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Loans, Lebanon & LGBT – telling a new story

27th June 2016 Pete George no responses entrepreneurialism, Inclusion, Values-led

“The stories we tell about each other matter very much. The stories we tell ourselves about our own lives matter. And most of all, I think the way that we participate in each other’s stories is of deep importance.”

This is how Jessica Jackley kicks off her 2010 TED Talk, Poverty, Money and Love (http://www.ted.com/talks/jessica_jackley_poverty_money_and_love). The talk is a tremendously inspiring one, in which Jackley talks about her journey towards creating her microfinance business, Kiva (www.Kiva.org). Kiva is a wonderfully innovative concept, linking small business ventures in poorer countries with investors in other parts of the world (typically ordinary individuals loaning small amounts).

The thing about the TED Talk, and, in fact, about Kiva generally, is that it is not just about a microfinance business per se, but about the different “story” it tells about the poor.

Jackley talks about her early, prejudicial views towards the poor growing up, ie that they were helpless and needy, and, in particular, that they needed the rich, like her, to give them money. However, when, as an adult, she travelled to Africa, she discovered a different story. This story, as she describes it, was one about clever, enterprising people who actually have a lot to give the world. This “story” is one that Kiva continues to broadcast in the way it gives dignity and empowers all its contributors, both loan recipients and lenders.

The talk struck a particular chord with me, because I had a similar revelation to Jackley a few years ago when I also visited Africa. Kenya in my case. Yes, there was certainly material poverty around to a degree that would be unusual in the UK, but there was also a great deal of resilience and entrepreneurialism that was tremendously inspiring. Although I didn’t go out and start a new Kiva, it did inspire me to be more entrepreneurial and led ultimately to a number of new George Training & Development initiatives. This includes creating a new not-for-profit business, Cheltenham Coworking CIC (www.CheltenhamCoworking.com) to promote socially beneficial business in Cheltenham, UK.

It also spurred on the development of George T&D’s work overseas (including Kenya). This led, a few of weeks to me running a course in Beirut, Lebanon, and I discovered another ‘story’ that needs to be rewritten. The general response from UK colleagues on hearing we were working in Beirut, was “is it safe?” and “is there much business there?”. Years of media reports on the troubles in Lebanon have left their mark on the psyche of the folks I talked to, and I imagine they are fairly indicative of views of many.

However, we found Beirut a great place to visit and work. It is quite safe in most areas, although, of course, there are issues around the borders with Syria et al. The people seemed friendly and, although not all spoke English in the shops and restaurants, the professionals we met spoke perfect English. It was also amusing to discuss delivering products using Scrum with the Lebanese developers, and hear them come up with all the usual challenges as any other developers anywhere else. I’m sure if we had stayed longer, we would discover particular Lebanese characteristics, but nothing to put us off doing more work in this country and we hope to return soon. In the meantime, we are taking every opportunity to promote Lebanon as a business destination, and rewrite the story of war and terrorism more commonly held.

Finally, this weekend I had the pleasure of being part of rewriting another misunderstood story, as Lizzie and I joined a hundred or so ‘Christians at Pride’, marching and supporting London Pride 2016. The message expressed was simple, although LGBT people have often been persecuted and hurt by the worldwide Church, there are many Christians who believe that LGBT are very welcome and an important part of the Church. In the Christians at Pride crowd we joined in Pall Mall, the vicar in his dog collar at the front received countless embraces from Pride marchers throughout the day, many obviously touched by his willingness to stand there and cheer them on. An Anglican Bishop who took part in the march recounted how he had been asked to bless the marriage of two men along the route. Something he was obviously delighted to do.

One of the banners carried by a Christians at Pride supporter simply said: “I am sorry for all the hurt the Church has caused”, recognition that historically (and especially in recent history) the Christian Church has often been the cause of great distress to LGBT people. The decision, a few years ago, made by a handful of Christians to march in solidarity at Pride, was born out of this sense of shame and sorrow at the part some Christians had played in causing such distress (often not meaning too of course).

However, the Christians at Pride group are also part of a much wider story that is gradually being retold. The majority of the CaP marchers were LGBT Christians. Christians whose faith is very important to them, who want to pursue their spirituality in loving, welcoming churches and are LGBT. Although, sadly, there are still many churches that are not welcoming, there is a growing movement of LGBT-affirming churches. Hopefully that story will be another one that finds a wider audience and reverse the negative one of intolerance and homophobia that so often is portrayed.