Many people work in the sphere of religion, and not just in church settings. Most of the significant NGOs in Australia are faith-based and Christian in their values, and many people give their lives to help improve the lives of others. Sally Irwin has worked for years in helping empower survivors of human trafficking and is the CEO and founder of The Freedom Hub, which has been established to continue that amazing work.
At the Freedom Hub, we have established a ‘business with purpose.’ This model changes the traditional methods of doing business, and the traditional operations of a charity. As a result, my daily work throws me into a world of working with CEOs of large corporations, leaders of different faiths, social workers from NGOs, small business owners who want to partner with us, and volunteers who want to make a difference. Each of them brings their own agendas and mindsets to the table. Working with them demands from me the art of diplomacy – without compromising values.
So how do I, as a Christian, successfully navigate this world without becoming ‘of the world’?
I have a couple of key personal convictions that are foundational in keeping me on the right path.
a) I surround myself with a few key like-minded Christians. I made a policy with myself that my Board and my top-level management team will always be Christians. By like-minded, I don’t mean ‘yes-men’ or religious people, but believers who are innovative or entrepreneurial in their field; Leaders who understand calculated risk and are committed to the vision for the long run. These are the characteristics I look for in my team. They not only keep me accountable; They want the Freedom Hub to succeed, and they have skills in their field way beyond mine. Most importantly, they understand the role that faith and risk play in decision making. My strategic decisions are based on following the Lord’s guidance, in areas beyond my own wisdom, which in essence means a whole lot of calculated risk taking! Some of these decisions would not make sense to those just applying worldly logic. So by having these key like-minded people around me, I can easily employ and work with people from other faiths and backgrounds, without compromising my core Christian values in major strategic decisions.
b) I practice the biblical principle of putting His kingdom first. My prayer life, the Word and building His church are my priorities. I arrange my social life, holidays and work life around being a Christian leader at my church every Sunday, no matter how tired or sick I feel. I believe by putting this first, everything else in my life just works. Sowing into others, sowing into His church and sowing what I have in my hand is the starting point for my business.
Choosing to not be of the world doesn’t mean I am not part of it. I leverage the world’s priorities, trends, and language for the benefit of our business and glory of God.
In brief, this is how I see this:
Priorities: The top three priorities of Gen Y & Z are happiness, experience, and discovery. CEOs of large corporations want to leave a legacy, NGOs want to make a difference, other faiths (99% of them) have a mission based on ‘love’’ and most people want to do something to make a positive difference. People think that I must be going around pitching in order to raise the amount of money and support we have. However, with the Lord’s favour, all I do is tell our story – what we do – and tailor it to who I am speaking with. I allow their personal ‘want’ to draw them into the vision and support the work of the Freedom Hub. Everyone has their own ‘why’ – I just need to show them how to direct it our way. It is not a ‘sell’, it is a fulfilment of an opportunity they have been looking for. I never, ever chase or push people who do not feel the alignment; I want whole-hearted partners, staff, and volunteers. A sales person would keep pitching or chasing. I would rather have a few whole-hearted people than hundreds of flaky people who talk about making a difference and being successful, but don’t turn that into action. As a result, we have some absolutely amazing people and companies on the journey with us, above and beyond all I could ask or imagine.
Trends: Old business models are under attack. They are like large ships trying to turn quickly. Instead, disruptive business models that are able to adapt quickly – test, fail, test – are tech-savvy and innovative, and are changing how the world works. Uber, Airbnb, and Airtasker are just a few examples. Without going into this at length, the Freedom Hub is establishing a new model for business that creates self-sustainability and solves one of society’s problems, by using the current disruptive methods and tech savvy platforms. The world loves this, and it is in stark contrast to what many people think Christians are capable of doing. It aligns beautifully with our creative God, innovative Saviour and the unique guidance of the Holy Spirit. We should be setting trends, not following them.
Language: Here is where we need to excel. How we express ourselves in the world is key. Creating a brand is easier than ever, but more important than ever. Today’s market is saturated with voices; the language we choose can set us apart. The very first thing I did was work out our values. Everything we do, everyone we hire, everyone we fire, how we gauge success, how we structure our appraisals, how we pay our bonuses, who we align with, where we spend our money – EVERYTHING must align with our five core values. A values-based business is how I like to imagine Jesus would have run a business! Most businesses determine success through profits, shares and assets – but times are a changin’! Recent studies have demonstrated that companies that put their people first and are values-based, are financially more successful than those that don’t. As the Freedom Hub wants to make a lot of money, (so 100% of profit will go to support the human trafficking survivors we teach in our school), a values-based business gives us the edge. Communicating our culture in language based on “values” and “principles”, removes the moral-superiority of Christian lingo and establishes a common ground with the world. Whilst I want everyone on my team to love thy neighbour, in our business we simply express that by placing value on encouragement. Our values frame everything we do and say, our integrity remains in place, and the way we communicate with the world becomes authentic.
As Christians, our worldview for success is different to the world. However, I believe there is room to leverage worldly success for God’s glory if we set personal, bible-based principles to stay strong. Establishing a common ground in humanitarian priorities, setting new trends and acting with authentic values allows us to lead and impact in every sphere of life –including the highly competitive business world.
By Sally Irwin, CEO and Founder of The Freedom Hub