It is usually a mistake to lump Australia and New Zealand together! Each is quite different in characteristic from the other and each enjoys a bit of friendly joking about the other, as well as a fierce sporting rivalry. However, one thing they do have in common is that both Australians and New Zealanders have been among BAM pioneers, with a steady interest in business as mission growing in each country. We ask two BAM friends from each nation to share about their involvement:
Our journey in BAM started when I was fired from the position I was working in with a mission agency in Nepal. In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened. That was 2000. We started a software company, and slowly grew until we now have a staff of 12 in Nepal, 5 in New Zealand and 3 in other countries. We make software for managing pharmaceutical supply chains, which is now used in about 30 countries.
Right from the start we had a strong sense of rightness about starting down this path, and when it’s been tough we’ve hung on to that. It’s a good thing to have. Here are a few things we’ve reflected on along the way:
Things are fragile, especially at the start. A change of mind here, the stroke of a pen there, and we would have a very different story to tell. It’s good to remember this when we start to feel that we’re pretty good at what we do, and good to remember when others fail – it’s not always in our hands.
People of other faiths sometimes surprise you, and Christians sometimes disappoint you. Here’s an example. We took on two staff at the same time. One a Christian, one a Hindu. When we had a review, we would ask staff what they thought a reasonable salary would be for the next contract period. On this occasion, the Hindu said she was content with her salary. However, the Christian wanted a decent rise, but also said it was important that he wasn’t paid less than Hindu. You can guess which one was the better worker. We listen to sermons, sing songs, pray prayers, but sometimes it just doesn’t register.
As has been humorously observed, working virtually and relying on Skype calls can really suck. This isn’t just an idle observation, it’s a big deal when you’re trying to be an organisation that works around the world. Relationship is central to our faith, and face to face time, in the same room, sharing the same breathing air, is how we best communicate.
We don’t talk enough about the power balance in relationships. As employers we have the power, and how we use it is a big deal. We have to be so careful that people don’t confuse our hope that they’ll find life as it’s supposed to be with their roles as employees. There are not easy answers here, it’s a minefield.
Forget triple or quadruple bottom lines. Just ask, “how much good can we do?” This is a good question. At the moment we’ve concluded that we might do more good if our software was available for free. That’s 40% of our revenue out the window. But then how do we stick around as long as we’re needed? Good questions don’t always have easy answers.
The earth matters. God has given us this amazing planet to care for. We need to take that responsibility very seriously. I worry that my grandchildren will look back with incredulity at our organisations lack of action to care for this world in the same way we can’t understand what motivated Christian slave owners. Business needs to be at the forefront of moving to a low carbon world. There’s so much to do, and so little time!
Craig is a New Zealander working in the software industry in Nepal and elsewhere.
I head a School of Business that offers a Bachelor of Business and Master of Business Administration in which ‘missional business’ integrates the whole curriculum. Students are encouraged to base their assignments on their own experience or aspirations as much as possible. Postgraduate students have the opportunity to develop a BAM plan using Neal Johnson’s Business As Mission text book as a guide. Many of the plans I see have definite potential!
In 2014 ‘Robert’ developed a plan to launch an aquaponics BAM in a low income, Muslim country. The plan identified the need to ‘be a sustainable, but also growing business’ and to ‘focus on mission to staff and building networks and social capital within the community and the local church’. The plan was duly marked (high distinction) and I provided Robert with details of a contact I had in the country concerned. Robert became so enthused that he decided to implement his plan. His wife, ‘Elaine’, also one of my students, has not quite forgiven me for encouraging him!
Since he wrote his BAM plan, Robert and his wife, have built a prototype facility in Australia to test their production methods. They are confident that they have ironed out most of the technical problems. Next year they will relocate to the Muslim country and begin their BAM business. In the longer term they plan to expand to a second, nearby, Muslim country.
To be sure, there are not many Roberts (yet), but the idea of BAM is incredibly engaging to students who embrace the vision of business as the primary means of releasing people from poverty (what Johnson calls ‘real business’) and simultaneously an embodiment of mission (what Johnson calls ‘real mission’).
I am about to assess this year’s BAM plans. I look forward to discovering more Roberts!
