Seeing Business Through the Eyes of Justice
Is business evil? What are the root causes of poverty? Can business be used as a vehicle to alleviate injustice? AUBG students were challenged to consider these and other questions at the presentation of “Social Justice, Business, and Serving the Poor” on Tuesday, Oct. 4. Allan Bussard, a Canadian businessman and co-founder of the economic development agency Integra, shared insights about enterprise solutions to poverty and presented his innovative work in Europe and Africa.
From a small town in Western Canada, Bussard started his business experience with founding a travel company in Vienna that specialized in helping Canadians visit their relatives living in former Eastern Bloc countries. Later, he founded a consulting firm in Bratislava devoted to helping manufacturing businesses recover from the Soviet influence and transform their business practices.
As a means of impacting poor Eastern European communities, Mr. Bussard founded Integra in 1995. Beginning as a small company operating in Slovakia, the agency expanded to work with microenterprises and larger companies in Romania, Russia, Croatia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Slovakia and beyond. The aim of Integra was primarily to create businesses that could create jobs for others. One target group was single mothers. Integra’s help enabled them to develop skills and open hairdressing salons.
“I just knew that the best way to help the poor was not charity but work,” Bussard explained. “So we needed to help those people escape from the poverty trap by creating jobs for them.”
After many Central European countries joined the EU in 2001-2002, Integra moved its focus from Slovakia to Africa, where it started working in the field of agriculture, eco-tourism and business investments. Integra helped create the fair-trade company Ten Senses as well as several non-profit organizations established to help children and poor communities.
One of Integra’s key efforts has and continues to be in the area of fair trade among African farmers. Before their involvement, farmers would generally receive 1% of the total profit from the production and sale of their crops. With Integra’s help, the percentage of profit going to the farmers has risen to 10-15%. Additionally, the market for their products is now stable.
“I’ve always been moved by my convictions for social justice and truth. Making money is important, but the prime goal of every business should be helping people,” shared Bussard.
Bussard’s talk gave students insight into how business can be used as a tool for empowering the poor and addressing injustice.
South Korean student Sieun Lim said, “As a senior planning what I should do after graduate, the talk was really helpful for me. I had an idea that I might get involved in business, but I didn’t want my work to be only about money. This talk gave me another perspective on how business can balance profits and common benefits.”
“Since childhood,” said Rochel Canagasabey, a Sri Lankan student, “I always pictured business in dollars and Euros, but now I can picture it not only in cash but also in love for each other.”
Some AUBG students doubted the ideas Bussard suggested could be implemented in countries like Bulgaria and Albania because of the enormous rate of corruption, the existence of stereotypes and the lack of money.
Responding to such concerns, Bussard stated, “I definitely think the same model could work here. It is all about how you manage the money you have and how you direct your perspective. It starts from a small investment and right motivation and grows step by step to life-changing results. It is just a matter of time [for] people to lose their stereotypes.”
The presentation was sponsored by the Logos Club, which seeks to provoke students to consider life’s deeper issues.
“As you know, the idea of ‘business’ in Bulgaria often has a negative connotation of being dishonest, exploitative, corrupt, and based on greed,” said Professor William Clark, faculty advisor for the Logos Club. “My hope is that Mr. Bussard’s talk will impact students in looking at business as a tool of providing value and social justice for society. I also hope his example of trying something new, taking risks, overcoming difficulties, etc. will inspire students to be more creative and to courageously look for new opportunities for contributing to society.”