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In Civil Unrest and Violence, Entrepreneurs Wield Power for Change - Biz Platform

11 Aug 2018 - 10:10 |

In Civil Unrest and Violence, Entrepreneurs Wield Power for Change

Imagine: You saw the notifications on your phone over the past few weeks — something about tax hikes, protests, and government crackdowns. But the needs of your family and the organization you own don’t leave you with time to follow the news very closely.

Then, one morning, you wake up to find that the news isn’t just an alert you can dismiss when your business’s revenue has tanked up to 90 percent. That scenario recently became a reality for some business owners and their employees in Nicaragua, where more than 300 people have died in violent protests since April and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost.

What can a group of entrepreneurs do in the face of civil strife? For that matter, what could you do? A lot, it turns out, if you pay attention to these examples of how some groups have traded a sense of helplessness for constructive action when things go sideways, whether trouble is down the street or half a world away.

Clearly Communicate What’s Needed

Daniel Ortega first led Nicaragua in the 1980s before falling out of favor, but he was re-elected president in 2006. In the intervening years, he has consolidated power by appointing his wife vice president and abolishing term limits, setting himself up to remain the country’s president for life. In April, Ortega announced that government pensions would be cut and taxes increased — a blow to both business owners and workers that caused protests to break out. Since this spring, clashes between protestors and law enforcement started to turn deadly. So where does that leave the country’s business community?

The global Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), whose membership of more than 12,000 includes dozens of Nicaraguans, has found itself rising to a new challenge in response to the civil strife. It starts with recognizing the seriousness of the issue, says Global Chair Bubu Andres. “Knowing that we have fellow EO members who cannot sleep at night makes us unable to rest. It is our innate nature to help whenever we can, however we can....and in the spirit of EO, we will go that extra mile for our brothers and sisters in need.”

EO Nicaragua has also established a GoFundMe for donations to help the more than 5,800 employees of EO Nicaraguan businesses and their families.

Stay in Survival Mode to Weather the Storm

Andres’ home country, the Philippines, has seen its own sharp rise in violence due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing drug war. The crackdown has resulted in the deaths of at least 4,200 drug suspects, with many regarded as extrajudicial killings by human rights groups. 2017 saw a declaration of martial law in part of the country, impacting travel, commerce, and deliveries. While the Philippines has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the country’s currency has been on a downward trend, and its stock market has lost about a quarter of its value from last year’s highs.

Some Filipino entrepreneurs have adapted, staying ahead of their supply curves, diversifying revenue streams, and remaining prepared to ride out the situation. Unfortunately, those businesses may have to stay in survival mode for a while: So far this year, the violence has expanded to include the slayings of three priests and as many as 16 mayors and vice mayors.

Remember Everywhere You Don’t Want to Be

Historians will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I this November, but when the War to End All Wars kicked off, one corporation saved lives by thinking big and taking a risk to match. The American Express we know today has a reputation bolstered by an endless list of pop culture references about its invitation-only Black Card. But a century ago, the company also played a major role in helping 150,000 travelers and expats escape the most violent conflict in history.

Before credit cards, travelers could carry letters of credit, presenting them to banks as a guarantee on money lent. When World War I broke out, many banks stopped honoring the letters in an effort to head off a run on their currency holdings. In the face of great business risk, AMEX honored the letters in full, which gave travelers access to the funds they needed to book passage out of a growing war zone. AMEX would also go on to play a major role in the war, delivering several tons of mail and packages to Allied prisoners of war in six countries. By taking risks and looking for opportunity, the company was able to turn calamity into a lasting reputation as a brand trusted by travelers.

It’s easy to feel powerless, whether a manmade disaster is right in front of us or merely a rumble as faint as a vibrating smartphone notification. Civil unrest is often unanticipated and can arise anywhere.

But the entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t need perfect conditions to thrive and help others, and business leaders may be uniquely suited to do good where governments can’t or won’t. With world peace unlikely to break out anytime soon, entrepreneurs should consider the effect their organizations can have when society breaks down at home or abroad.