Reflection from Salt Conference 2021
The tone of the inspiring Salt conference was set with Amanda (then-CEO of Christian Aid) speaking about the current situation in the world and opening the Bible to find the answers. There is a broken and outdated economic system, we have an environmental crisis; things need to be done differently. We need to redefine growth. But we are simply called to be like Jesus in these situations, loving the person in front of us and changing the world one small act at a time, while keeping our eyes on the end goal. 'Amen to that' was the general feel in the room!
My notes from this year’s conference were full of inspiring quotes (e.g. 'We live on a finite rock. The only thing that gets replenished is sunlight. And God’s grace' Martin Rich) and high-quality teaching on topics I didn’t know anything about. Do you know what ‘obliquity’ is, or understand a sigmoid curve? Thanks to Rupert Vernall's talkm I do now!
We were reminded throughout the day that economic growth for the sake of growth is not actually a good thing. What are we growing and who are we growing it for? If the market was created for the people and not people for the market then how do we make sure business becomes a force for good in taking us where we want to go?
With COP26 finishing on the same day, it was at the front of everyone's mind that the world continuing to simply go where it's currently heading is not much of an option: we will all suffer as a result. But the poorest will be hit hardest as the rich continue to reap the benefits of starting this broken system (and being able to afford to protect themselves from the environmental impact) whereas the poor get the negative impact (created by the rich) without the economic benefits.
This is then compounded by the developed world disapprovingly explaining that we would actually rather they didn’t pollute the world by pursuing economic improvement the way we did, and that they would need to make sacrifices that they would not make and make environmental improvements they cannot afford to do (and we are not prepared to help pay for).
Change really does begin with me - and you!
Away from the environment, the conference mixed inspiring individual stories with those of larger systemic issues. The encouraging story of Ivan of Nuach coffee was followed by the sacrificial generosity of Gemma: paying more tax if you are wealthy is the right thing to do - but it is not often that turkeys vote for Christmas! Well done to her and all of the patriotic millionaires.
Throughout the day it was apparent that the system is broken, but it takes individuals and groups (made up of individuals) to be able to shape the values of companies and economies, and thereby to change the political and economic systems.
This realistic but pragmatic and faith-filled day was skilfully rounded off by Marjorie, bringing us back to the Bible. Our source of hope, and our reason for personal action.
At a time where it feels like the world is broken what was the one thing - that you have learned, that you can start doing, that you can stop doing, that you can keep doing?
I left inspired that rather than looking elsewhere or at other people I could look at myself and the businesses I am responsible for. Rather than thinking about: what could the government do if it really tried? Or how can we keep 0.1 degrees off the temperature rise of the ocean? I was encouraged that change really does begin with me - and you!
If you happen to be in a position of influence in a business, then change starts with you, your business and your value system. Are you driven purely by profit? Are you driven purely by the environment? Can you find a way to look after them both?
We need to live out our faith in our businesses
So for me, and for our businesses, this was a really inspiring and helpful time of learning.
The reason that I run Grace Enterprises, and the reason we run Radiant Cleaners as a social enterprise, employing people who have been described as ‘unemployable’, and the reason why we then pay them the real Living Wage, is because of a value system that is not held by the world.
This is not a ‘How little can we pay them and how much can we charge?’ situation. I personally feel called to be a godly employer, therefore who we employ and how we employ them is more important to me than what business I'm running, and how much money we're making. But without a profitable and sustainable business I won't be paying anybody anything and won't actually be helping.
How can we lead organisations that change the world? We have to engage with the world. Accept that it is broken and be part of the solution. Continuing the way the world has gone in the last hundred years is not an option. Sticking your head in the sand is not going to change anything either.
We have to choose to actively engage while knowing that we are citizens of heaven. But right now we are living here on Earth and it's the only planet we've got. So we need to live out our faith in our businesses. People need to interact with our businesses and notice the difference; we need to be salt and light in the world.
The quality teaching, conversations and relationships built at this conference encourage me and help me on our mission. We are called to make a difference and to be Jesus to the one in front of you - and to care about those people on another continent who are never going to be in front of you.
But these are people who you can impact by running a sustainable and profitable business while having a value system that is upside down compared to the capitalist economy. It can be done. We follow a God who is all powerful and owns all the money in the world.
He is a God who speaks – the question is, are we listening? And if we hear, and what we hear is uncomfortable, then will we act? He is faithful and He provides. Do we really believe that in the 21st century? And do we trust Him enough to shape our lives and our businesses accordingly?
PS. It's also worth mentioning how great it was to be back in the same room as real life three-dimensional people!
Zoom has made so many things possible and has changed our lives for the better, but having conversations over coffee, talking to people over lunch, seeing the genuine integrity in someone's eyes… those aspects just doesn't quite make it across Zoom.