New SPU films highlight
“Another way of doing business”
Just released by SPU’s Faith & Co. project, nine new films ask, “What does it mean to truly serve employees?” and “How do we serve the world?” This article explores the Faith & Co. experience, which inspires students and businesspeople by equipping them to approach work as service.
By Ross Stewart, Dean
SPU School of Business, Government, and Economics
As gridlocked public policy and the economy struggle to emerge from the fog of a global pandemic, Seattle Pacific University’s School of Business, Government, and Economics (SBGE) is working to showcase another way of doing business — through a short-form, documentary film series.
This donor-funded initiative under SPU’s “Faith & Co.” banner employs evocative filmmaking and real-life storytelling with a spotlight on today’s workplace. In each film we confront questions such as:
What does it mean to truly serve employees?
How does a company survive failure?
Can we emerge from serious business challenges with our values intact?
And if we can survive, what difference does it ultimately make?
Origins of Faith & Co.
The thinking behind Faith & Co. is not new to Seattle Pacific, though the visual storytelling component poses a fresh challenge. We have always emphasized ethically based business education at SPU, yet each film visibly pushes the application of our principles to the forefront in ways that have surprised even those of us closest to the Faith & Co. project.
For example, through their creative visuals and thought-provoking format, the films have brought us face to face with concepts that sometimes remain hidden within theoretical classroom lectures. Coupled with pandemic-honed online learning components, the documentaries offer viewers a new platform upon which to merge the consideration of business essentials like profit and margins with equally vital goals such as equity and social justice.
In the films, we are able to mirror current economic philosophies that emphasize more human (or perhaps humane) aspects of business or a renewed take on corporate responsibility in a changing world. Stories and testimonies in the films challenge the popular maxim that the sole business of business is to maximize shareholder profits (as Milton Friedman famously held).
Put another way, these films showcase the value of individuals in the marketplace, on either side of a transaction. Through a nuanced, faith-based approach, we shine light on business practices and personal stories that ultimately provide inspiration for serving stakeholders, employers, and consumers — all at the same time.
How film fits SBGE’s program
At Seattle Pacific, business success and practical morality remain inseparable, as two sides of the same issue. We have built our program on the idea that a faith perspective should always incorporate well-established economic orthodoxy. People or profit? Our approach is both/and.
With this perspective in mind, the documentaries also find close alignment with recently enacted AACSB Guiding Principles and Standards for Business Accreditation, particularly the “Positive Societal Impact” aspect of Standard 9: “enhancing the practice of business … addressing real-world problems and improving society.”
What’s more, as an AACSB-accredited institution since 2000, SPU’s School of Business, Government, and Economics has by now witnessed generations of students build fulfilling careers upon the conviction that true success in business includes more than just an emphasis on the bottom line. This is the guiding principle of each Faith & Co. film: to offer real-life examples of real-life businesspeople who have wrestled with real-life issues — and emerged with inspiring stories to tell.
The first season
Faith & Co.’s first season, “Business on Purpose,” features 14 documentary films, each highlighting stories of business leaders who have wrestled with ethical and faith-based issues in a competitive global marketplace. Examples include interviews with entrepreneurs and corporate executives, not only from the United States, but also from diverse locations such as Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Mexico.
In There and Enough, for instance, Sonny Vu and Christy Trang Le explain how they built a company founded on what they call “servant leadership,” as well as on Vietnam’s emerging R&D talent. They also offer an honest, disarming approach to tough issues their stateside counterparts face.
In Not Dead Yet, Dave and Suzette Munson demonstrate how their business enables them to better care for skilled workers at their Saddleback Leather Company factory in Leon, Mexico. Viewers are left to compare their own motivations with those of the Munsons.
And in Girl, I Love You, Maggie Tucker’s franchise uses connection and community to celebrate “tweens,” reassuring and supporting young customers and their families by offering a place to belong. Clearly, Tucker brings a different perspective to her successful business model.
More than just films
The films do not stand alone, however. As we navigated learning technologies and pedagogy, and set a direction for the documentaries to position them solidly within SBGE’s ethics-based curriculum, we honestly wrestled with the question of how a documentary film approach could best complement learning.
Would storytelling actually be enough?
Our answer was to build a comprehensive learning framework around the films. To guide viewers past their initial emotional response, Faith & Co. adds free, publicly available small group discussion materials and an open access online course, taught by Seattle Pacific faculty. Learn more about the upcoming eight-week session, which starts January 11, 2021.
Beyond Season 1
Season two, “Serving Employees” (which launched January 2020), explores in eight films how faith shapes the way organizations engage and manage employees. The film In the People Business showcases the story of how family-run L&R Pallet Services overcame crippling turnover to ultimately flourish. Best Practices takes us through the personal angst of how a San Francisco entrepreneur handled painful layoffs. And in People Can, we hear from workers whose lives have been changed for the better by a company that genuinely cares.
Season three, “Serving Customers,” examines how faith informs the ways companies develop and maintain authentic relationships with customers. In The Balance Sheet, a unique South African company offers financial services to otherwise exploited low-income clients. In Building Relationships, a family-run construction supply business treats its customers as people, not dollar signs. In all these films, we ask, “What is the relationship between honest, human connections and marketing goals?”
Rounding out the series, season four, “Serving the World,” considers how businesses can serve their local communities and care for global needs. In Tierras de Vida, we’re introduced to Agros International, which purchases large tracts of agricultural land in Latin America as a way of making it possible for poor people to own their own farms. And in Brighter, a company called Sseko has created both jobs and a way to send talented young Ugandan women to university. Once again, “either/or” is replaced by “both/and.”
Asking the right questions
Today, the Faith & Co. initiative provides an opportunity to explore another way of doing online education, as well as a way to highlight world-class filmmaking that touches viewers at a deeper level. The film project has helped us connect with a new generation of learners, many of whom live and work beyond the boundaries of our traditional on-campus student.
With this diverse audience in mind, we ask ourselves: What is the value of people in the larger business equation? In the daily pursuit of business, and given the pressing need to turn a daily profit, it is easy to overlook the personal angle. In response, the Faith & Co experiment challenges us to ask difficult questions of ourselves by providing a fresh focus on the intrinsic value of business owners, employees, and customers.
Through the Faith & Co. film experience, we hope to demonstrate how an ethical, faith-informed approach to business provides more than just a basis for brief discussions during the weekly staff meeting. Through these films, Faith & Co. aims to open doors of understanding throughout the business week, reaching deep into the business world, and even more deeply into our daily practice.