God Lives with the Poor
When I began searching for what God wanted of me, I received some unsettling counsel from a Rwandan bishop: “Our country needs jobs and a vibrant economy or our best and brightest will leave. You’re a businessman. You’ve spent your whole life buying, financing, building and selling businesses. Why don’t you spend the rest of your life building businesses in Rwanda?” Having never been to Africa, I was intimidated by the challenge but curious about what kind of business would make a difference to a significant number of people in a poor African country.
A few months later, I was introduced to Opportunity International, the world’s largest faith-motivated microfinance organization and a pioneer in the industry. Through Opportunity, I got a crash course in world poverty; entrepreneurship at the bottom of the economic pyramid; and the transforming power of capital, training and group guaranteed lending. I learned that the world’s poor aren’t poor because they make bad choices or are lazy. In fact, they work much harder than I ever did – they just don’t have the opportunities they need.
I learned that poor people in poor countries are more like me and my family than I ever imagined. All around the world, parents simply want to feed, care for and educate their children. They’re not looking for a handout. They want a job or any opportunity to work hard and earn what their family needs. Poverty steals people’s dignity and hope. Business and entrepreneurship create the opportunity for people everywhere to support their families and earn back their dignity. When I finally understood this global reality, God whispered, “Serving the poor is what I value. All your life, I’ve prepared you to help create the opportunity they need.” At that moment, a door opened for me. I grasped the call and my passion returned.
Today, I serve as the CEO of Bridge2Rwanda, an enterprise born with the mission “to build a bridge from our world to Rwanda and transform lives at both ends.” We connect, encourage and create opportunities for those called to invest their talent and resources in Rwanda. Over the last ten years, Rwanda has called to invest their talent and resources in Rwanda. Over the last ten years, Rwanda has transitioned from one of the world’s most failed states to an admired model of results-driven nation-building. Many see God’s divine hand at work in Rwanda and its rebirth as a powerful demonstration to the rest of Africa and the world.
Rwandans dream big and have adopted a strategy of “borrowing talent” from friends around the world to help them accomplish their goals. Bridge2Rwanda mobilizes hundreds of friends from developed countries to visit, invest and lend their talent in Rwanda. Inevitably, the borrowed talent comes away inspired, humbled and transformed.
Preparing the Next Generation
In the early seventeenth century, the island-nation of Great Britain began exporting thousands of its young people in small wooden ships to the four corners of the earth. Their global impact was enormous and enduring. The British Empire and the world’s most successful language, culture, economic system and form of government are a testament to their influence. Is it possible that God is planning a similar global movement to grow and unite His Kingdom?
Over the last sixty years, the private sector in the world’s developed countries has brought about the greatest creation of wealth and improved living standards in human history. This is a magnificent accomplishment that sets up an unprecedented challenge for those of us born and educated in affluent countries. Given what we have, there is growing evidence that God is stirring the hearts of thousands with the call to join with Africa’s leaders and its promising young people to tackle the issues of poverty – with solutions driven by entrepreneurship and private enterprise.
At Bridge2Rwanda, we mobilize people of all ages to go to Rwanda. However, the group most passionate about investing their lives is Millennials, young people 18 to 32 years of age. Motivated by faith, compassion, adventure and the desire to live a life of meaning, today’s daring young people, like the world changers of the British Empire, are willing to move beyond their comfort zones to find significance. They are determined to become excellent professionals, to learn how to create wealth anywhere in the world and to fuse a social mission into their lives and careers.
As an American boomer-age businessman riding the wave of this divine movement, how do I best contribute? What role do I play? Following the advice of my friend, Bob Buford, I have set out to be an encourager…”In this season of life, your job is to release and direct energy, not to supply it. Like the catapult on an aircraft carrier, you are the force of encouragement needed to get the talent airborne and on their mission.”
The Second Half
My “second half” began with a hunger to rediscover my passion. I took the plunge – made myself available to God and received much more than I expected. Nothing is quite as energizing as a divine challenge that integrates every aspect of your life into a tailor-made mission. I charge ahead everyday believing that the most significant work of my life is still ahead and that my calling is as authentic and significant to the Kingdom as preaching and leading a church.
As I move further into my “second half”, I think a lot about the two men who most inspired my journey: my dad – the joyful entrepreneur, independent and hard-charging; and my granddad – the rugged man of God, surrendered and serving the poor. While they’ve both been gone for years, it lifts my spirit and makes the “impossible” seem possible when I imagine them watching me run this race – both cheering me on.
Dale Dawson is an investment banker and entrepreneur. He serves on Rwanda President Paul Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council and is the founder of Bridge2Rwanda and Isoko Institute for Entrepreneurship and Strong Societies in Africa. Dale also serves on the boards of Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda and Halftime Institute. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and lives in Little Rock.