Lessons From the Edge: Living the Gospel Among Unreached People

Insights from a BAM Practitioner 

This BAM Practitioner has been in business in Asia for 16 years.

Meet your people every day
Your business has to bring you into contact with people. I think this really is the most important thing. If we view the challenge of missions as “how to get a believer together with an unbeliever” then this has to be absolutely central to any BAM model. Access to people is not the end goal, but it means we are able to show the Kingdom and share the King with people. If a business opportunity or role comes up that doesn’t help us be with our people, then we don’t pursue it. It’s surprising how simple, yet easy to miss this can be.

Be respected
That sounds simple, but it’s not so easy in practice! Our lives must be credible to people. Our business must be respectable. Think about what you can do that will make sense to people, what roles or actions will bring understanding and respect. I had a supplier who was supposed to deliver goods, but was late. I had to cut the payment because he was late, and after a long conversation about it, he told me he was going to take me to court. After two weeks he comes back and says, “Well I went to the court and they all told me that you wouldn’t cheat me, so they sent me away.” That place of respectability that we can have in business can be a powerful place to convey the message of the gospel!

Express the Kingdom
We are showing people around the Kingdom, but we also need a safe place where a verbal expression of the gospel can happen. It’s got to be part of what you do. Providing a way for that may change your business model. We’ve changed the way we do production so that clusters of women can do certain jobs in groups in their homes. This is good for productivity, but also for opportunities to share biblical ideas, our stories, and Jesus in countless moments where our Christian staff are sitting with the women and children. This happens in other contexts with the men as well.

Read the full interview with this practitioner

 

Lessons from the Edge: Ingredients for Sustainable Success

Insights from a BAM Practitioner 

‘Andrew’ was in business in China for 8 years and now consults to other BAM companies.

Finding a good fit for you is critical
This business is what you will be doing day in and day out, so it’s really important that you have an idea that you feel passionate about, that you understand how it’s a good fit for you and your goals. Is it a good business for your personal strengths? Business as mission can be really, really hard and finding that good fit will see you through many challenges. If you get into a business just because you have to, it can end up feeling like drudgery.

Don’t do it by yourself
It’s important to have good partners. Build a team or find a partner that has complementary skills to your own. Find partners locally that can work with you, whether it’s locals or other foreigners. I don’t think I would have made it in my own business if I didn’t have a key partner working with me, we kept each other going when the going got rough. Get good people around you and have the right people in the right roles.

Engage advisors
Find good mentors, consultants or advisors. That could look like having regular contact with consultants, finding a specialist mentor, or setting up an advisory board. Advisors might be other business folks in your local context, either foreigners or consultants that are further down the road than you, or local business people. They might be business people, lawyers and other experts from your home church network. One model that we’ve seen work well is to engage several different people from your home church from the beginning of the business. They would help with planning, make some site visits, get to know the local context and the difficulties, so that they can give business advice that is helpful for the situation.

 

Lessons from the Edge: Integrating Mission and Business in Your Business Preparations

Insights from a BAM Practitioner 

Peter has lived and worked in a professional and business capacity for over 40 years throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South and North America and is a pioneer in the business as mission movement. He currently consults on business as mission all over the world and is the CEO of a global investment fund for BAM enterprise in the Arab world and Asia. 

Preparation must consider both business preparation and missiological preparation
This is about recognising what God has already done in the practitioner’s life in regards to their sense of missional call and life experiences; the tapestry woven together in their life before the BAM entity begins. What has God been doing to both missionally and professionally prepare the person, in terms of their skills and competencies? Mentors should begin with: Tell me what God has been doing in your life? Tell me what your sense of call is? Tell me how God has been preparing you? The incubation of a new BAM business is the result of the process that God has already been doing before that.

Gain an understanding of what is going on in the environment that God has called you to
What is your business going to be about, commercially and missionally? Where has God called you to do BAM and what might he want to do through the business? What is going on in that environment in commercial terms? What are the needs? What is the market? What is the missional calling to the people group? How is God raising up your business? This stage will include formal market research, missiological research, taking exploratory trips, etc. Avoid the stumbling block of falling in love with your product and discovering after the fact that the market doesn’t have the same affinity for it! The BAM practitioner will need someone who is business-minded to ask good questions. Also avoid the other stumbling block of an inadequate understanding of the missiological, anthropological, and sociological issues that are at play.

Work together with national Christians to gain understanding
Engage in a dialogue that will shape understanding about the context and what the business is going to be. This will involve persuading each other of the vision and intent of the company, and further refining what might work and what won’t. This should be bilateral; an expat that is not willing to listen to national Christians on what tweaking and refinement is needed is doomed to failure.  This of course is not the same thing as listening to all voices – for there will be many nay-sayers and people who just don’t get it. Choose your national counsellors with discernment and humility.


These Lessons were first shared in the BAM Think Tank Report on BAM Incubation, and published on the Blog in full here.

