Early in his internship at Sri Lakshmikantha Spinners Ltd. in Hyderabad, India, Calvin senior James VanDenBerg toured the operation, including a partially built expansion. There he saw eight women filling gaps in the foundation from a nearby dirt pile. The workers were carrying the dirt on plates balanced on their heads, though an unused wheelbarrow stood nearby.
James mentioned the scenario to the owner of the mill, his boss. “Why couldn’t that job be done by one person using the wheelbarrow?” he asked. The owner answered, “If I train one person to do that job, then seven people are out of work.” James, an accounting major, pointed out that American businesses put a premium on maximizing productivity, but his boss was unmoved.
“He said, ‘That would never work in India,’” recounted James to Calvin business professor Leonard Van Drunen.
INTERNING IN INDIA
James was enrolled in “Business as Mission in India,” a January interim course that placed 13 Calvin students in two-week internships in Hyderabad. The students—majors in business, accounting, political science, Spanish and English— interned with website developers, software companies, a human resources company, a real estate developer, a cotton spinning mill and a counseling service.
Professor Van Drunen wanted to give Calvin students an inside look at how business operates in an emerging economy. His vision for the interim course took shape at a conference hosted by nonprofit Partners Worldwide, where he met four Christian business owners from Hyderabad who were strong advocates for business as mission (BAM), the notion that business can be used not simply as a profit generator, but also as a ministry.
"The internship was not just to give students exposure to Indian business culture, but also to give them an idea of how Christians use business as a ministry. —Professor Van Drunen"
Partnering with the business owners he met at the conference, Professor Van Drunen placed Calvin interns in companies owned by Business Seva members, a 60-strong network of Christian businesspeople in Hyderabad. (Seva is Hindi for “serve.”) A few were placed in other Christian-owned companies, and two interned in a Hindu-owned company.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
Van Drunen confessed that he was uneasy as the students faced their first day in a strange workplace. Yet, the vans returned to the Hotel Minerva Grand with students who were enthusiastic about their work experiences and their new colleagues. Van Drunen told them, “Guys, I am so proud of you. We could have come to the swimming pool and dipped our toe in the shallow end ... but no, you guys walked around to the deep end, walked around to the high dive and dove in.”
For the next two weeks, the students worked at least six-hour days, and when the workday ended, they explored Hyderabad. On the job, they faced the challenges of doing business in India: corruption, limited education, an untrained labor force, lack of infrastructure and other issues.
WITNESSING A DIFFERENCE
Most of the business owners who worked with the Calvin students describe themselves as either born-again or recommitted Christians. And their faith was evident in very practical ways in their day-to-day operations: using their profits to support full-time ministers in Africa, paying for the education of their workers and their workers’ children, offering free counseling services. After working at real estate developer Aliens Space Station, sophomore accounting major Jon Spoelhof observed in the interim blog: “The one thing that stands out the most about this place is how PUMPED people are about the Lord.”
Professor Van Drunen was gratified to see the students contributing in the short time they were in Hyderabad. “The internship was not just to give students exposure to Indian business culture, but also to give them an idea of how Christians use business as a ministry.”