Day to Day Life in Hostile Places: Doing Business in Central Asia

The challenges to doing business here are many. The market is small and corruption is massive. There is a deficit of qualified professionals in the employee pool. This means that you need to fully train whoever you hire, knowing that when they have marketable skills, they will be seeking to emigrate to a country for a “better life”.

Inflation is another significant risk factor for business, as well as sudden bouts of devaluation which can be disastrous when supplies are purchased in dollars but customers are paying in local currency. Corruption and lawlessness are rampant in government institutions and there is an underdeveloped legal framework for doing business. We openly declare our position against corruption and this is a plus and a minus. We have no sense of protection from the government here, and there is constant pressure. One of the most threatening developments has been the more recent rise here in Islamic radicalism.

When we published the book of Proverbs and began to openly distribute it we raised the wrath of certain legislators in the parliament here. They vowed to shut us down and began sending an endless barrage of inspectors from every possible government department, all instructed to find something that could put us out of business. We faced corruption that brought us to the brink of being shut down. Our refusal to pay bribes resulted in lawsuits, investigations and audits. In the end, however, most inspectors went away with a true respect for how we run our business. The auditor sent to “shut us down” ended up so impressed at our dealings that she came to the faith. Read more

Day to Day Life in Hostile Places: Doing Business in North Africa

How do you do business in a country that your home country says it is illegal to do business in? Forget about export markets. Forget about connections to the international banking system for personal or business funds. Forget about visiting the ATM. You need to carry as much cash in with you every time you come and then stick in a safe in the corner of your bedroom because you cannot have a bank account in the country.

The bureaucracy and corruption were just the tip of the iceberg of doing business where we lived in North Africa. War and instability, currency fluctuations, international sanctions and constant anti-Western sentiment from the country’s government were just some of the things we contended with day to day. Even the weather could be hostile, with highs of 45°c (113°f), along with sandstorms and power cuts!

Although war was almost constant in different areas of the country, it rarely impacted daily life in the capital. We often told our family that even though the country had been through decades of civil war, the rebels had only attacked the capital once and that was 30 years ago. That was until they attacked it while we were there! The situation returned to normal after a week, but it was hectic. The city shut down for that week while battles went street to street.

On another occasion, we had an outreach team ambushed with grenades and AK-47’s while doing ministry in a remote district that we thought was safe. A number of team were killed and wounded. We still don’t know who was behind the attack. Read more

After the Tsunami: Business on the Edge

Little did James know just how strategically God had placed him fourteen years prior to the adversity that rocked multiple countries and millions of people when the 2004 tsunami hit Asia. As the ocean bulldozed its way through the coastline, sparing nothing in its path, so came a flood of both urgent and long-term needs. The physical destruction was almost incomprehensible, with hundreds of thousands of homes leveled and those that weren’t completely destroyed sustaining major water damage.

The area James lived in had long experienced government versus rebel conflict. Trust levels were at a low between people groups. Most things had ground to a complete halt as a result of years of unrest. The infrastructure was almost nonexistent, and what little infrastructure was there was almost completely dysfunctional. The civil unrest had already led to massive financial devastation. The additional destruction of the tsunami made for a completely corrupt situation where everyone grabbed for whatever money they could get their hands on.

For Such a Time as This

After the tsunami’s destruction of homes, multitudes lived in refugee camps which were a hotbed for the advancement of political unrest or conflict. The circumstances were ripe for anything but a successful BAM venture! Except that James and his wife and team knew they were called ‘for such a time as this’ and the Holy Spirit was leading them. James also had some ‘street smarts’ when it came to working in his location, which helped him move farther, faster. They hadn’t seen it coming, but along with the devastation of the tsunami came opportunities to start businesses that could help rebuild. Read more

Guidelines for Cross-Cultural Business Ethics

By Larry Sharp

This article is designed to help with decision making for business owners working cross-culturally in developing countries. It recognises that there are few absolute standards which apply to all contexts all the time and thus hopefully these guidelines will assist business owners in making tough decisions on matters related to ethics, corruption, morality, bribery and similar themes.

