Written by The Business Journal Staff
Randy White, Executiive Director,
FPU Center for Community Transfomation
What we do:
We pursue solutions to the deepest challenges of our Valley, led by a vision of an abundant community that flourishes with entrepreneurial creativity, spiritual freedom, economic vitality and justice, environmental integrity, cross cultural/social collaboration and political health.
Doctorate in Urban Leadership, Bakke Graduate University
MA Urban Sociology/Community Development, Fresno Pacific University
Masters in Christian Studies, New College Berkeley
Married to Tina for 36 years, two sons & daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren with a fifth on the way.
How did you get involved with Fresno Pacific’s Center for Community Transformation, Randy?
I am the founder. After working for several years with leaders from 39 countries on community transformation projects on five continents, I was wanting to travel less and spend what would perhaps be the final decade of my career focusing on the well-being of my own community. Fresno Pacific University and seminary asked me to create a center that would turn the attention and resources of the institution toward utilizing the assets of the Valley to catalyze a more abundant community.
What are the goals for the center, Randy?
To provide a faith-rooted, institutional engine and catalyst for systemic and sustainable transformation into a unique region of communities characterized by abundance and peace. To that end, we research concentrated poverty solutions, convene leaders around those solutions, and do whatever specialized training is necessary to equip residents in whatever skill sets are needed to achieve those solutions. Our social enterprise initiative called the “Spark Tank” is an example of how all three of these activities work together. Social business pursues the “triple bottom line” — financial sustainability, social impact and environmental stewardship.
How did the Spark Tank event get started, Randy?
In 2011 mayor Ashley Swearengin came to us asking how to mobilize the talents, knowledge sets and resources of Fresno’s large faith community in pursuing the economic health of our region, especially in the area of unemployment, which at the time was at 17 PERCENT. From that impetus we researched national models of faith institutions starting small businesses to employ people who have barriers to employment, such as a criminal record or lack of marketable skills. We were surprised by the innovation and creativity across the country, and put our findings in a book called The Work of Our Hands: Faith-Rooted Approaches to Job Creation, Training and Placement in the Context of Concentrated Poverty (Condeopress.com, 2012), which we then gave to every faith institution in the city. But books can sit on shelves, so we began an annual summit on faith-based job creation and social enterprise. The Spark Tank Pitch Fest grew out of these summits, as we were able to raise capital toward early-stage impact investing. These annual summits and pitch fests are an attempt to stimulate interest in social enterprise as a non-charity approach to poverty alleviation in our region.
What has been the response from the community, Randy?
In just three years of the competition we have been able to capitalize 15 modest, social business startups, two micro lending funds housed at churches making ”Nano loans” to people in need for income generation projects, and two job readiness programs doing soft skills training. Whether you are graphing the number of attendees at our summits, the number of pitches in the Spark Tank, or the amount of money awarded, every year has been greater than before. To date, we have invested nearly $50,000 in these startups.
What have been some of the most memorable projects?
One of our first spark tank awardees was an initiative of OnRamps Church in the heart of the Lowell Neighborhood downtown. They started Say Hello Advertising, which designs and hands delivers fliers and other materials, employing youth and young adults from that neighborhood, training and supervising them in what for many has become their first job. And they can do this for less than the price of bulk mail.
Another early award winner was 701 United, an inner-city fitness and martial arts club for kids in the 93701 zip zone. Kids pay a monthly fee, and learn various martial arts, but also absorb the values of violence mediation, discipline, restraint, community service, responsibility and love. Several youth from the neighborhood have received paychecks.
What has been the response from the students who help mentor winners?
We have been able to assign MBA students to some of our award winners, and they have helped to achieve progress in helping these new start ups along. For example one student helped Five Gals Cleaning, a social business started at Evangel Home women’s shelter, design all of their HR forms. Another MBA student helped the new FIRM Translation Services business at the Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministry design it’s logo. Another MBA student helped the Lighthouse Recovery Center create an instruction book for a new piece of equipment that will be used in their new garment business called Lightwear. All of the students loved the hands-on learning they were doing, and commented on how this form of involvement was speaking into their business education.
Is there a big need for this type of entrepreneurship assistance in the Central Valley, Randy?
It is well known that Fresno has not been able to attract large industries, despite our central location in the state and modest land prices. Nationally the majority of American business is small business, and we believe our greatest priority should be the empowerment of people in our own city to be the solution to our own problems. When we think about the vast knowledge, skill and resource pools represented by faith institutions here, it makes sense to mobilize that asset towards solving our economic challenges.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Randy?
My first official job beyond paperboy was a bus boy at an ice-cream parlor at 14 years old. The only thing I remember from that job was how sticky the floor was! Then at 18 I got my real estate license, making me one of the youngest agents in the State of California at the time (1974). Would you place your home purchase into the hands of an 18 year old? From that, I learned that the feeling of being off-balance and overwhelmed by the learning curve in any job is a sensation that will never go away, and that you just have develop the skill and then persevere — to stick to it, like shoes on an ice cream parlor floor.
Who has been a mentor for you and what did you learn from him/her?
Historian/Theologian Ray Bakke, who taught me to love the entrepreneurship of people of faith throughout history who have innovated to deal with the crises of their times.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Randy?
I love eating chocolate. But I also do art glass mosaic on occasion. Doing both simultaneously — puts me in another world. Then I go watch the Big Bang Theory.