A good economic model for the Miss. Delta?

May 2, 2011

Economic Development

By Amy McCullough

Dr. Randy Russ

Dr. Randy Russ

This week’s Q&A, former Community Coffee CEO Randy Russ, is now leading Jackson’s Christ United Methodist Church in “Business As Mission” work on an African coffee farm.

The MBJ asked whether such an economic model might help in Mississippi’s economically depressed Delta. His response:

Q – Tell us about your “business as mission” work on an African coffee farm through Christ United Methodist Church.

A - Developing sustainable relationships in other parts of the world. Community Coffee was the first company to export coffee from Rwanda after the genocide and also started an industry-leading model in Columbia, South America for coffee supply from a growers’ cooperative … Growers got 10 cents per pound of coffee for social development. The first thing they voted to do was to build an agricultural high school.

My work in the church is really to bring business and mission and ministry together. It’s a movement called BAM – business as mission – where you’re bringing the needs of the world into the business community and seeing if there are profitable ways to accomplish both the Kingdom work as well as business objectives.

We’ve just started a home for street children in Nakuru, Kenya. In February that property was purchased with our partner church Lakeview Africa Gospel Church.

I always tell entrepreneurs, first, do no harm to yourself or others, and begin with the end in mind. … The business as mission model begins with the end in mind, and that is to self-generate funds in order to provide the cash flow to run the ministry.

Nakuru is a town of about 1.5 million. There are thousands of children on the streets. Due to HIV, their parents have died. Due to lack of economic opportunity, the parents can’t feed them, so they turn them out.

We felt called to go to the next level and build a residential community for them to go to school, to learn a trade and to graduate and go on to a productive life. So we purchased 12 acres through the generosity of the people of Christ United Methodist Church, and with that acreage, there will be room for about 80 children. Kenya is still very agricultural. I like to describe it as “Mississippi 100 years ago with cell phones.”

Q – Would that work in the Mississippi Delta?

A - Hand outs lead to dependency, and we see that in the Delta where it’s a dependency culture. And in Nakuru what we hope is that through a business model, we can generate 50 percent or more of the ongoing expenses to maintain this ministry. What we’re researching right now is high-value crops and foods that can be grown … The feed themselves by eating the food from the farm, and produce is sold in the marketplace. One entrepreneur and Christian business man … in another part of the country is our advisor … He has been doing this (model) for 20 years. We’re also talking about auto mechanics because it‘s on a main highway . … All the goods that pass into East Africa go right in front of this place. So we’re thinking about a training school for auto and diesel mechanics.

Haiti is an example of a country that 95 percent of their gross domestic product is aid. In the long run, it does not work. We see that, in 50 years in the Delta, what do we have to show for it?

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