Business Connect was created as a way to help those in developing countries start businesses and sell a product that is life enhancing. This thread has continued to be a part of our work throughout the years. Our model is to establish a country distributor and then have them work with additional distributors in those countries. Inversiones Wolfe Honduras (IWH), our Honduras country distributor, does just that. They have established relationships that allow them to encourage and help entrepreneurs grow. Here is a story from one of those entrepreneurs.
It all began with a simple call. One of IWH’s partners in the United States, Jim, who often traveled to Honduras to do development work, was looking for a way to support the local Hondurans he worked with. The locals would have work when volunteers visited, but were not able to have sustainable income for the long run. Jim was looking at employing the local workers by having them distribute the water filters, yet the Business Connect distributor reminded him of the importance of distributing the filters for a price. By selling the filters, there is ownership of the filters as well as increased adoption. An additional benefit of having a local distributor is that there is someone available for any needed services. The partner agreed and connected IWH with a Honduran he worked with named Ricky.
Ricky has a great heart and entrepreneurial spirit. He immediately soaked up all of the information that IWH shared about building a water filter business, like partnering with local non-governmental organizations, setting up a storefront and doing his own clean water projects. Mike at Inversiones Wolfe Honduras was a wealth of information for the new entrepreneur, Ricky. He was also able to share about the legal aspects of starting a business, how to present the filters, and how to market his business. The support he received helped Ricky start his own water filter business that is impacting his local community. Additional communities are gaining access to clean water and Ricky is generating income to support himself.
Ricky is also now an important part of the Business Connect distribution network as a distributor in partnership with Inversiones Wolfe Honduras. Their heart to mentor new entrepreneurs is our hope for our entire network. We desire to continue to develop partnerships and small businesses that will continue to improve the quality of life in communities around the world.
At Business Connect, we have partners from all around the globe. We are thankful for the opportunity to connect with people from the Philippines to Honduras, and between. In addition to our international partners, we do have a small but mighty headquarter team based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our team’s offices and warehouse are located in a building called the Connect Building. This is a local community building that encourages local business growth and supports our international efforts in distributing water, sanitation and hygiene products.
The building was purchased and renovated with the goal to bring everything together in one place, increasing efficiency and fostering growth. Originally, Business Connect’s headquarter team worked out of their homes and the products were stored and processed in various warehouses. The move to the Connect Building brought a stronger sense of unity and allowed us to have a bigger presence in our local community.
The choice of location was a strategic one. As the Burton Heights Neighborhood continues to grow, we wanted to be a part of it. The building was centrally located for our team and allowed us to be community focused. We were able to hire many local workers to renovate the building and make it our own. As we developed our network, we also found local businesses that would rent out our extra space. This has continued to make the Connect Building a center for entrepreneurship, business development and networking.
In addition, we have Business Connect manufacturing partners working out of the Connect Building. Village Water Filters, who produce the VF100 and other popular water filters, do their assembly out of our building. We even welcomed our newest addition to the Connect Building a few weeks ago, Crud Cloth. They manufacture a shower-in-a-bag which can be used for cleaning up when running water is not available.
As our presence continues to grow, we hope to have even more entrepreneurs work from our offices. The Connect Building has also become a community meeting place, hosting the Burton Heights Business Association and other community organizations. We are thankful that this building has allowed us to have a greater presence in our local community as well as better support our international network. If you are ever in the Grand Rapids area, stop by the Connect Building at 2146 Division Ave S and connect with us. We would love to welcome you to our headquarters.
We know it has been a tough year and a half with the pandemic around the world, especially for our partners working in developing countries. They have had to take creative approaches in order to keep their businesses going. Cosas Mejores, one of our distributors in Guatemala, did just that to keep afloat during the many lockdowns they had to endure.
During pre-covid times, Cosas Mejores built homes for low-income families in and around Antigua, Guatemala. When the families moved into their new homes, Cosas Mejores would also give them a VF100 water filter as a welcome gift. These projects were powered and funded by volunteers that came to work on the homes. Cosas Mejores was also selling filters to other groups that did work in the community.
Of course, the pandemic lockdowns put a stop to many volunteer trips and halted much of the work being done. Even today Guatemala is still in partial lockdown and locals have very limited access to vaccines. Unfortunately, things are not looking like they will go back to normal anytime soon.
This pushed Cosas Mejores to think of a creative way to use their current resources to generate new streams of revenue. Since they had many local carpenters as well as a welding shop from building the houses, they decided to create wood furniture to sell. This allowed them to keep their workers employed and cater to the demand for tables from the local shops and homes around Antigua. As the city is a center of tourism in Guatemala, this pivot is an excellent example of listening to the market and making adjustments accordingly. The furniture helped to diversify their sales portfolio to reach new markets and continue to grow their business.
At Business Connect, we desire to help our distributors build successful businesses, not only with our products, but any product that will help them grow. We know that business creates sustainable change in our communities. In this case, Cosas Mejores was able to develop their business even further by adding to their product portfolio. If you need business coaching or additional ideas, please reach out to us. We want to help you be a profitable and successful entrepreneur, so that together we can better the lives of others in our communities.
