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Entrepreneurs – encouraging the engine of development by Charles McLachlan

Charles McLachlan

Charles McLachlan

Although George Bush famously said that the French have no word for entrepreneur, the entrepreneurial spirit is represented in every nation and culture in the world. However, depending on the cultural context, the way it is applied can be an enormous power for good or continue to buttress the forces that hold back the development of society. When I lived in the East End of London, it was often said that there were just two career paths for those with ambition – join the police force or the trade in illegal drugs. For entrepreneurs in that context, the police force was a poor second best.

In the emerging economies of Central Asia and Africa, the entrepreneurial choice is often to join the kleptocracy that controls access to the natural resources of the nation for personal gain. The result is both the impoverishment of the nation and a growing gulf between an enormously wealth few and the majority of the nation living without access to basic levels of education, sanitation, water, healthcare and, too often, nutrition. The response of Western nations has been to seek to address the needs of education, sanitation, water and healthcare through donor based projects or major debt financed infrastructure projects such as dams.

However, there is a very exciting alternative that has been pioneered by a number of organisations that seeks to release the entrepreneurial spirit amongst those who are committed to working in their local communities to build wealth and jobs. By way of illustration, I shall be talking about the work of the Transformational Business Network (TBN).

“Using business to bring spiritual and physical transformation to the world’s poor”

TBN mobilises Western business professionals to partner with emerging entrepreneurs working in their communities to bring transformation both economic and spiritual, both environmental and social through development of profitable businesses that can bring wealth and hope, restoration and renewal.

The process is simple – a group goes out to visit a developing community on an ‘Exposure’ trip hosted by local NGO’s to build relationships and understand the challenges the community faces and what entrepreneurial activity is already happening on the ground. For most of the visitors, this is the first time they have been directly confronted with the realities of daily life in such a community. During and after the trip individuals become strongly motivated to respond to the needs of the emerging entrepreneurs which may be technical advice, access to markets, general business mentoring, training or access to basic equipment and investment capital.

After the ‘Exposure’ trip the visitors will often establish a local Transformational Business Group on their return, so that they can work together to support the specific entrepreneurs they are committed to overseas. The emerging entrepreneurs vary enormously in their stage of development both in terms of scale and entrepreneurial maturity. A honey project, for example, started with the provision of a single hive and has now grown to include multiple hives, honey processing and marketing and even new hive production. At the other end of the scale, a group came together to form a game park and 5 star safari business in South Africa in the under developed area of Port Elizabeth from scratch.

But TBN stands for so much more than starting businesses and making money. The commitment of the emerging entrepreneurs to their communities challenges the Western business professionals to reset their personal goals for business. Business can be a medium of restoration, such as the HIV/Aids infected carpet makers that have personal dignity in work, pay for their own anti-virals and can support each other and their families. Business can be a medium of reconciliation, such as the Teamstart initiative in Ramallah with Palestinians on the West Bank creating an ICT incubator that with direct links to Israeli technology companies.

The true prize is even greater: as grass roots entrepreneurs develop their businesses, not only do they bring jobs and the wealth to fund education, sanitation, water and healthcare but they help to grow a middle class. This middle class has a stake in social cohesion and bridge the richest and the poorest. They also provide role models of hope and opportunity for all.

Charles McLachlan, Chairman of Academy Groups 27 & 28 and Entrepreneurs Boards 5, 25 & 26, is co-founder of the Transformation Development Partnership which works with individuals, teams, enterprises and communities that are committed journeying to building 4D Enterprises: enterprises bring impact economically, socially, environmentally and spiritually.
Charles has witnessed first hand the power of the Academy Community as he is both ACE Chairman and a Speaker for the organisation. ACE is dedicated to inspiring the leaders of businesses to change their thinking, challenge their views and help them with their decision making abilities. Leaders no longer need to feel isolated at the top. For more information visit
© Charles McLachlan 2010

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