Business as Mission: Where social impact and profit, and much more, converge

Post first published on the IBEC Ventures Blog, reposted with kind permission.

Some people find it confusing to read about socially conscious business, social entrepreneurship or values-driven business. Isn’t business just business – driven by profit margins acceptable to shareholders? What’s all this talk of values, social impact and community development?

For the past decade or so it has become increasingly popular to talk about social purposes, meaning that some entrepreneurs have a motive beyond profitability. They want to solve social problems and bring a positive return to society. Big corporations sometimes address this through the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); and business startups sometimes call themselves social entrepreneurs meaning they start businesses which inherently provide for maximum job growth in their area, or they hire the marginalized in the community, or they take gigantic steps to benefit the community by helping solve problems that exist in the community, or all of the above. Some entrepreneurs are driven by a cause, like a software developer eager to provide a better way for people to connect.
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Business as Mission: The Global Movement Today

Mats Tunehag has been speaking, writing and convening on business as mission for nearly 20 years. When he visited The BAM Review office recently, we asked him a few questions about the business as mission movement.

Mats, what have you seen changing in business as mission in the last 15-20 years?

We are seeing a reawakening of what it means to be a Christian in business in our day and age. There has been remarkable growth of people getting engaged in doing business for God and the common good. If we take a 15 year time span, there are things we have today that didn’t exist 15 years ago. Now, we have a greater common understanding globally of this idea that we call ‘business as mission’. There are significant common denominators in our understanding, even though terminology may vary from group to group.

15 years ago when you mentioned business as mission, there were many questions about ‘What is that?’, ‘Is this something we want to get involved in?’. Today you can travel to almost any country and bump into people who have heard of, or are talking about, or practicing, business as mission. That is one of the major changes globally. Read more

10 Guiding Principles for Business as Mission

A good business as mission business will, by definition, have many of the characteristics of any well-run business. A kingdom business must be profitable and sustainable just as any other business. Integrity, fairness and excellent customer service are characteristics of any good business, not just a business as mission venture. As such, while important, those characteristics will not by themselves necessarily point people to Christ. A kingdom business begins with the foundation of any good business, but takes its stewardship responsibilities even further.

What follows is a list of principles that should underpin a business as mission business. First we list the basic foundational principles that must exist in any good business. Following that are the principles that distinguish a good business as mission business.

Foundational Business Principles

1.  Strives to be profitable and sustainable in the long term

Profit is an indication that resources are being used wisely. It indicates that the product or service being produced and sold does so at a price that covers the cost of the resources, including the cost of capital. For most businesses, profits are fleeting, and never a sure thing. It is common for businesses to experience periods of low profit, and even negative profit. Thus it is important to take a long-term view of profitability. Occasional windfalls are often what will sustain a company through periods of financial losses. For that reason a well-managed business will use extreme care when considering whether and when to distribute profits. Profit, and its retention, is not necessarily an indication of greed. Read more

What is Business as Mission?

Read our short introduction to business as mission:

Business is a God-given vocation and institution in society, with the potential to bring multiple benefits to people, communities and nations. Business as mission intentionally leverages this intrinsic power of business to address spiritual needs, hand in hand with social, economic and environmental needs.

Business as mission is demonstrating what the Kingdom of God is like in the context of business – and as we do so, engaging with the world’s more pressing social, economic, environmental and spiritual issues.

There is a growing consensus around this idea, although other terms are also used for the same concept. Many prefer alternative terms such as: Kingdom business, missional entrepreneurship, transformational business, missional business or business for transformation (B4T), among others. Business as mission, or BAM, is just one widely used term in the English language, other terms have developed in other languages. Read more

Four Pillars of BAM Preparation

Living in Thailand, we are surrounded by houses built on pillars. This picture hangs in our house, a constant reminder of the importance of strong foundations. I think of a BAM business being like a house built on pillars. No matter what shape the house is, what it looks like on the outside, the pillars (or foundations) must be strong to support the structure.