Why are job creation and access to clean energy so important to us here at Business Connect?
A market transformation from inefficient and polluting fuel-based lighting to solar-LED systems is well underway across the developing world, but the extent of net job creation has not previously been defined. An article written by Evan Mills from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California/Berkeley, Job Creation and Energy Savings through a Transition to Modern Off-grid Lighting, finds that current worldwide employment associated with fuel-based lighting represents approximately 150,000 jobs.
New jobs will accompany the replacement technologies. A survey of major solar-LED lighting companies finds that 38 such jobs are created for each 10,000 people living off-grid for whom stand-alone solar-LED lights are suitable. Applying this metric, the number of new jobs already created from the current uptake of solar-LED lighting has matched that of fuel-based lighting and foreshadows the potential creation of 2 million new jobs to fully serve the 112 million households globally that currently lack electricity access, are unlikely to be connected to the major grid, micro-grids, or are able to afford more extensive solar systems.
A likely greater number of additional jobs and employment income will be indirectly created or preserved via indirect employment, re-spending of energy savings, conservation of foreign exchange, enhanced literacy, and improved working conditions. In contrast, central grid expansion is unlikely to provide any net increase in jobs. The case of solar-LED lighting demonstrates that policymakers have tools to increase the pace of in-country job creation in the context of sustainable development, while minimizing job displacement, and improving the quality of employment. These tools include stimuli for domestic manufacturing or assembly of products; supporting peripheral businesses and services, such as training, recycling, financing, and impact assessment; and removing market barriers that slow the uptake of emerging technologies.
This might be more information than you need to know but it solidifies the reasons why we are focusing on creating employment opportunities in the developing world through our robust distribution network. It is a win-win situation in our eyes, more jobs and more clean resources that will help children that have to now study by a toxic kerosene lantern. Access to solar lighting will allow women to save needless hours spent gathering firewood — and spend those hours on opportunities for themselves and their families.
So what can you do about this? We’re glad you asked! Join our team, sponsor a student or entrepreneur, help us fundraise or make a tax-deductible donation through our partnership with Partners Worldwide. We need you as a Champion today and tomorrow for a better, cleaner world.
The first week of March, Jereme and I were at the Global Agriculture Summit hosted by Dordt College in North West Iowa. Partners Worldwide, the Andreas Center for Reformed Scholarship and Service, and World Renew brought together an international group of leaders from the fields of agriculture, business, community development, and the Christian academy for an intensive two-day conference on how Christians, farmers, and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) can work together to restore our world. About 650 people attended from business partnerships around the world. We did not see a charity in the room.
The conference was all about finding sustainable business solutions. It was most clearly demonstrated in example after example, from apple orchards in the State of Washington to vertically integrated poultry projects in Mozambique. STOP giving aid! STOP the charity! STOP building another orphanage unless it is sustainable. I can summarize the theme in three words: SHARE THE MARKET!
A Perfect Example Why Charity Does Not Work.
Several weeks ago we received a request to provide 400 water filters for a project. The NGO who made the request wanted the best price. We strongly suggested they purchase from our local supplier, although the price would be higher. It had to be. They had to make a profit. They imported the product. They paid customs. The paid the transportation. They had overhead. Unfortunately for our in-country representative, our business, and for the people being helped, the NGO purchased the product from the North American manufacturer directly.
The NGO staff and donors felt great. They saved money and were able to purchase more filters than had they purchased locally. They had donors who felt great about their generosity. The people were happy. They received the product free. The American manufacturer was delighted.
The result? “What you do not pay for you do not value! What you do not value you do not care for!” Almost immediately there will be those who would like to have the product but there will be no supplier. If it was there, they would not want to pay for it because it had been given away free of charge. Worse, when the filter needed service or a replacement, there would be no one to purchase from. There is no continuing presence. Families who had experienced clean and safe water for several years, needing a replacement filter or component, would now have to drink unfiltered water, having built up no immunity, and will find themselves very sick.
Business Connect Has a Solution.
We are committed to finding a business solution; one that is sustainable, profitable, and accessible to the poorest of the poor. When a donation is given to Business Connect we make sure the delivery is made in such a way that the local business entrepreneur is empowered.
We do not claim to have all the answers nor even the right answer but we believe we have a better answer. A new documentary entitled Poverty, Inc. documents well how flawed charity and aid have not helped the developing world at all. It provides clear evidence that charity is not the answer.
Lou …for the Business Connect Team…and so many who continue to encourage us.
Jereme and Lou spent a week in four provinces of South East Cuba last week, hosted by the Light and Life Ministries in partnership with World Serve from Canada. Lou has provided an overview of some of the many impressions that Business Connect came home with during their brief but successful trip to one of the most mysterious of destinations: Cuba.
Eight to Two: Cuba and Baseball You Ask?
We were introduced to this opportunity to travel to Cuba through our Business Connect sales representative in Belize who had contacts with WorldServe. There were a total of eight visitors and two local leaders who took us around. We visited homes, communities, and churches asking questions about health, clean and safe water, and how our technology might be useful in their situation. A former professor of English at one of provincial Universities, Danny Rodriguez, spent a day with us. He put it like this, “I could try to explain our culture and society but you need to live at least a year with us before you can comprehend what is going on.” So true. The more we learned the more questions I had and the more complex and complicated the situation seemed to me.