Dr. Rod St.Hill is Dean of the School of Business at Christian Heritage College in Brisbane Australia. CHC has the motto: ‘Transforming People to Transform their World”.
For the last two and half years myself and a small team have been growing an online fashion retailer named Thread Harvest. The business develops partnerships with suppliers around the world (often themselves BAM businesses) with the goal of providing dignified employment to the most marginalised people, funding innovative social projects and protecting global eco-systems. Our suppliers collectively employ over 1800 marginalised people, over 90% of which are women and a big part of our job is sharing their incredible stories.
For us the BAM component of our business is something that we have been constantly evolving and it looks different every day. It is often about making the most of opportunities to tell of God’s goodness and give Him due glory. Sometimes that looks like talking about our faith with our non-Christian suppliers and at other times it looks like making a point of talking about God’s goodness to every journalist that interviews us – most times the comments are printed but occasionally that part of the interview simply doesn’t get a mention.
There were a few things that motivated me to step into BAM, and Thread Harvest more specifically. The first was a strong desire to use my passions and networks to serve what I was most passionate about. I wish I was told about BAM earlier, as I used to often feel a tension between my passion for social enterprise and the false belief that ‘serious’ ministry was always done outside of the marketplace.
When we launched Thread Harvest I started to gain a greater awareness of the brokenness of our current apparel manufacturing system and wanted to help reform the system. I researched the child labour on cotton farms, the environmental degradation (the fashion industry is the third worst polluting industry globally) and the millions employed in sweatshops, and felt that the new wave of ethical manufacturers needed to be championed.
Jai co-founded Thread Harvest, an online fashion retailer based in Australia.
For more than 14 years I’ve had the privilege of living out life with women who have been given the choice of freedom. It seems this freedom business thing does work. It provides hope where there was hopelessness, a choice when there was no choice at all – the chance of a new life that leads to freedom.
Our neighbourhood, home to around 10,000 women trapped in prostitution, would simply not be transformed by our business, and the other amazing freedom businesses in the area, growing as big as they could. Between us we employ around 3% of the total women there which means there’s a big number to go – around 9,700 at least.
You see, I still believe in a God who wants justice. The one who came to set the oppressed free. I still believe he wants to do this today and that this massive problem is not too big for him. I believe he weeps for the women of our community as he weeps for many communities like ours around the world. I believe he calls those of us claiming to be his followers to be involved in his kind of justice in his world. I believe.
There’s this idea that runs around in my head all the time. If God can bring freedom for 300, why can’t there be freedom for 3000 and even more? Getting carried away now, why couldn’t he transform our community; change it from the inside out, a Kingdom coming here on earth if you like. I still believe.
With this belief we move forward with two key fundamentals as part of our strategy: The first one is about ‘being neighbours’ and has been part of our thinking from the beginning. It’s not a new idea because we’re just trying to follow the one who called us. I love the bit in John’s first chapter (the Message version):
The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.
Being neighbours for us is extremely important. Okay, so that means living and working in a red light area. I figure since Jesus left his father’s side and moved in so can we. It seems to me that the gospel is about transformation of communities from the inside out rather than living on the outside and venturing in every now and again.
Our second strategy is multiplication. Transformation of our neighbourhood means we need to move from growing one business to growing many. We need lots of freedom businesses bringing choice to many women. Simply put, we have a God-given mandate to multiply. It’s what he wants to do in his neighbourhood. This is where the Business Incubator kicks in. Having learnt a thing or two (although still lots to learn), we’re putting energy into anyone who wants to establish or be part of a freedom business in this part of the world.
Today, at long last, the idea of freedom business is being taken more seriously. For years, it’s been perceived as ministry masquerading as business. Organisations trying help through employment. Things are made, carried home by foreigners who sell to their friends, but it’s really just a donation. However, if we really want to see God’s kind of justice and freedom then the business needs to be sustainable, it needs to be the best it can be.*
Kerry is from New Zealand and founded a freedom business in India in 2001. *Adapted from the original post.
BAM is a global phenomenon. God is on the move around the world, calling men and women from all continents to start businesses for His Kingdom purposes. To highlight just some of what He is doing, and emphasise that business as mission is a global movement, we will take a tour around the BAM world for the next six weeks or so. We hope you enjoy the trip!
Photo credit: Thread Harvest