish a precise plan of tackling it.
When it comes to money, you have to be bold and face the issues head on. If you are tremendously blessed financially and have no issues with money, find ways to educate others to live in that liberty that you have been blessed to experience.
I learned a great lesson from that co-worker. What you don’t know, you can learn, and what you learn can enlighten you to make better and sound decisions that can position you financially to be in a stable place.
Are you ready to face what you don’t know about your finances? Start today. Learn something. It could serve as the trigger of change to a great financial future for you in the years to come.
Back then, a half century ago, the wholesale racial integration required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just beginning to chip away at discrimination in education, jobs and public facilities. Black voters had only obtained legal protections two years earlier, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act was about to become law.
African-Americans were only beginning to move into neighborhoods, colleges and careers once reserved for whites only.
I’m too young to remember those days. But hearing my parents talk about the late 1960s, it sounds in some ways like another world. Numerous African-Americans now hold positions of power, from mayor to governor to corporate chief executive – and, yes, once upon a time, president. The U.S. is a very different place than it was in 1968.
Or is it? As a scholar of minority politics, I know that while some things have improved markedly for black Americans in the past 50 years, today we are still fighting many of the same battles as Dr. King did in his day.
A year before his death, Dr. King and others began organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”
Ralph Abernathy, an African-American minister, led the way in his fallen friend’s place.
“We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been given a fair share of America’s wealth and opportunity,” Abernathy said, “and we will stay until we get it.”
This is now
So, how far have black people progressed since 1968? Have we gotten our fair share yet? Those questions have been on my mind a lot this month.
Financial security, too, still differs dramatically by race. Black households earn $57.30 for every $100 in income earned by white families. And for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.
Another troubling aspect about black social progress – or should I say the lack thereof – is how many black families are headed by single women. In the 1960s, unmarried women were the main breadwinners for 20 percent of households. In recent years, the percentage has risen as high as 72 percent.
Black Americans today are also more dependent on government aid than they were in 1968. Currently, almost 40 percent of African-Americans are poor enough to qualify for welfare, housing assistance and other government programs that offer modest support to families living under the poverty line.
Depending on who you ask, then, black people aren’t much better off than in 1968 because either there’s not enough government help or there’s way too much.
What would MLK do?
I don’t have to wonder what Dr. King would recommend. He believed in institutional racism.
In 1968, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council sought to tackle inequality with the Economic Bill of Rights. This was not a legislative proposal, per se, but a moral vision of a just America where all citizens had educational opportunities, a home, “access to land,” “a meaningful job at a living wage” and “a secure and adequate income.”
To achieve that, King wrote, the U.S. government should create an initiative to “abolish unemployment,” by developing incentives to increase the number of jobs for black Americans. He also recommended “another program to supplement the income of those whose earnings are below the poverty level.”
Those ideas were revolutionary in 1968. Today, they seem prescient. King’s notion that all citizens need a living wage portends the universal basic income concept now gaining traction worldwide.
King’s rhetoric and ideology are also obvious influences on Sen. Bernie Sanders, who in the 2016 presidential primaries advocated equality for all people, economic incentives for working families, improved schools, greater access to higher education and for anti-poverty initiatives.
Progress has been made. Just not as much as many of us would like. To put it in Dr. King’s words, “Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”
Jamie Dew, dean of the college at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, teaches a theology class to inmates at Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, N.C. RNS photo by Sam Morris
Inside a squat cinderblock building on the grounds of Nash Correctional Institution, 24 inmates are hunched over white plastic tables listening to Professor James Dew explain how God is omnipotent and omniscient.
More than half of the men listening are serving life sentences for murder, armed robbery and other offenses. The rest have at least 12 years left to serve.
But Dew is not preaching to his audience as he paces the room posing questions about whether God can sin (No) or know people’s emotions (there’s disagreement, but most Christians say yes). He is teaching theology to prospective ministers.
The prisoners jotting notes, calling up documents on closed-circuit laptops or asking Dew questions of their own are earning four-year bachelor’s degrees in pastoral ministry from the College at Southeastern, the undergraduate school of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Wake Forest.
Dew’s class is part of a new niche in prison education: training inmates to become “field ministers” who serve as counselors for other inmates, lead prayers, assist prison chaplains and generally serve as a calming influence in prison yards.
Many of Dew’s students get up at 5 a.m. for devotionals, though it is not required. They attend lectures from 8:15 to 11:15, Monday through Thursday. There’s study hall in the afternoon and group study in the evenings. Each inmate gets a laptop with access to a limited online resource library.
