The Genesis of Business Networking

I’m a long-time member of BNI, Business Network International, the world’s largest and most effective business networking organization. Every week, I trade referrals with members of Ann Arbor West chapter but I give referrals to members of other chapters as well when I can, and I receive referrals from them. “Givers Gain” is BNI’s philosophy.

So I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to help fellow members grow their businesses. I look for referrals everywhere—from family members, friends, members of social, political, religious, and spiritual organizations to which I belong, restaurants where I set up my laptop and work all day. Everyone in the world can be helped by the services and products provided by businesses that belong to BNI and I aim to find them and connect them.

BNI founder Ivan Misner developed the science of network marketing. But he didn’t invent network marketing. It’s been going on for a long time.

I didn’t realize how long until I was sitting at the table at my family’s Passover Seder.

Passover is the holiday during which Jews the world over retell the story of our ancestors’ slavery in Egypt and their liberation through God’s divine will. It takes us from the selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers, to his rise to power in Egypt, the birth of Moses our greatest prophet, Pharoah’s decree to drown all newborn Hebrew males, Moses’ salvation through sister Miriam’s quick thinking, his soft life as an Egyptian prince, his reconnection with his Hebrew roots after he talks to a burning bush while in exile in the desert, his battle of wits with the next-generation Pharoah that produces the ten plagues of Egypt, the Hebrews’ escape across the Red Sea, life as wanderers in the desert, and God’s giving of the Ten Commandments.

It is the only major Jewish holiday that is observed around the family dinner table rather than at Temple.

The Seder is the dinner that is laden with prayers and traditions every step of the way. Non-Jews will recognize the Seder as Jesus’ Last Supper. It is one of my favorite days of the year. I put business interests aside and celebrate with the family: good schmoozing, good vibes, and lots of wine and chocolates along with the dietary changes that come from not allowing any leavened bread into our diets for the first of eight days.

So I was already relaxed—thanks to sipping a few extra hits of wine between the prescribed ceremonial sips—when we got to the part in the Haggadah, the Passover prayer book, where Pharoah fears that the rapidly reproducing Hebrews are growing too strong and will rebel against their Egyptian overlords. So he decrees that any newborn males must be drowned. Enter baby Moses to the loving slave family of Amram, his wife Yocheved, and their children Miriam and Aaron. Yocheved manages to hide baby Moses for three months. Then, fearing that he will be discovered, she places him in a basket, which she floats down the Nile River to where Bithiah, the daughter of Pharoah, bathes. She sends sister Miriam to watch Moses from a distance. When Bithiah discovers the basket and shows pity on the baby, Miriam emerges from behind the bulrushes and says, “I know a Hebrew woman who is a child care provider who is looking to expand her business. Would you like me to contact her and have her call you?”

Wait! Is that what it said? I looked again:

One couple, Amram and Yocheved, hid their newborn at home for three months. When his cries became too loud, Yocheved placed him in a basket on the river. Miriam, their daughter, watched to see what would happen. Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the basket and decided to keep him as her own. She named him Moshe meaning “drawn from the water.” Bravely, Miriam asked the princess if she needed a nurse to help her with the baby. The princess said yes, and so it happened that Yocheved was able to care for her own son and teach him about his heritage.

Oh, that’s what the words said.

But, like Moses at the burning bush, I had discovered hidden meaning from a higher power. When Miriam offered to introduce Bithiah to Yocheved she was actually giving her mother a business referral—possibly the first recorded instance of business networking, and a reminder that the best referrals often come from family members.

It was definitely a hot referral—a #5 on the BNI white slip. The story is told in Exodus, but it was surely the Genesis of business networking.