Surprising Thriving

The Triple Bottom Line in Unlikely Places

Examples of transformational enterprises can be found all over the world in many different cultural and socio-economic environments. Some of these environments may seem surprising and unlikely to those in the traditional business world.

Prison, for example.

Entrepreneurship training programs for prisoners, such as “Inmates to Entrepreneurs” and the “Prison Entrepreneurship Program,” are demonstrating the transforming power of entrepreneurship for those who have experienced incarceration.

Looking specifically at the example of the Prison Entrepreneur Program (PEP), we can see the three elements of the triple bottom line on display.

Business Success

A PEP participant, pitching the business plan he developed in the program to a review board. Photo from the Baylor University video: “Opening Doors: Baylor and the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.”

The business results of the program in terms of entrepreneurial and employment success are obvious and stunning. A study on the results of the program conducted by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) found that 95 percent of PEP graduates were employed, with 28 percent of them running their own businesses.


While not formally a Christian program, most of the volunteer coaches are followers of Jesus, and most of the inmates participating in the program receive discipleship and Christian mentoring. Bryan Kelley, currently the CEO (“Chief Empowerment Officer”) of PEP, is himself a graduate of the program. In an episode of the Faith-Driven Entrepreneurship podcast, Kelley tells his story of being transformed by Jesus through a life-to-life discipling relationship:

So shortly after my transformation, my conversion, I dove into the school. I would earn a degree, a bachelor’s degree in psychology. I dove into recovery to learn . . . what were my triggers? What led me to be so dependent upon drugs and alcohol and chemical substances? I dove into church and the Bible. A man stepped up and would disciple me for ten years straight. We lived together and we worked together. And every day we would talk about the fundamentals of Christianity coming out of the Bible and how we were applying that in our lives or failing to apply that in our lives. But there was authenticity.

Kelley goes on to explain how he naturally began helping others in the same way he had been helped:

He discipled me, and as I was discipled, I started to disciple others. So I was leading groups, small groups, prayer groups, Bible study groups . . . and started pouring out everything that was being poured into me.

Community Transformation

In terms of making a difference in the community, recidivism (the rate inmates return to prison after being released) among PEP graduates is well below 10%, compared to the state-wide Texas average of over 20%. A study conducted by researchers from Baylor University found that even after controlling for the selection criteria for PEP candidates, participation in the program is demonstrably impactful, with recidivism among PEP graduates significantly less than that of inmates selected for the program but who do not participate.

Take a few minutes to get a great overview of PEP and receive inspiration by watching this video overview produced by Baylor University (eight minutes).

Verse(s) of the Week

1 Corinthians 1:26-27: Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (NIV)

In what ways do we continue to use human standards, and possibly miss God’s work in unlikely places, especially in our missional enterprise journeys? Let’s reflect on this passage and these questions this week.

1 This article is an updated repost of a previous M3 Weekly article entitled “Unlikely Places.”

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