Decades of research show that inmates who get an education have a far lower incidence of repeating criminal behavior, but of the 1.5 million people in U.S. prisons, only a tiny percentage can afford a college degree while behind bars.
Evangelical seminaries, led by Southern Baptist-affiliated schools, are increasingly stepping into the gap, raising money to offer inmates free, on-site college degrees in exchange for their labor once they graduate. Inmates in 15 states can now apply for such programs, and 10 more seminaries have programs in the planning stages, according to the Global Prison Seminaries Foundation, which helps set them up.
The degree awarded is different from state to state. In North Carolina, it’s a Bachelor of Arts in pastoral ministry; in Texas, a Bachelor of Science in biblical studies; and in South Carolina, an Associate of Arts degree.
Inmates at Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, N.C., are able to pursue a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry. RNS photo by Sam Morris
Game Plan for Life, a foundation started by Hall of Fame NFL coach and NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs, funds North Carolina’s effort, which costs nearly $300,000 a year. The Heart of Texas Foundation funds a similar program in Texas, which this year had a budget of $260,000.
More money goes to build up the educational infrastructure at prisons before classes can begin. Here at the Nash Correctional Institution, Southeastern Seminary received two grants to fund a library, and Game Plan for Life is now planning a $500,000 classroom building on prison grounds.
“We bring the academics, the state brings the legal clearance and helps us navigate the red tape, Game Plan for Life brings the financial component,” said Dew, the dean of Southeastern College and one of the half-dozen professors who spends a morning each week teaching at the prison. “It’s a three-way partnership.”
Since the program started two years ago, hundreds of North Carolina’s 36,635 prison inmates have applied to take the course of study and 53 have been admitted. Applicants must be felons serving minimum 15-year sentences with a high school diploma or GED and a clean disciplinary record for at least a year.
“Before we came here a lot of us were living in despair — no hope,” said James Benoy, who has been taking classes for the past 18 months. “It’s transformed us. We have a purpose, a direction and a mission in life.”
Most of the participants here were reared as Baptists or in various Pentecostal denominations. But by law, the programs must admit inmates of all faiths. At Nash Correctional, there are a few Catholics, a Muslim and one Rastafarian.
Still, the doctrine taught here is consistent with what Southern Baptists believe — that the Bible is divine revelation and inerrant.
That raises questions for some scholars about whether the programs privilege one set of religious beliefs over others. In general, prisons must provide equally for all inmates, regardless of their faith, or lack of it.
An inmate at Nash Correctional Institution works on material for a theology class in Nashville, N.C. RNS photo by Sam Morris
There are other concerns, too. “From my perspective, the larger issue is to what extent American prison systems are outsourcing rehabilitation to religious volunteers,” said Michael Hallett, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of North Florida who has written extensively about seminary prison programs.
Hallett questions just how voluntary these charitably funded programs are, since in most cases there are no secular alternatives.
“If the only game in town is a religious education program that’s going to result in you being in an easier prison while you’re doing life in prison, how authentic is the profession of faith?” he asks.
While inmates at most prisons can take correspondence courses from universities, as well as train to become plumbers, electricians or computer technicians, the cost of a bachelor’s degree makes it unattainable for most. (One exception is New York State’s Bard Prison Initiative.)
In 1994, Congress eliminated Pell grants for people serving in prison. (The Obama administration began a pilot program to resume prisoner access to Pell grants, but it faces an uncertain future.)
When the Pell grants were ended, the warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary feared his famously fractious prison, known as Angola, would erupt in violence. He reached out to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to explore the possibility of offering some kind of education to his charges.
By 1995, the New Orleans seminary began offering a few classes at the prison, which is America’s largest, housing some 6,300 inmates.
Since then, 312 Angola inmates have earned B.A. degrees in Christian ministry, and 80 of them are still working as field ministers in prisons across the state. The New Orleans seminary now runs identical prison programs in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.
In 2011, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, began offering a Bachelor of Science in biblical studies at Darrington Unit, a maximum security prison 30 miles south of Houston.
Calvin College, Appalachian Bible College, Trinity International University, North Park University and Columbia International University — all evangelical schools — have since started their own prison seminary programs.
For many seminary leaders, teaching prisoners is simply what their Christian faith demands.
