In Nigeria, it is not much of an exaggeration to say everyone is an entrepreneur. I think the rest of the world needs to sit at the feet of Africans to learn about entrepreneurship. We have at least as much to teach the world about entrepreneurship as the rest of the world have to teach us although neither Africans nor the rest of the world seem to realize this, so there is much confusion, pride and unnecessary dependency.
Entrepreneurs are good for the world because they make things happen in the face of odds and insurmountable barriers. Nothing, including lack of access to resources, stands in the way of a true entrepreneur. However, true entrepreneurship is the Jesus kind. None of his feats from quenching hurricanes to raising the dead, to healing multitudes, to multiplying bread and fish for thousands of people, to causing multitudes of fishes to be caught, was for himself and his immediate family or close friends. His area of concern was much larger. He created value for others not for himself and this fact seems to elude not a few “Christians”. Following Christ requires us to expand the boundaries of our families to include those who are not related to us by blood, church or faith.
My creativity is bounded by how many people apart from myself stand to benefit. There is a cap on what can be created when those outside my immediate family and close friends are excluded from my compassion, when my relationship with my neighbor is competition and not compassion. In reality, nothing can be created when self interest, the very foundation of economics, drives any pursuit. All you can have with self interest is to capture existing value not true value creation simply because true creativity is Love-driven, the Love that is not self-seeking.
Our economic system can never be free of the boom and bust cycle because self interest leads to value maximization not value creation and when value is maximized, it naturally peaks and declines. With self interest there is always depletion and diminishing returns. With Love, there is always replenishment and increasing returns, naturally.
Self interest is the same spirit that drives politicians to consume or capture existing value for themselves. It is impossible to be driven by self interest and truly create value. Apart from its inherent foolishness, it is impossible to have an I better pass my neighbor spirit and truly create, even if you want to. The best you can do is capture existing value and that always leads to depletion, always leaves every one and everything worse and that is the very anti-thesis of being a Cleaner – making things better for others.
Having been in Nigeria for about one week, I cannot help but see that the spirit of the Cleaner, the spirit of Love needs to replace the I better pass my neighbor spirit which is the same spirit of self interest that drives commerce all over the world and leaves everyone and everything worse even if on the face of it some seem to be better off. Self interest does not leave anyone or anything better neither can it. It naturally steals, kills and destroys because destructiveness, not creativeness, is its nature.
Nigeria’s GDP will continue to grow as the population grows and as economic activities increase but there can be no true progress, no true creation of value if the spirit at play is the spirit of I better pass my neighbor. The more GDP grows, the more quality of life diminishes in Nigeria and everywhere else, if each of us is in it for ourselves or we are striving to be better than our neighbors. The only way to true progress is to replace the I better pass my neighbor spirit with the I better with my neighbor or I love my neighbor spirit and this has nothing to do with religion. I wrote about Love as an alternative to self interest in an Economics term paper during my MBA at McGill and on a very secular medium, Triple Pundit.
Religion is sometimes at cross purposes with Love. The good news of prosperity can very easily be about the fact that I get to prosper, full stop. Churchiness can unwittingly fuel corruption and exploitativeness if the gospel begins and ends with my prosperity. I think the gospel starts with me prospering but that is only where it starts. Its end goal is the wellbeing of others around me. The end goal of the Abrahamic covenant is not the prosperity of Abraham or the Jews. The end goal is evident in God’s promise to Abraham, “through you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Abraham and the Jews were only meant to be mediums and channels through whom God reaches, blesses and heals the whole world and not meant to be God’s favorites.
You do not need to be religious to know that self interest is naturally depletive, exploitative, destructive and violent. It is not by accident that the scriptures sometimes precede Jesus’ feats with “He was moved with compassion.” I have often wondered why He wept just before raising a man whose body was already decaying. I am now realizing that the miracle, any miracle, whether individual or societal, economic or environmental flows out of compassion, out of love, out of a burning desire to bless others and alleviate suffering, out of a deep, almost insatiable need to leave a space, a life, a community, a culture, a society, a world better than one met it, which is what it means to be a Cleaner.
Nigeria is full of opportunity as my younger brother, Tobi, wrote in this book but true value will be created by entrepreneurs for whom the I better pass my neighbor spirit is practically replaced with the I better with my neighbor spirit. The miracles the world needs, the miracles Nigeria needs in every sector flow naturally out of the Cleaner mindset not the I better pass my neighbor mindset. If you are in it for yourself, you have deactivated your creativity and activated your destructiveness even if you do not want to. And destructiveness, like charity, begins, always begins at home. It always starts with and flows from the self.