Here are a few examples.
Cuba has some of the best and most productive farm land in the Caribbean. Yet, much of the farming is still done by hand, by oxen, and some by tractors.
No one starves or goes hungry yet the allotment or food stipend per month is insufficient. Each adult receives a distribution each month. One person told us this month they received five pounds of rice, a pound of beans, five pounds of sugar, and five eggs.
Cuba has essentially a 100% literacy rate. This does not mean that everyone completes high school but it does mean that Cuba has one of the highest doctors per capital anywhere in the world. Health care is provided freely to every citizen yet cholera is a constant challenge. Ninety percent of the population boil their water. No one acknowledges in public that cholera is endemic.
I had the impression that Communism meant a closed and controlled society. It is and yet it is not. We were free to drive anywhere, over 1000 km, through the 15 provinces. We drove through four of them. We discovered that thousands of Canadian tourists flock to Cuba every winter. I was shocked walking out of the terminal as we arrived to see several huge luxury tourist buses waiting to take the new arrivals to the beach side resorts. The Friday we flew out seven international flights were scheduled in and out of the regional international airport of Holguin, the third largest city of Cuba.
There are bicycle trails. We met a group of German fellows bicycling from East to West and to our surprise, tourists come from all over Europe and have been for years.
The entire country seems to be electrified with the exception of some remote mountain villages. We experienced no outages.
One has to be careful and ask permission. I wanted to see or get as close to the U.S. Guantanamo military site. We sought permission to attend church outside the 10 km restricted area outside the base. The government denied us permission. There is a population of twelve million people. Over one million are evangelical protestant Christians. This does not count people of faith within the Catholic community. Although restricted, the church is growing. We were told no one is in prison because of their faith.
The black market seems to thrive…carefully, underground, and necessarily.
The Guardalavaca Resort area is just about an hour out of Holguin. The standard rate is $36.00 per night per person for an all-inclusive stay, two meals, and eight drinks a day. The average going wage for a teacher is about $30.00 a month. Doctors and engineers tend to flock to these places to work as taxi drivers, doormen, whatever job they can, to pick up some tips from these tourists. How can this country work like that?
Everything is owned by the government. No one is free to just start a business although it seems to be opening up. The entrepreneurial spirit is not allowed in business. Yet, there are vintage vehicles from the 1950s all over, remade, rebuilt with Russian, Nissan, Egyptian, and who knows where else parts and pieces fitted together, something like the family of faith.
We saw no trash anywhere. The streets are safe. We walked down some dark streets and alleys late at night and felt perfectly safe. And here is an amazing thing. I saw no military, no AK-47s, no armed guards.
We were told there are a multitude of communist informants but you are perfectly safe as long as you are not politically active.
Every male high school graduate is expected to give two years of active military service. Only one year is required if you go on to college. I think we could learn a few things.
I asked our Baptist pastor and leader what message he would like us to take to our American Churches. This is what he said, “We have the joy of the Lord in our hearts. You will see most people in Cuba are very sad. They want to leave. They dream of leaving. But there are those of us who know Christ, we live with joy. Your presence has encouraged us so much. We would love to host you again…soon!”
We had an extra day after completing our work with water filters and then we wanted to experience what it was like to visit a resort and…whatever we could find. About three quarters down the road from El Bosque Hotel where we were staying, there was a large stadium. Someone mentioned the Cuban baseball playoffs were on of which the Holguin team were participants. I said, “What about going to a baseball game the last night in town?” There was immediate and unanimous support. We were told there was open seating. First to enter the stadium got the choice seats. Needless to say, upon returning from the Guardalavaca Resort area, we dropped our stuff in our rooms and started walking. We were hardly out the door and jumped into a horse drawn carriage to the stadium to arrive early, on purpose.
There was open seating and we got the best seats right next to home plate on the first base side. A baseball scout was sitting just across the aisle. There were no advertisements on the stadium walls. Initially it seemed we might be able to get some pizza but by the end of the second inning the concessions were finished, no drinks nor food. When someone had some trash, they got up, came down the steps, and put it into the waste basket. The stadium was clean when we left three hours later as it was when we arrived.
Foul balls into the stands are returned to the field. I am not quite sure what would happen if one tried to keep a ball. We were not about to try. A friend had indicated to one of the star players, Michael Gorguet, number four in the lineup, that we might show up at the game. After the warm up but before the game, he came over and asked us to come downstairs so we could meet. Through the team doctor, who spoke excellent English, he told us how he was a man of faith and was so glad that we had come to see his country. We shook his hands, briefly told him why we were visiting, and prayed together. What a country!
The home team lost by a score of eight to two. Several times they had two men on base and no outs but just could not pull it off. That is kind of how I see Cuba. The country has really done some great things with education, health, tourism, created a generally common social/economic base, at the same level but at a very high cost. It never really works well. There is so much potential. We think we need to visit again. They certainly need our water filters. Maybe we can get on base and end with a perfect score with that product, putting an end to water-related illnesses.