This is an excerpt from the book “Faith with its sleeves rolled up” by Charles Oham. A collection of essays on the roles of faith in the Society.
This chapter elucidates the concept of spiritual capital, a nascent concept that is paradoxically both as old as man and a currently emerging line of enquiry. This resource has been the engine of community development, innovation and resilience when appropriated by its custodians. The chapter argues for its use not just amongst people 9f faith but for all stakeholders, as the benefits transcend a parochial perspective. Examples of spiritual capital in practice are cited in this chapter. The chapter concludes with the benefits and challenges of spiritual capital.
First Fruit Group
In 1997, Peter Watherston, a Vicar, and his wife, Hannah, set up the social enterprise, First Fruit Trading. They started with the creation of an employment support project which addressed high unemployment and social exclusion in the London Borough of Newham. This evolved into First Fruit Group, which has been highly prolific and socially innovative in addressing unemployment and homelessness through several business initiatives.
First Fruit subsidiaries have included a sewing business that makes cheerleading outfits, coffee shops, hostels and clothes plastic recycling. The largest is First Fruit Warehouse, which sells used office furniture collected from corporate firms. Most of the business units have an environmentally sustainable dimension to their operation; most of the furniture and white goods are snatched up just in time from the land fill.
Over the last ten years First Fruit Group has employed hundreds of people, including the vulnerable and excluded in various capacities. They have also generated a combined turnover of £10 million in trading income. Only fifteen percent of their income is attributed to grant funding.
First Fruit Group is currently navigating the current economic storm with a robust and difficult restructuring process. At times like these most social entrepreneurs reflect on what success is to them. For Peter success is philosophical it is more about the intangible than the tangible. The tangible may cease but their convictions and values will live on in the lives of those they have touched through various interventions. They have made investments in people over the years. This is their real legacy the development of human and social capitat which is not easily measured by box ticking exercises. This kind of outlook can lead to future opportunities that may elude traditional business thinkers as the team are not afraid to close down declining business arms and start up new ones in areas of low productivity and need. Peter and Hannah’s driving force has been their faith. First Fruit was set up after Peter and Hannah left Mayflower Family Centre an Anglican organisation in Canning Town1 East London.
First Fruit Group1’s case goes on to demonstrate that there could be various drivers other than a social one that could propel an individual to become a social entrepreneur.
Professor Muhammad Yunnus, a Nobel Laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank, a micro credit social enterprise which has lent over seven billion dollars to the poor in Bangladesh, challenges the idea that it is a one-dimensional human being who plays the role of an entrepreneur. Mohammad comments that 11We insulate the person from other dimensions of life; such as religious, emotional and the political.” These dimensions can in fact have a great impact on the motivations for entrepreneurialism.
One driver of social entrepreneurship, for example, is religious in nature, and is known as spiritual capital; it is quite nascent as a research line compared to the other forms of capital postulated by Pierre.2 Yale Research Professor, Theodore Malloch, describes spiritual capital as the advantages a person derives from their faith which manifests in their values and is experienced in their relationships and commitments amongst people. He notes that spiritual capital provides a link to a transcendental form of refined” happiness, going on to posit that it is founded on an understanding that all resources are entrusted to people.” This therefore demands stewardship through the preservation and development of a wealth of resources. Spiritual capital can be described as 11Wealth we can live by drawing upon our deepest meanings, values and highest motivations, it helps make the future of humanity sustainable.”
On a strategic level, spiritual capital can add value to Government-led initiatives like Big Society and, more recently, the Prime Minister’s call for the British to be proud of their Christian heritage and the creation of umoral markets” that would stem unethical corporate culture driven by short term gain. The Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, also advocates a longer-term approach to business performance evaluation and a curb to the bonus culture in the City.
A major challenge spiritually-driven social entrepreneurs may face in a secular society is societal perceptions about the role and limits of faith. However, judging by our poor performance as a nation in addressing societal dilemmas such as inequality and youth unemployment and their effects on society, one would wonder why a rethink is not necessary.
Nevertheless, most social entrepreneurs are resolute. Lord Mawson, who founded the famous Bromley by Bow Centre as a church leader1 became a social entrepreneur by working in Britain’s poorest estates by committing to applying business principles to social issues.s Currently, Bromley by Bow Centre – situated in one of the most deprived boroughs in the United Kingdom/ Tower Hamlets – has birthed over 28 social enterprises and employs over two hundred people.