An Innovative Business
Is it possible to have a profitable and missional business that creates jobs for the poor in an emerging economy using sustainable local materials to produce well-designed products for environmentally aware customers in the West?
This is the story of a mid-career Western business executive, who quit his job and headed for a developing country with a commitment to serve the poor through entrepreneurship.
Rooted In Land & Culture
Upon studying the land and its people, he was inspired to take their ancient indigenous skills and locally available, eco-sustainable raw materials to produce handcrafted innovative applications in the storage industry. The business currently employs close to 200 workers with potential to reach 1,000 as they develop new products for new markets.
Lifting The Local Community
Due to soil conditions in the region, farmers could only raise one crop per year instead of the two to three elsewhere in the country. So many people were held in chronic poverty, making them vulnerable to human traffickers and sex traders. Employed by this company, many subsistence farmers have become skilled workers. They can now work to provide food and shelter for their families.
Stewarding Local Resources
As a business with strong ethical credentials, the company strives for excellence in every aspect of their operation. The containers are made with locally sourced sustainable materials instead of unsustainable timbers. These materials grow well on poor quality land otherwise useless because it is unsuitable for food production.
The company has perfected techniques for cultivating the plants from which these materials are sourced. They also use natural dyes from plant extracts for their products.
Moreover, thoughtful designs help maximize materials
usage and reduce waste. Effective packing of the products further minimizes wasted space in containers and the carbon footprint of the products.
Caring For Workers
Around 30% of the workers are women, most of them unschooled. But they receive a salary well above the average for the country. The factory is built with good natural light and ventilation to ensure health and safety. Workers get pension, paid holidays, sick leave and a lump-sum payment when they leave.
Free medical care is available even during work hours. An independent workers’ association meets regularly and communicates their concerns to the management.
Sharing Good News Through Business
In all these ways, the business has cultivated an ethos that exemplifies God’s love for people, especially the poor and the needy. It demonstrates a faith-based approach to wealth creation that protects and promotes life, health, and human dignity.
One testimony summarizes the stories of many workers: “Before joining the company, I went through very hard times. Now I have a stable income, and I am able to send my children to school. Every month I am saving some money in the bank. Now my husband and I can plan for our future together.”
Taking Time To Harvest
The Quadruple Bottom Line of Business as Mission (BAM) aims at holistic witness to the Gospel that brings about economic, social, environmental and spiritual transformation to bless the unreached.
People need to see the Gospel before they are ready to give it a hearing. A seasoned BAM trainer has observed that in many Muslim countries it takes about three years of observation before a Muslim employee would ask his Christian boss the first question about his faith. And it could be another four years before the first decision to follow Christ is made. Business provides the context for daily contact with people. Over time, the Gospel comes alive in practical ways under
the close scrutiny of the unreached community.
Business is hard work. In developing countries resistant to the Gospel, BAM is even harder. It takes great perseverance to remove rocks, sand, and toxic substances before the soil could be ready for sowing. There is no short cut to harvest.
The 4 P’s
Obviously the important bottom line in any business is whether it is making a profit or losing money. But over the last 50 years, environmentalists and social justice advocates have pushed for a broader definition of the bottom line in business, extending the conventional bottom line that only measures fiscal performance by adding to it both social and environmental impact. This Triple Bottom Line is commonly called the three P’s: People, Planet and Profit.
BAM has a fourth bottom line: God’s Purpose. Hence the Quadruple Bottom Line. How should
God’s people run businesses in a way that serves God’s purpose to bless others economically, socially, environmentally and spiritually?
BAM is not just about making money to give to the church, to missions, or to charity. BAM cares about the things God cares about, and exemplifies them.
BAM is about justice because God cares about justice. Prophets in the Old Testament cried out
against injustice in the marketplace when people cheated, bribed and exploited others. BAM is about human dignity, creating jobs so people can provide for their families and lead productive lives because God made man in His own image with a mandate to work. Business is about taking care of God’s creation, being responsible caretakers of the good earth.
Finally, BAM is about the Great Commission when Christians in business showcase the Good News in their relationships with supervisors, colleagues, subordinates, customers, vendors, investors, creditors, government, and even competitors. And it is true worship as defined in James 1:27 when businesses fight social evils like human trafficking by employing and caring for widows and orphans.
In sum, the Quadruple Bottom Line or 4 P’s asks that missional businesses make every effort to
- Serve People
- Align with God’s Purposes
- Steward the Planet, and
- Make a Profit
We Need Missional Business People
Among the 560 million Christians worldwide, Africa leads with 41% of its population professing the faith, a figure projected to reach 53% by 2050. One might conclude from these statistics that Christianity is taking deep roots in Africa, and that the African church is strong. But realities on the ground present a very different and disturbing picture.
In 1994, Christian leaders and lay people in Rwanda were involved in the massacre of their neighbors only a few days after celebrating Easter. Close to a million Tutsis were killed by the majority Hutus in a country where nearly 90% of both groups identified themselves as Christians. Something’s wrong.
85% of Kenyans claim to be Christian, but Kenya is one of the 30 most corrupt countries in the world. With 40% unemployment, it is home to Africa’s largest slums. Most Kenyans know about Jesus and can quote Scripture, but life on Sunday and on Monday do not connect. The country lacks leaders who reflect Christ in the marketplace and in the government. Something’s wrong.
It is said that Christianity in Africa is “a mile wide and an inch deep”, that “people are in the church, but the church is not in people”. To make disciples of the nations means not just the spiritual conversion of individuals, but impact on society that can better the life of a nation.
Unemployment lies at the root of many social evils. Good BAM can help tackle poverty and teach believers about responsibility, work ethics, and social values. Business can equip members of the faith community, who in turn work to transform their own culture, society and nation.
The Church needs a paradigm shift to recognize business as a strategic partner for the advancement of the Gospel. Business people in churches need to be affirmed, commissioned, and deployed into the community and the mission field. Churches, missions agencies and businesses should work together to make disciples of nations in Africa and around the world.