We all know Habitat for Humanity. Great organization. Great brand value. But did you know Habitat has its roots in the insurance business?
Seventy years ago, Koinonia Farm was founded in South Georgia by Clarence Jordan and Martin England. The farm, which observers have called “the most daring social experiment in the South during the last century,” was a community of Christians sharing life amid the poverty and racism of the rural South.
The farm’s presence—which over the years drew the ire of locals ranging from Klan members to religious leaders—confronted racism, militarism and materialism with its commitment to:
1. Treat all human beings with dignity and justice.
2. Choose love over violence.
3. Share all possessions and live simply.
4. Be stewards of the land and its natural resources.
The life of Clarence Jordan, a farmer and minister who would have turned 100 this year, will be celebrated next month as part of Koinonia’s 70th anniversary. But it was co-founder and minister Martin England who had the insurance connection. England, a white insurance agent, was actually instrumental in arranging a safety net that would ultimately provide for the family of Martin Luther King, Jr. following the civil rights leader’s 1968 assassination.
Tony Campolo documents an account of his salesmanship in Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong! Martin was worried King lacked insurance that would take care of his family in case something happened to him. “The determined salesman followed King for weeks, trying to tell the civil rights leader that he had a gigantic and urgent need,” Campolo writes. “Finally, he got his opportunity. He sat Martin Luther King down, explained his need for life insurance, and got the necessary papers signed.”
Habitat for Humanity’s founders, Millard and Linda Fuller, became involved with Koinonia Farm in the 1960s. The Fullers later founded The Fuller Center for Housing, which has a similar mission. They built their life work on principles they practiced at Koinonia Farm. This has had a positive effect on millions of people—from the individuals who help build their homes and purchase them with interest-free mortgages to the volunteers and others who work alongside them in the endeavors.
I doubt Clarence Jordan or Martin England knew the impact their daring work would have. Jordan, in fact, did not even live to see Habitat formed. But their commitment has left a legacy, and we can learn from these visionaries as we build our brands.
Like Jordan, we need to stand up for what’s right, even when others won’t stand with us. Steve Brock, put it this way in his essay, Ethics and Branding: “Ethics matter because they are at the heart of your values. Values matter because they are at the heart of your brand.”
Like England, customer needs should drive our actions. Jason Arena, veep at digital commerce agency KSC Kreate, wrote of companies on Interbrand’s list of Top 100 Brands of 2011, “Why do these brands consistently make “best of” lists (besides the fact they all make a lot of money)? Because they all put the customer first.”
Are there more lessons? Probably. If any come to mind, please share them below. Oh, and to find who described Sumter County, home of Koinonia, Habitat and The Fuller Center, as “the meanest county in Georgia,” click here.