Small Businesses Can Succeed in South Sudan with a Little Capital and Creativity

We came to South Sudan to teach Christian business principles to the locals, and one day over lunch we found a great example of a small business: A boy of 7 or 8, with an antifreeze jug pierced to hold a loop of string hung around his neck. He had cut a door in the back side of the plastic container and from it pulled a few cloths, a brush and some neutral colored shoe polish. And he had placed himself just next to the front door of what appears to be one of the only restaurants in town.

While we ate lunch, I watched him shine 5 pairs of shoes -- mine included. Since my topsiders were being worn without socks, he brought me a pair of flip-flops (here called "bathroom slippers") to wear while he shined my shoes.

When he finished, he brought the freshly-shined shoes to his customers, collected his fee (1 South Sudanese Pound—worth about a quarter) and moved on. He repacked his kit, slung it around his neck and headed to the outdoor pavilions of this same restaurant to find more customers.

In this 30 minute period, if you annualize his income, working 6 days a week for only one hour, he would earn approximately 1,500 Pounds—almost $400 (about double the average per capita income in this very poor country).

It is businesses much like this one that we are here to train folks to start and run -- low-cost businesses that can succeed with very little capital and a little bit of effort and thought. This young boy, without taking our training, followed our strategies of improving customer service, operating from a good location, and providing a quality product at a good price.

I wish I could say I trained him!

Teaching in the town of Kuajok was quite an experience. The students came from a cross-section of community leaders. We had a Presbyterian pastor, the female head of a Sudanese-based NGO, a Nun from the local Roman Catholic Diocese and other leaders in the community.

The promise these students made to us at the conclusion of our two day training was that they would "teach these things to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2).

In God's economy, if they fulfill the commitment made, this is a great investment. I am delighted to have left my law practice and come to South Sudan to be involved in this next step in growing the church, by assisting them to make a living.

If you speak English, can read a simple curriculum and love God enough to trust him to care for you, then I encourage you to get involved as a trainer, sender or supporter.

Prior to settling in northern Virginia to practice law, Tim Purnell lived and worked in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, serving as advisor to the Mongolian Parliament's Standing Committee on Legal Affairs.