Alumni ProfileAlisa Volbeda '05
Building a redemptive business model

While teaching English in Thailand during the summer of 2003, Alisa Volbeda’s merely cultural Christianity became vividly real and personal. Back at Calvin for her junior year, she asked God a big question: How does a business-communications major work in international missions?

VolbedaThe direction Volbeda ’05 got was so clear that she looked around her in North Hall for the angel-in-shining-light that had put the poster in front of her. It read: If you’re a business student, learn how to use your degree for missions.

Thus began Volbeda’s involvement—incubated and encouraged, she added, by her professors in Calvin’s business department—with the Business As Missions (BAM) movement. Today, through two different projects, she’s working out the answer to her question.

An MBA student at Biola University (Calif.), Volbeda is also the marketing coordinator for Central Creative Group, a small communications design company in Chino, Calif. Last October she and the president of Central Creative, Henry Miersma, traveled with their pastor to a child care center in Maseru, Lesotho. Called Beautiful Gate, the center takes in orphaned, often abandoned infants and toddlers. Nearly all have HIV/AIDS. CrossPoint Christian Reformed Church supports Beautiful Gate, and church members Volbeda and Miersma were there to collect pictures and stories they would use to design a capital campaign to help Beautiful Gate meet its 2009 budget.

The campaign to raise $300,000 for Beautiful Gate is well under way and includes a March 19 benefit concert at CrossPoint featuring the twice Grammy-nominated Christian rock band Leeland.

Besides working out her calling through Central Creative’s involvement with Beautiful Gate, Volbeda has initiated her own business-as-missions project that she hopes will become a “turn-key model for other developing nations.”

VolbedaWhile meeting the children and caretakers at Beautiful Gate, Volbeda also perused Maseru for business opportunities. In her MBA program she had been assigned to devise a plan for a business startup. On a Sunday afternoon walk, Volbeda and the CrossPoint church members with her noticed aluminum cans everywhere, littering the streets of the capital city. One of them, a businessman, said to her, “Look, Alisa: money on the streets.”

Back in California, Volbeda gave herself a crash course in aluminum recycling. Her conclusion: Lesotho presents a shining opportunity to create “cash for trash.” The business plan she’s devised proposes five to seven local people employed to receive, crush and bale the cans and then drive the bales to a rail station for shipment to a smelter in South Africa. More importantly, many more people, including children, would be employed collecting cans.

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic has nearly wiped out the generation of 20- to 40-year-olds,” Volbeda explained, “leaving children to run households. They’re scraping by, looking for ways to survive. Anyone, young or old, can pick up a can and redeem it for cash.”

Volbeda is calling her proposed business Topollô. In the Sesotho language it means “redemption.” She believes and hopes and prays that through Topollô more than cans will be redeemed. “I want to start a business that is a catalyst for change, where an entire people can be transformed from destitute to flourishing.”

Alisa Volbeda is eager to have experienced eyes read her Topollô business plan. Contact her at Alisa.Volbeda@gmail.com.