Seminary student Tom Durant has the business know-how to build a handsome bank account for himself. With a 30-plus-year background in business development and an MBA, he has worked for Fortune 100 companies, led software companies, and served on the boards for businesses in the high-tech industry.
But a few years back, Durant took stock of his life and decided he was no longer interested in business as usual. He knows his skill sets. He knows his heart for God’s kingdom. Now he wants to use capitalism as an engine for social good.
By year’s end, Durant plans to resign his chief operating officer position at a Eugene-based software company and spend the second half of his career creating economic opportunities in the developing world, specifically Haiti.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of the population living in poverty amid little or no infrastructure. More than 95 percent of the land is deforested, and more than 80 percent of the watershed is barren.
“So many countries are so much worse off than the United States. I’m always astonished at the disparity,” says Durant, who will graduate next term with a master of arts in theological studies. “I want to use the gifts God has given me for him, others, and the creation in its entirety.”
Partnering with the missionary organization Christian Flights international, Durant is implementing an economic development plan for Ranquitte, a community of about 20,000 where job opportunities are nil. Last summer, he visited to assess opportunities and discovered he needed to address more critical needs first. “It makes no sense to develop a for-profit business plan until people have food in their stomachs,” he says.
So he created two phases to his plan. The first phase began in May, supported in part by private donors. More than 20 workers were hired and at least 15 landowners received contracts to reforest and cultivate about 60 acres, primarily for food crops.
The landowners will donate a portion of their harvest to the “poorest of the poor,” and will use most of the harvest to feed their extended families, he says.
In the second phase, Durant will assist a self-formed “corporation” in Ranquitte to market a cash crop. Like other enterprises blending commerce with missions, all earnings will be turned back into the community for medical clinics, schools, and other development projects.
On his first visit, Durant found the people of Ranquitte skeptical. Promises had been broken in the past. “However, after providing funds to the local manager, hiring workers, and contracting with landowners, the reality of a hopeful future replaced any skepticism,” he says.
Durant also is hopeful about his own future. This investment is worth making.
The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) reaccredited George Fox Evangelical Seminary programs in March. An ATS visiting team reaffirmed the seminary’s master of divinity, MA in spiritual formation, MA in theological studies, MA in ministry leadership, and doctor of ministry degrees. Among other commendations, the report noted the seminary’s “highly dedicated and competent faculty and staff.”
The university’s social work program gained accreditation in February, making George Fox the first Oregon school to gain this endorsement from the Council on Social Work Education. The development makes George Fox graduates eligible to take tests where licensure is required — about 70 percent of all states.
A shot in the arm
The nursing program, housed in the Hoover Academic Building, got a boost from a $400,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The donation pushed the university’s fund-raising total to $3.2 million for the $4.3 million expansion and renovation of the building. The trust also pledged to match $1 for every $2 raised, up to an additional grant of $350,000.
Work on the building began in July 2005, with completion projected for this fall.