Tips for Entrepreneurs: From Satmar to Sierra Leone

Okay, the pilot just announced we are getting ready to land. Off we go. Make it a great week!

Money cash Shekels currency 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Money cash Shekels currency 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Jonah, an anthropology student at the London School of Economics, is sitting next me as I fly back from London to Tel Aviv.
We struck up a conversation, and he explained to me that he is studying the issues of “growing up” in Sierra Leone, where the society has been plagued by civil war.
While there is much more to the challenges faced by the country, and I’m no doubt simplifying this too much, bear with me.
Apparently one of the challenges the youth face in Sierra Leone is that in their culture one is considered “a teenager” of sorts until they get married. With the hardship of raising the funds to pay for a wedding and all of the other expenses involved in starting a life properly, it seems sad that millions of “teens” of all ages, yes – into their 30s and perhaps 40s – seem destined to never be seen or acknowledged in their society as adults. This impacts how they are perceived as business people, as employees and in every aspect of their lives.
Trying to be solution oriented, I realized that in the hassidic world there is somewhat of a parallel situation that could be used as a model. With large haredi families, many not-for-profit “wedding packages” have been created to enable the young couple to start life with a beautiful wedding at a fairly reasonable cost.
In the Satmar community, for example, the wedding halls are given for a token, nonprofit rental fee. The musician is a one-man band or DJ instead of the traditional orchestra, and the hall is outfitted with cameras that snap pictures every few seconds, so no photographer is needed for the wedding itself. The engagement ring is a cubic zirconia, or CZ, which looks just like a real diamond but is available at a fraction of the price.
As much as the DeBeers ads would have us believe women must own a diamond ring, among this segment of society, having a CZ is a fine substitute. And how many people ever sell their diamond – and if they do sell it, do they get the price they paid for it? And it’s also fascinating, as my seatmate pointed out to me, that many of the diamonds that society used to make those engagement rings with actually originate from these conflict zones.
My point is that it’s possible to reduce the cost of the wedding without diminishing the experience, while providing a value opportunity to achieve an adult status without going into unmanageable debt.
Were a nonprofit group in Sierra Leone to come across the haredi wedding model, they might find that a wedding and all the other expenses could also be brought down significantly. Making the public aware of the issue and challenges involved could develop into the “adopt a wedding” model and enable people to be seen as adults in their culture.
I think this is a good example of something that business owners should think about. How could your business benefit by finding similar comparisons to your own business and another’s? So, here’s your homework for today: Take something from today’s paper, from whichever section, and think about how an idea, take-away or reaching out to the writer or interviewees could take your business to something better. Then take action and report back.
And, on a side note... Networking on planes, or anywhere really, is amazing. For instance, Jonah, my seatmate, gets his project mentioned in the public arena, getting it some eyeballs and perhaps helping them in some way. And I will get to connect with my new friend on LinkedIn.
Or I just may end up speaking about hassidic culture to anthropologists at the London School of Economics. You truly never know what a conversation can bring.
Go have a few conversations. You and your business will be better off for them. You’re not a talker or are shy? Maybe you feel intimidated? No problem. If you’re wondering what the icebreaker in our relationships as seatmates was, it was the Hermolis Kedassia kosher meal, which British Airways serves. I mentioned my recollection of how delicious the food was when I took a BA flight from Russia after a few weeks there 13 years ago.
It was easily one of the best meals I ever had. Then again, might the fact that I had eaten almost no gourmet meals in three weeks of teaching the Hebrew alphabet to children have effected my impression of the airline meal, you think? Good icebreaker? Of course. And you will have your own topics that can help you find a common point of connection.
Okay, the pilot just announced we are getting ready to land. Off we go. Make it a great week! Issamar Ginzberg is a business adviser, marketer, professional speaker and rabbi who has been published in more than 50 business publications.