The American Enterprise Institute has awarded a competitive grant to two students from Colorado Christian University in order to promote free-enterprise. Gillian Foster and Christian Schlenker, both seniors at CCU, will develop a program that partners with local businesses and non-profits in the Denver area. They will bring local leaders onto campus, establish a web presence advocating for free-enterprise solutions to poverty, and host a mini-conference on campus next spring.
The project, entitled "The Greatest Good: Nil Sine Numine," incorporates the Colorado state motto—nothing without the Deity—with the idea that the greatest good is not simply physical in nature, but spiritual.
"Economics and faith are the driving factors of any problem or any success in the world," notes Foster. "Most non-profits or missionaries who want to solve issues come up against economic or spiritual poverty. To thrive, you must have means to live and have real spiritual life."
"We want to promote companies who have multiple bottom lines—not only financial, but social. Companies that see business as part of a greater mission."
The project’s web presence will include a blog that includes posts by Foster, Schlenker, and local business and ministry leaders in order to spark discussion and awareness. The students also hope that a Facebook and Twitter presence can earn an audience well beyond the Denver area.
"This will be a significant project," says Assistant Professor Greg Schaller, who has had both students in class and notified them of the opportunity. "With the American Enterprise Institute providing this grant, they will also help promote the project—so it will become a much larger conversation."
Schaller also mentions how various courses will interact with the project—including a course required of every student on campus. The Great Issues of the 21st Century course explores faith and work, and there’s a natural tie-in between what Foster and Schlenker are promoting and what students will be learning. "Students will interact on the blog," says Schaller, "and also listen to speakers and get to hear from leaders at the mini-conference this spring.”
For both seniors, experiences abroad helped shape their views today. Gillian Foster tells of visiting the Philippines on a mission trip. The neighborhood she visited had recently been decimated by fire, and families simply set up tents where their homes used to be. "We gave out rice and candy, and we shared the gospel, but I still went home thinking how little we did for those families. I knew there had to be a better solution."
Schlenker agrees. Visits to Romania, Ecuador, and Haiti—in the months following the devastating earthquake—showed him how handouts are only helpful for short periods. "Obviously, in Haiti, you have to handout food in the days and weeks after. But even now there are still thousands living in tents, reliant on handouts. Long-term relief comes in the form of business and investment. We need people growing food, getting employed. There is a dignity to work that doesn’t come from handouts."
He references companies like Zambikes and Purple Door. The former builds low-cost bikes in Zambia, employing locals and providing solutions to travel issues. The latter hires homeless teens and young adults to work at a coffeehouse in Denver.
"Part of our goal," explains Schlenker, "is to connect companies that are already doing this locally. We realized we don’t have to start a business that employs homeless people because it’s already happening, and we can help promote it."
With help from one of the largest think tanks in America, Schlenker and Foster will be able to do that—and a lot more. To visit their project blog and get involved, please go to www.nilsinenumine.org.