Risk Takers

Entrepreneurship, risk-taking, improving efficiency, seeing opportunity where no one else does. These are qualities we have come to expect from persons involved in business, the private sector. Our neighbours to the south, the Americans, have come to personify these qualities. Some find them pushy, too driven, always looking for a way to do something faster, cheaper, and trying to improve productivity. Not me, I feel the human character needs some of these virtues and our dynamic economy would not be what it is without these persons. And any economist will tell you that without resources being produced the overall health of a civil society will be in jeopardy. It is a vibrant economy with a solid tax base that allows for resources to be mobilized in support of worthy causes.

Now the problem comes when persons with this kind of mindset, driven, risk-takers, entrepreneurs, assume everyone else must be like them. They look at others and wonder, “Why isn’t everyone like me, all you need to do is try.” But it isn’t that simple, a whole range of factors conspire to leave many without this kind of “get up and go.” Many, many times I have spoken to business leaders and cautioned them against the assumption that everyone is just like them. Just lowering taxes and getting out of the way of the risk taker is not going to result in a stable, secure and vibrant civil society. Some will need more support and this support makes all of us better, more connected.

But the same kind of lack of awareness that afflicts some business people also limits the vision of non-profit and government people. There is a mindset of playing it safe, always being cautious, rewarding the status quo and harassing those who like to take risks. I have seen this attitude at play often and within the non-profit sector and public sector you can see this attitude take its toll on those who have innovative and dynamic ideas. “We can’t do that, something could go wrong”, is the mantra I hear all too often. How ironic that some of the most change resistant people I have met were on the religious and political left, supposedly those who embrace change.

In the Bible the dynamic early church featured a do-gooder ethos (widows, refugees, the ill, etc…) and the wealthy (who owned land) and the entrepreneurs, people like Lydia who sold purple cloth. In Acts 16 the story is told that the early church relied on business people like Lydia to house newcomers and offer hospitality to the emerging and diverse church.

I see many of our non-profits today, struggling with reduced budgets and shoe-string funding and I worry that without more risk takers joining their Boards it is not likely the kind of change they will need will ever come to be. I remember a colleague telling me about a social housing project he was working on. They had meeting after meeting and the do-gooders on the committee like him were just spinning their wheels. Finally one of the hold-outs in the church, who had been opposed to the church moving outside a more strictly spiritual role, came on side. She was from the corporate world and immediately her influence, energy and can-do spirit began to show results. The project was undertaken, not because this woman had influence but rather because this woman was a risk-taker and someone ready to seize opportunity, to call on everyone to roll up their sleeves and create something new and dynamic.

Thank God for that kind of spirit. We need more of it.