Some would like to believe that the Bible gives a single definitive perspective for all situations. While this is not true, the Bible does give us principles for decision making, thus in preparing for decisions it is important to understand Biblical absolutes in the light of:

  • Biblical culture
  • Our own culture of socialization
  • Our host culture of doing business

Ethics may be defined as the moral philosophy of knowing the difference between what is right and wrong and acting accordingly. It includes a moral duty and obligation to do good, a statement which seems straightforward but which is complex in light of diverse cultures. Ethics has its root in the Greek word “ethos” which means character; therefore an ethical framework is a systematic set of concepts which provides guidelines for correct behaviour that demonstrates ideal individual and corporate character.

It is important that we treat these guidelines as just that – “guidelines” that are a means to guide our customization in the application of God’s principles to contextual situations in our modern world. Read more

Education and Identity: Managing Connections to Christian Networks

Once a month, our panel of mentors answer your practical business questions. Send us your questions!

Dear BAM Mentor,

How do you manage your associations with Christians and Christian networks – both national and international – in light of security concerns? My ideal is to maintain my relationships with churches and Christian organisations (and indeed receive vital support/services from these); and I want to be well connected into the local church. However, I am concerned about how those connections may endanger my business. How have you managed both the relational side and other more formal associations you have with organisations or churches?

~ Feeling Cautious

Dear Cautious,

I personally believe that there are two key areas that you need to focus on as you consider your associations with Christians and Christian networks while working in a hostile environment. You should concentrate on education and building a strong identity.

Ever since we moved into a restricted access country, we have been working on educating all of the different parties involved in our lives. Most of our sending churches had only dealt with traditional missionary models, so we had to talk with them about:

  • How they communicate with us in email
  • What they could post about us online
  • How they should refer to us during their services.

During the first few years, we had to be vigilant about what they were writing in their online bulletins and websites. Over time, they have come to understand the seriousness of their actions. One simple way to make your point clear is to share real life stories of people who have been questioned because of “church mistakes.” Read more

Pragmatic and Prophetic: Managing Connections to Christian Networks

Once a month, our panel of mentors answer your practical business questions. Send us your questions!

Dear BAM Mentor,

How do you manage your associations with Christians and Christian networks – both national and international – in light of security concerns? My ideal is to maintain my relationships with churches and Christian organisations (and indeed receive vital support/services from these); and I want to be well connected into the local church. However, I am concerned about how those connections may endanger my business. How have you managed both the relational side and other more formal associations you have with organisations or churches?

~ Feeling Cautious

Dear Cautious,

This is first and fundamentally a theological-missiological issue, secondly a relational issue, and thirdly a risk-related issue. Let’s tackle the question in this order.

By “theological-missiological” I mean that the question takes us to the core issues of spiritual warfare, identity with the Kingdom of God, and the often overlooked and neglected matter of suffering for the sake of righteousness, in fulfilment of God’s purposes. The point is that, ultimately, our security is not our concern! We are engaged in a spiritual warfare, in which the advance of the Kingdom of God is often painfully slow and subject to setbacks, and that suffering, even to the point of shedding blood, let alone expulsion, is the New Testament norm. It’s commonplace, but profoundly erroneous, to assume that because we are doing something as value-added as business, we have therefore some sort of iron-clad guarantee that we’ll be exempt from the same tests, trials and trauma of any other missional effort.

By “relational” I mean that our being blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ by definition implies a willingness to be associated with this community, to take pride in our shared identity, and to find meaningful ways to engage with other Christians. Our businesses should not be seen by the host country as discriminatory (i.e. don’t hire all Christians!) or a cover for activities that may be illegal at worst, or at least misunderstood (i.e. avoid associations with certain styles of activities or messaging that can be counter-productive). But we should resist any fear or shame in being identified with the local and global Christian community which shares the Name of Jesus, just to protect our business – which, while important, is of secondary importance to the Body of Christ. Read more

7 Internet and Email Security Tips for BAM Practitioners

1. Basics

Do the absolute basics of making sure you have a reputable: firewall, antivirus, anti spyware and anti malware programmes. Sometimes these come as all-in programmes, do a lot of research to find out what is best at the moment as the market changes rapidly.

For a more in depth look at what security steps you can take click here and for Windows users a list here called “Probably the best security list in the world”.

2. Email Security

Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail are not secure enough email options for people working in the non-secure world. At the very least they are vulnerable to passport hijackings. At worst it is quite possible for security agencies within the government to be regularly reading your emails.

