It Is About Family

In a recent blog entry I reported my experiences at the annual conference of Attorneys for Family Held Businesses (AFHE). Through its membership of multidisciplinary family-business advisors, AFHE promotes the well being and sustainability of business families, and recognizes that family businesses can only be as healthy as the families themselves.

This theme echoed resoundingly within me the following week while I was participating in a program with Defy Ventures http://defyventures.org. Defy helps individuals with criminal histories develop entrepreneurship skills and establish sustainable lives after incarceration.

I was part of a group of seventeen volunteers who went to meet thirty-five inmates in a Federal prison. All of the inmates had been part of Defy’s Entrepreneurs in Training (EIT) in-prison program. We volunteers were there to offer them exposure to successful business people and business advisors, to help them develop social and business skills, to prepare a resume and learn the processes of business formation.

The emotions I experienced during the five hours we spent with the prisoners were intense. I was overwhelmed with the gratitude of the EIT participants. We began with an exercise designed to help us experience empathy for one another and to build community. It was here that the significance of family and a new perspective on AFHE’s mandate for helping business families came to light.

Facing each other–volunteers on one side and EITs on the other side of a taped line–we responded to a series of questions: “Who has ever been arrested ?”. All of the inmates stepped to the line, as did number of volunteers. Empathy crossed the line in both directions. “Who has done something illegal but not been arrested?” More volunteers walked up. “Who graduated from high school?” “Who has a college degree?” No inmate stepped to the line in answer to this. “Who was arrested as a teenager?” “Who experienced abuse as a child?” “Who does not know his biological father?” “Who spent time in foster homes?” “Who has a parent who used illegal drugs in their presence?”

Overwhelmingly it was the presence or lack of a healthy family that most separated the volunteers from the EITs. The absence of healthy family relationships was revealed as a formidable factor in devastating the lives of the inmates. Similarly, the presence or lack of well being of the family can influence their businesses’ failure or success.