Each individual launching into BAM will have different experiences and a different journey of preparation. BAM models and strategies will naturally be diverse. God is creative and He has made each of us to be creative. There is no single BAM model that will work for everyone, everywhere. However, there are at least four common areas that need to be intentionally built to form a strong foundation for any BAM business. Like the pillars supporting a house, if one of these areas is weak or missing the whole structure will be unstable. If you are getting ready for business as mission, be intentional about building up these four pillars of BAM preparation:

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Five Tips for Starting a BAM Journey

Getting stirred up for business as mission? Wondering how to get started, here are our top five tips:

1. Seek the Lord

Take time to pray. If God is calling you to serve Him in business, ask where, when, how, with who? What path of preparation is He leading you on?

2. Connect with BAM stories

Read about real business as mission experiences, or go to an event where you will hear practitioners share their stories. Stories bring ideas alive for us by literally lighting up more areas of our brain!

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Thinking Bigger About Business: Biblical Foundations for BAM

What does God say about business? What were His intentions when he made enterprise part of His design for human society? For those pursuing business as mission it is essential to build on solid Biblical foundations.

Three reasons to build a Biblical foundation for business, work and economics:
1. Broadening our horizons

Most start with a particular motivation when they launch into BAM and there is nothing wrong with that. However, embracing all the ways that business might positively impact a community will give us greater potential to intentionally create that impact. Let us understand and embrace the fullness of God’s design for business. Let us celebrate His intentions. As we do that, we will have to say, “Wow!” God is so creative and He has given us the ability to be creative, to add value, to make money, to create wealth and come up with new innovations, that provide livelihoods, that help a community develop, that help us live in peace, that close the door on exploitation, that give lives meaning and transform people’s values, that communicates the Gospel… These are all God’s gifts to us in business! Read more

Entrepreneurs on Mission: Two Barriers to Break Through

by Mark Russell

There comes a day when we sit back and ask ourselves what we are going to do with our lives. In a sense, I am still asking myself that question. But many years ago I felt a nudge, a call if you will, to spend time in cross-cultural contexts advancing the gospel. At the time, I had no idea what that entailed. The only role models I had to look to were the missionaries I had met in Paraguay. They were either medical doctors or preachers. As a business student, it seemed I would have to leave behind my business interests and develop a new set of skills.

A few years into my overseas ministry, I began to ask myself some new questions about why couldn’t one be a businessperson and a kingdom builder at the same time.   At the time I was working in a traditional missionary setting, but quickly found that a lot of people resonated with my search to integrate business and mission. Later, I realized that people all over the world were working independently to the same end. It seems God is up to something.

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Building the Kingdom Through Business

by Bridget Adams and Manoj Raithatha

In his book Screw Business as Usual, Sir Richard Branson outlines his vision for nothing less than global transformation. He asks, ‘Can we bring more meaning to our lives and help change the world at the same time… a whole new way of doing things, solving major problems and turning our working into something we both love and are proud of?” His proposed solution is a new way of doing business. ‘It is time to …shift our values, to switch from a profit focus to caring for people, communities and the planet.’ Sometimes God uses prophets from outside the Church!

The world, it seems, wants business to change. The voices, powerful voices, are being heard out there. The Church, who you might think would be driving this new found hunger for ethics and transformative business, is in danger of being left behind. Branson knows that business can change the world for good, but we believe it can also change the world for God. Business can help build the Kingdom.

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The Emergence of the BAM Movement

by Steve Rundle

Not long ago the Wall Street Journal noted a significant change in the attitudes of university business students1. Compared to other incoming classes in recent memory, today’s young people are more interested in using their business skills to make a positive difference in society. Undoubtedly, many have been inspired by social enterprises like Tom’s Shoes, Kiva, and Chipotle’s Mexican Grill, as well as turned off by stories of corporate excess on Wall Street.

In Christian circles we are seeing something very similar. “Business as Mission,” as the name suggests, involves businesses that have a missionary impulse.  Neither motivated by money, nor embarrassed about making it, these enterprises and the entrepreneurs who start them defy easy classification. Like Social Enterprises they are hybrids in their purpose, and in many cases, their organizational structures. The main distinctive is that “Business as Mission” extends beyond addressing the physical needs of the poor (or the ethical treatment of pigs and chickens, as in Chipotle’s case), and includes a desire to make Christ known and see people freed from spiritual bondage.  While social entrepreneurs want to do good for their fellow man, so-called “BAMers” in addition, are motivated by a desire to serve God and draw people’s attention to Him. The Christ-centered nature of BAM is a significant difference that gives rise to different questions and requires a more interdisciplinary approach to the subject.

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