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By Janelle Schroy
Editor’s Note: Fieldnotes has profiled many of the Fellows at Praxis and highlighted their basic start-up stories and initial challenges. In order to explore these start-up challenges more deeply, we are examining five tensions identified in the book From Concept to Scale by Praxis’s Steve Graves, Dave Blanchard and Josh Kwan. For a previous introduction to these tensions read here. Below is Paradigm Shift’s co-founder, Janelle Schroy’s reflection on one of the tensions described in the book: “to launch quickly vs. develop the idea”.
Deep in the frozen tundra of a Ukrainian gypsy camp in the dead of winter, she walked into the church service. Sasha’s swollen belly showed evidence of her coming child as much as the look on her face denoted her deep pain. And rightly so. Her feet were covered only in thin rubber boots, attempting––in vain––to protect her raw skin against the blowing snow. With no socks, little food, and even less hope, it seemed her future, and that of her unborn child, held nothing but misery, at best.
One could not help but wonder…what does the Gospel message of “love”, “hope” and “peace” mean to her? Through her eyes, how does her economic and physical reality understand God who supposedly has a “plan and a purpose” for her life?
The idea of Paradigm Shift began, as most great ideas do, by God stirring up a “holy discontent” in our hearts. On many short-term missions trips around the world, we had witnessed one too many of these stories. The faces and stories behind the word “poverty” had become real to us. We could not reconcile how the Gospel message was often presented to the poor.
Many well-meaning ministries we encountered presented the Gospel message, but without tangible “here-and-now” solutions to address physical needs. The message communicated to the poor was: “God loves you! And sorry about your poverty. I don’t have any answers for that.” Others presented economic solutions but were devoid of life-changing power of the Gospel. The message communicated to the poor was: “Here’s a few things to help make your life more comfortable. We do this in Jesus’ name, and through our giving, hopefully you will see a glimpse of Him.”
To us, it just didn’t make sense either way. For a women suffering like Sasha, she needed BOTH solutions in a very real way. There had to be an answer that addressed BOTH her physical and her spiritual needs. And this need was evident in every developing world country across the world!
As we prayed about this, we felt like God gave us a divinely inspired idea––the concept of what we began to call Paradigm Shift.
This would be a church-based economic development program that would be run by well-educated, business-savvy, local volunteers and offer a way to serve the entrepreneurial poor (those who were already doing something to provide for themselves). It would include business training (which is crucial to successfully running a small business), micro-finance (to invest in the business to help it grow), discipleship (for what hope could be offered without Christ?), and mentoring (which would help to accelerate the economic and spiritual growth of the entrepreneurs being served).
Knowing that 1.22 billion people were living below the poverty line, every instinct in us wanted to launch this idea quickly and get it out to as many churches as possible. After all, people were dying every day without Christ and without what they needed to provide for themselves and their families.
We believed that the local church is the world’s largest NGO with the greatest means for making the biggest impact if it could be leveraged. And we knew that we could make the most impact if we could leverage the church to be on the forefront of this vision. We wanted to create a locally rooted, replicable “turn-key” outreach model that could eventually be tweaked for virtually any developing world country that needed it.
With goals this big, we needed to think about how to develop the best possible model, test it, change it, prove it, change it again, and finally, scale it. Dire as the poverty statistics were and urgent as the need was, we knew that the faster we launched, the more likely it would be that it could fail. If we wanted to achieve big goals and solve big problems, we needed to launch slowly, so that, at the right time, we could scale quickly.
That in mind, we decided to spend 18 months in Research & Development before ever putting the concept into the market. Simply put, our initial five-year strategy plan looked a bit like this:
1. BACKGROUND RESEARCH: Talk to every other non-profit organization or ministry who is doing something similar and find out what their challenges, frustrations, concerns and successes are. (two months)
2. SURVEY: Write up the idea of what we envision and send it to everyone we know in the developing world who we think might be a potential local parter (church or organization), and find out what they think of the concept, and if they would need/want this in their context. (one month)
3. GET ON THE GROUND: Pick the top ten respondents from that survey and go and visit them in person to see and hear from them what their needs are and if this would be a good time and place to launch a pilot program. (one year)
4. PILOT PROGRAM: Recruit a great team and move to the best-suited country to pilot. Then start designing and testing the model, changing and adjusting things according to the results of careful monitoring and evaluation along the way. (two years)
5. NATIONAL REPLICATION: Expand to at least 30 program locations in five cities across the country. (two years)
6. INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION: Test the program in three-five key countries and define a strategy for what cultural and local adaptation of the model will look like to assess the viability for global replication. (one year)
The first three steps went as planned, but we discovered that the pilot program phase took a lot longer than anticipated. There was so much to learn and adapt! We were working in South Africa, and finding the right partners who would be willing to implement a ministry model that was still being developed wasn’t easy, nor was securing funding that would support an idea that was still being proven. Another issue was exploring our role in keeping churches accountable to the Paradigm Shift model of excellence, and ensuring that we would always be able to evaluate effectiveness.
At just the right time, we heard Andy Stanley (Pastor/Author/Speaker) highlight a question that every leader must answer over and over again: “Is this a problem to be solved? Or is this a tension to be managed?”
We found that many of the issues we faced in launching our vision and scaling it were are actually positive “growing pains”. In other words, they were tensions that were masquerading as problems. When we began to see them as tensions to be managed rather than problems to be solved, we were free to embrace the push and pull of growth, and enjoy the process of reassessing strategies every few months.
As “Fellows” in Praxis, an accelerator program for founders of social enterprises, we were encouraged greatly in our journey, asking some of our toughest questions to world-class mentors, and bouncing ideas off of other Fellows in the program.
In part, we managed one tension by scaling back our dream of big numbers of partners, and rather kept our initial partners to a minimum so we could develop strong relationships and feedback loops with them and their volunteer teams. The pilot program took three years instead of two, but we know that this additional time and space created a much stronger, far more replicable program that can now be scaled with greater ease across not only the national front, but also internationally.
For Paradigm Shift, the question of whether to launch quickly or develop the idea was easily solved by answering one simple question: In what way can we catalyze the greatest change in the next ten years? Hands down, develop the idea thoughtfully so that it can be scaled quickly at the right time.
Together with her husband (Jedd Schroy), Janelle is Co-Founder and Chief Strategist at Paradigm Shift where she directs the international expansion projects while developing long-term strategy for the organization as a whole. Janelle has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science/International Affairs from Westmont College, and is a passionate mother of two beautiful girls with another daughter due in March.
Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.
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