In my consulting work, I have on occasion assisted people intent on creating a start-up company. I tell them they must come up with a comprehensive business plan that answers key questions related to the prospects for success in the proposed venture.
Some time ago I came upon just such a business plan, remarkable for many reasons, just one of which was the fact that it was written in 1947, well before the advent of many modern business practices.
Also, the entrepreneur was a woman.
She was already a well-regarded practitioner of her trade and for almost 20 years part of a successful organization, yet she wished to launch a totally new corporation. Her name was Mary Teresa; her current organization was the Sisters of Loreto. She was a nun.
Her proposed start-up was to be named the Missionary Sisters of Charity, and to make the move, she needed the hearty sponsorship of the archbishop of Kolkata, India, Ferdinand Perier. He is the one who sought Teresa’s business plan before he could bring himself to sponsor her proposal.
Perier gave her an excellent list of questions for someone contemplating a start-up. He told her to “sit down quietly and write” her response to seven queries: What did she want to do (mission)? How would she bring it about (strategy)? How would she recruit her team? Whom would she recruit? Where would she locate? Can the same end be achieved through existing organizations? Can the end be achieved with a more loosely organized group?
Teresa took her time and answered all seven questions within two months. She even added two: What confidence did she have that her organization would succeed, and how would she fund the start-up in its initial stages? (Too bad she never got into business consulting.)
Her answers were, from a purely business perspective, startling. Her mission would be to bring Christ’s love to the poorest people she could find. Her strategy would be to nurse the sick, bring peace to the dying, run free schools for destitute kids — “in a word, act the love of Christ among the poorest.”
She then created a job posting for those who would join the start-up. Women from age 16, strong, healthy, with common sense. Generous, lovers of the poor, bright and cheerful nature, able to put their hand to any work however repugnant. This was not for everybody.
They would live where the poorest lived, period. And no, no existing organization of sisters did this work. Plenty of nuns served the rich, she wrote; none served the poorest of the poor.
How about the chances of success? Here, of course, success must be defined. Teresa admitted that she had no idea how successful she would be, but she made the outrageous claim that even if only one dying person left this world with peace in his heart, the enterprise could be called successful.
Funding, too, was addressed. Since the members would live in absolute poverty, they would need little. They’d farm, sell the excess, live off that. For the rest, she said, she and her cohorts would trust God.
After pestering the archbishop ceaselessly, Teresa did receive permission to create her start-up. On Aug. 17, 1948, dressed in a white sari with a thin blue border, she ventured into the tumultuous India of that day. Her cache of capital consisted of five rupees.
Mother Teresa, the CEO known since Sunday as St. Teresa, parlayed those five rupees into a massive organization serving the poor all over the world. The 5,000 sisters have been joined by orders of brothers, priests, and lay missionaries with one mission: to bring the love of Jesus Christ to the forgotten poor.
Her measure of success, that just one destitute person die surrounded by love, has been achieved. One person at a time, many thousands of times over.
Orlando R. Barone is a writer in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He wrote this for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.