Imagery of Regent people and campus

Norfolk Fair Trade Supports Local Entrepreneurs

By Brett Wilson | May 3, 2013

Dr. Lisa Fournier.

According to Regent alumna, Dr. Lisa Fournier '12 (School of Business & Leadership), "entrepreneurship is an adventure." And in the heart of downtown Norfolk, among the clanking and clamoring of the Tide Light Rail, rests Fournier's own entrepreneurial adventure: the Norfolk Fair Trade Company.

What began as a mere practicum for her Doctor of Strategic Leadership degree has spurred into a full-fledged company; an oasis dedicated to aiding and mentoring local up-and-coming business owners. The company is what Fournier calls, a "learning studio." Her goal is to give local entrepreneurs a learning-by-doing environment in order to become more experienced and confident in their business skills.

"Norfolk is great from a marketplace perspective, because there are not a lot of places here that you can go to besides the mall to get unique gift-specialty items," said Fournier. "And people love it; they love knowing they're coming in here supporting entrepreneurs who are learning."

Fournier's tenure in the business world began in the early 1990s when she began her own screen-printing and embroidery business for sportswear at the age of 19. She enjoyed the "creative" aspects of business, and "getting things done." But through her successes as a young businesswoman, Fournier realized something was missing.

"In those types of businesses, you're trying to maximize your resources, which includes money, materials and people," said Fournier. "You can get kind of 'black and white' about life, and you're not slowing down enough to enjoy other people and community."

In 2009, Fournier's life took a turn and her theory of business-practices changed when she began caretaking for her mother and step-father. Through taking responsibility for her aging parents, she began to shed the "cloak" she had put on in order to function in the emerging-growth marketplace.

It was then that her husband, Joe, encouraged her to continue her education at the doctoral level, so that her business endeavors of the past wouldn't "die on the vine."

"For those three and a half years, Regent was my saving grace," said Fournier.

In her Strategic Leadership track of studies, she suddenly found herself studying and falling in love with the transactional business practices of the early church—though, at the time, she wasn't quite sure how what she was learning would be relevant to her future.

"I wrote about the craziest stuff," said Fournier. "But, if nothing else, I can say it was transformational."

Fournier was particularly transformed by the leadership of the Biblical figure Barnabas. She admired his grassroots-level training and his discipleship throughout the stories of the New Testament. Her passion and admiration for Barnabas led her to write the book, The Barnabas Effect. There, Fournier explored the intricacies of benefit corporations—businesses where profit is gained in order to solve a particular social ill.

Of course, being true to her developer persona, at the completion of her degree, she couldn't sit still for long. And as she ventures into the relatively-new realm of benefit corporations, she—like Barnabas—speaks and encourages those she mentors to run their businesses with integrity, to work hard, and to transform their communities for good.

"We're supposed to be going out as Christian leaders and raising other leaders," said Fournier. "And to me, this all boils down to business as a mission."

Learn more about the School of Business & Leadership.


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