Good secure email options, unfortunately, usually cost money. Many organisations give a secure email options. Otherwise you could use something like Swissmail.

If you use Mailchimp to email newsletters, be aware that the newsletter is effectively a web page. Yes it is secure on their server but all servers are vulnerable to hacking. For more advice, and a warning, for missionaries serving in non-secure parts of the world regarding email communication see here. Read more

14 Best Practices for Managing the Risk of BAM in Hard Places

Taking a multidisciplinary approach and drawing upon a variety of resources will enable a BAM practitioner make better decisions as they learn to identify and manage acceptable risks. Here are 14 recommended fruitful practices for managing the risk of doing business in a hostile environment – that is hostile to business, mission or life:

1. Think about risk in categories: strategic, tactical and operational

In order to bring greater clarity to thinking about the variety of risks you face, categorise your risks into arenas consistent with your strategic, tactical, and operational goals or plans for your business.

Strategic plans serve the entire organisation and begin with your mission. The design and execution of your strategic plans reveal your desired future and longer-term goals over three to five years and beyond. Strategic risks might include, for example, overall country risks.

Tactical goals support strategic goals and they are concerned with mechanisms that will fulfil various parts of the strategic plan. Tactical risk can affect part of your strategic plan, but not all of it. An example of tactical risk might be the failure of one business versus a cluster approach (having several businesses) in which the overall strategic goals will still remain intact.

Operational plans and associated risks have to do with specific procedures and processes that are carried out by the workers in your organisation. A one-time petty theft of company property is an example of operational risk.

2. Contextualise your business strategy to the kinds of risk you face

One BAM practitioner works in a classically hostile environment. There are often personal safety concerns, a high level of corruption and an inefficient if not broken infrastructure. The challenge to run a successful business is obvious. This person is succeeding, but is having to step away from some business norms to do so. Jim Collins (2001) in his book Good to Great extols the virtue of the hedgehog principle of doing one thing excellently. In the context that this practitioner lives and works, that approach would lead to certain failure. Instead this person has adopted a ‘cluster approach’, with multiple small businesses that are able to stand on their own. Read more

Four Personal Experiences of BAM in Hard Places

The BAM Global Think Tank Report on BAM in Hostile Environments shares numerous personal stories and cases from BAM companies in hard places. Here are four brief experiences:

Boat Building in East Asia

In 2009 Josh was living in East Asia and had an opportunity to buy a boat building company there. He saw the opportunity to own a company in an unreached area and use it for ‘triple bottom line’ impact: to be profitable and sustainable, to create jobs, to live out ‘Jesus’ and to make disciples of Jesus among the Muslim and Hindu population. Josh was a fully qualified architect; he had 25 years of boating experience together with experience of teaching design and construction technology; he had lived in country for five years and spoke the language fluently; he had made several disciples of Jesus on other islands. While Josh brought considerable assets to the table, he did not have a business background, he had no money and he had not rubbed shoulders with the cutthroat business world of the country. While the company for sale had proven profitable, there were several hostile factors: the previous owner had not paid taxes and had a system for smuggling profits out of the country; the owner had some debts and potentially serious liabilities against the company; the country’s tax and other typical business laws were not obvious or easily known and Josh knew of no place in country where he could go for honest help; the location was isolated for a family with three children. Read more

BAM in Hard Places: The Challenge of Business in Hostile Environments

BAM ventures are one of the innovative ways that we are called to do mission in the two-thirds of the world’s countries that are highly corrupt and require risk management skills, sound judgement, discernment, strong leadership and spiritual maturity.

Launching and/or managing a business as mission company within a hostile environment encompasses a set of risks that are unique and varied, in contrast to the more familiar kinds of risk that most businesses encounter. By anticipating, recognising and managing these risks, a BAM team is more likely to achieve business sustainability and spiritual fruitfulness. 

The Risks That Face Us  

We are conceiving risk as falling broadly into three areas:

1. Business

2. Mission

3. Personal (including family)

Risks in these three areas can overlap and vary in intensity from situation to situation.

Understanding and managing risk in any environment is usually challenging for most business owners, but navigating unfamiliar risks within a hostile environment is part of the learning process that successful BAM entrepreneurs must navigate. Successful management of these risks requires the entrepreneur to exercise a high degree of discernment and good judgment.  Read more