“We tell people that as an institution it’s our mission to train people to go into the darkest places in the world and to be the light of Christ,” said Dew. “Most of our faculty see it for what it is — an opportunity to fulfill our mission.”
For prison administrators, the programs are attractive for another reason: They cost the state little or nothing. The prisons are normally responsible only for conducting initial screenings, interviewing applicants and providing transportation to the unit where the learning takes place. For that they get a host of tangible benefits: fewer disciplinary infractions and free labor in grief counseling and conflict resolution from program graduates.
“It changes the culture of the prison from within,” said Burl Cain, a former warden at Angola who now heads the Global Prison Seminaries Foundation. “They calm it down. You get rid of gangs. It really makes a difference.”
On their way out of their Biblical Hebrew class on a recent Thursday, the inmates at Nash Correctional lined up to shake the instructor’s hand, a weekly routine the students initiated.
“It’s making me a better person,” said 41-year-old Marquis McKenzie, who was sentenced to life for first-degree murder. “I think differently now. I read well, speak well, write well and think well.”
Professors said the students’ abilities vary, but they noted the inmates were all hardworking and tenacious.
Indeed, many inmates said they feel they’ve been offered a real opportunity to make something of their lives. And they said they look forward to imparting some of the wisdom they’ve acquired to younger inmates just coming in.
“Being in prison can be so dehumanizing,” said Bryce Williams, 36, who is serving an 18-year sentence for second-degree murder. “You don’t have any autonomy. That’s stripped away. So you start to think: ‘How can I effect change?’ This program has opened up doors. It affords you an opportunity to be human.”
Latter-day Saints and civil rights leaders are making plans for a collaboration to foster education and economic empowerment in urban centers across the country.
Officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the NAACP met in Salt Lake City earlier this month to continue hashing out plans for an “education and employment initiative” to be started in cities from Baltimore to San Francisco.
“They changed; they’re singing a new song,” the Rev. Amos Brown, chair of the NAACP’s interreligious relations committee, told fellow black Baptist clergy in Washington, D.C., about his recent meeting in Utah. “They got a new walk, a new talk and they have admitted that there were checkered instances in the past that they were engaged in racial ideas and practices.”
The collaboration, scheduled to launch next year, comes as the LDS church marks the 40th anniversary of the “revelation” about race that then-President Spencer W. Kimball declared he received. According to that revelation, the Mormon priesthood was no longer limited by color, opening the way for blacks to have leadership positions.
In May, current President Russell M. Nelson joined with top church and NAACP officials in a call for “greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect.”
Standing next to him, on the 64th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that declared school segregation unconstitutional, NAACP President Derrick Johnson spoke of their shared hope that “all peoples can work together in harmony and should collaborate more on areas of common interest.”
The dialogue between the two groups started officially this spring when the LDS church hosted a “unity luncheon” for NAACP board members in Salt Lake City. That was followed by the first-time speech of a top LDS leader at the civil rights organization’s annual meeting in July. Then NAACP board members attended a portion of the recent Mormon biannual conference.
The collaboration will be based on internal LDS “self-reliance” programs, which church leaders say they hope will enhance the employment opportunities and financial well-being of participants.
Ahmad Corbitt, a spokesman for the church who recently directed missionaries in the Caribbean, said the most recent meetings focused on making materials and manuals for the initiative appropriate for people of all faiths and no faith.
Topics include personal finances, entrepreneurial advice and getting a “better education for a better job.”
Planners anticipate the programs will primarily be attended by African-Americans and be held in black or Latino churches, Mormon meetinghouses and recreation centers in cities including Atlanta, Chicago and Camden, N.J.
“We are starting in five cities and we’re trying to serve our brothers and sisters who most need our service in those cities,” said Corbitt. “We’re coming together to do that and to identify them and get them enrolled in these courses or groups that will make a real difference in terms of their education and employment and really can change the course of their lives for many of them, is our hope.”
Corbitt, who previously was the African-American president of the stake, or regional area of Mormons, in Cherry Hill, N.J., said the church’s programs usually occur once a week for 12 weeks. But the duration and frequency of the collaborative programs may be different.
Brown, in an interview, said he believes the LDS church is focused on fostering better education and employment opportunities through the initiative rather than building its membership of 16 million people worldwide.
“They did not come with any hidden agenda of proselytizing,” said Brown, who also is the social justice chair of the National Baptist Convention, USA. “It was made clear up front that they were concerned about what the church today needed to do of substance to address the challenges of African-Americans and other marginalized people in inner-city communities.”