Until I met my wife, I had traveled to Missouri only once for a family reunion at the Lake of the Ozarks during my high school years. Since Tracy and I married, I now have the pleasure of visiting her family in Springfield and Ashland, near Columbia, the location of the University of Missouri. The rolling verdant farmlands of central Missouri where my wife grew up contrast with the drier limestone hills of southeast Missouri where her brother lives. I enjoy the slower paced lifestyle of the rural Missouri countryside and it reminds me of my childhood towns in south Texas.
In Springfield, there is a chocolate factory located in the older part of the city. Shawn Askinosie, founder of Askinosie Chocolate, left his established law practice and decided to start a new business. Shawn was a successful and respected lawyer and his law practice benefited his community. Yet Shawn desired a different vocation, away from his stressful law practice that was damaging his health.
Shawn Askinosie wrote Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul (TarcherPerigee, New York City, NY, 2017) after ten years of building a small business. He wanted to build a business that was meaningful. “Human connection and joy are embedded in the pursuit of excellence as a vocation. Without them, you might have a fine product but one that’s lacking meaning.” (page 15) He was “looking for another dream.” (page 7) He found it in chocolates.
Shawn found meaning through direct trade: personal connections with cocoa bean farmers and North American customers. He travels yearly to Tanzania, Ecuador, and the Philippines to engage directly with farmers who ship their cocoa beans to his Springfield chocolate factory. There are no middle persons between buyers and sellers. Shawn contracts directly, personally inspects the cocoa beans, educates the farmers in how to produce premium beans, and brings samples of his finished chocolate products back to the farmers for tastings. Once the chocolate is made into bars and sold, Shawn shares 10% of the profits with the farmers. He has an ‘open-book’ policy that shows the finances of his business and how the profits are distributed. His employees also share in the profits through the same open-book policy. The farmers have averaged “48% greater than the average farm gate price.” (page 193)
What makes Shawn’s work meaningful is that his business goes much further into the farmer’s community than just the farmer’s cocoa beans revenue. By forming a personal relationship with the farmers, Shawn understands the needs of their community. The Mwaya Secondary School in Tanzania has a poverty problem. “The chronic undernutrition rate for rural students in Tanzania is 45 percent.” (page 120). He decided to ship local rice with his cocoa bean containers to the United States where the rice was sold for multiples of the local Tanzanian price. Shawn sends the US rice revenues back to the Mwaya school where the Tanzanians purchase and prepare free healthy lunches for the students. Now, “only a few students of the seven hundred are below the normal health line and school attendance has risen from 55 percent in 2012 to 85 percent in 2017.” (page 85) Shawn is working to transfer the process to the school so that the program can continue without his assistance.
There are other meaningful stories in Shawn’s book that illustrate how one entrepreneur with vocational vision can improve lives and be a successful businessperson. His vocation ties into his Christian faith. Shawn spiritually recharges at Assumption Abbey, a Trappist community in the Missouri Ozarks. His faith and work are meaningfully intertwined.