Lessons from the Edge: A Long-term View

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

Ajay co-founded an IT company in India 14 years ago and regularly coaches BAM practitioners.

Keep a long-term perspective
Having a long-term perspective about what you are doing helps when with dealing with challenges. You can’t just dabble! Having invested many years, we are not going to give up easily when we face problems. When you are starting a BAM company you have to be committed and keep the long-view in mind.

Don’t underestimate the importance of those you partner with
A good partnership has been vital to our company. My business partner and I are different from each other, but we have a long-term commitment to the company and to one another. Our team leadership and the way we are able to work together has made all the difference for our business. Staying committed and on the same page directly relates to sustainability – not only for the business, but to the people and relationships we have invested in.

Invest in your employees
The old adage goes that the customer must come first! While there is truth in that, we’ve found that when our employees feel valued and are thriving, then our customers get the benefit. So we put the customer first by pouring into our employees. When challenges come up with our staff, we see it as an opportunity to spend time listening and to model servant-leadership. Instead of being stressed about the challenge, we want to see it as an opportunity for the gospel.

Lessons from the Edge: Balancing the Tensions

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

Tim has been in business in SE Asia for 18 years.

Keep both the big picture and the detailed picture in view
Don’t get so bogged down in the detail that you lose sight of the big picture and the rationale for what you are doing. Conversely, make sure you don’t spend all your time dreaming about vision and thus take your eye off the day to day operational details of the business. Keep a healthy tension between the two.

Have the bible in one hand and the balance sheet in the other
Knowledge of God’s ways in business is critical, but so is understanding the mechanics of business. Spend time getting skilled in the disciplines of business. As an entrepreneur you have to understand everything, even if you don’t do everything. Business has it’s own laws, don’t over-spiritualise them!

Keep lines of communication open and clear
Clear, honest communication with accountability groups, mentors and colleagues is vital. Keep sharing what is happening, but also humbly listen to input. Communication should be two way. If your spouse or children are telling you they are not getting enough time, stop and address it. Listen to your family.

Lessons from the Edge: Human Resources

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

‘Julia’ has been a business owner in Mongolia for 12 years.

Investing in people is challenging, but worth it
My husband likes to quote his habitat for humanity friend on this: “It is easy to build houses and so hard to build people”. Houses stay put where you build them and people are always changing – but the costly things are the precious ones. I have tried to be somewhat friendly with my employees and try to model respect, servant leadership, and creating a healthy work environment. I have also had to balance that by being firm in my approach and following up with consequences. Finding a healthy balance between respect and the friend who is the boss has been a key. Some of our oldest, most mature workers, have come back to me years later and thanked me for this model that they now understand but didn’t when they first worked for us.

Tread carefully with strongly held cultural-values
We’ve had lots of problems with staff not wanting to report to younger colleagues, or do certain jobs, because of their status in the culture. I used to think it was good to push them into this to learn humility. Now I think it is more respectful of the person to work with them in this up to a point. It is only the Lord who can work humility in people. I still have to consider the good of the business but as much as possible I try to work with my employees until they are ready for more. When I find someone willing and secure enough to take on cross-status challenges, I try to reward them and treasure their maturity with more responsibility and privilege.

It’s worth paying for good talent
We always paid minimum wage until the last two years when I found an over-qualified and competent worker. I just about broke the bank to get her a somewhat acceptable salary and she was worth her weight in gold! We never have to worry about our books going in the red with her around. I have learned that when you find a good worker it is well worth it to really do all you can to take care of them. I can’t afford not to, even if it is a stretch.

Lessons from the Edge: Fighting Poverty Through Business

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

Brian Albright has been involved in international development and business (in agriculture and health care) in East Africa since 2004. He currently teaches Business as Mission and Social Entrepreneurship at Hope International University in Fullerton, California, USA.

Invest in your key relationships and stay teachable
I’ve been blessed to partner with two amazingly gifted Kenyans to run our companies. They have strengths and weaknesses—as I do—that must be understood and managed. The cultural differences are real, and I could share many stories where my presence, perspective, and opinion were detrimental, and I learned to stay teachable. I know the most valuable investment we have made in our long-term business success is the time we have taken to build trust, communication, and a more open relationship. If I were to start over new in another location, the first thing I would do would be to find the right partner and develop that kind of relationship.

Monitor the numbers regularly
In the context we work in, there is a strong donor mentality due to a long history of handouts. With some of our employees and clients, it is hard to make the switch in mindset to running a business that is sustainable, where “finding a donor” isn’t the proper response to financial problems. The way we avoid this mentality is to set specific quantitative goals and monitor costs, revenues, client totals, labor hours, profitability, etc. on a regular basis. This focus on the numbers reminds us that we are a business.

You can’t do it all, work with others
While working alongside the poor, many issues emerge such as AIDS, alcoholism, nominal Christianity, sexual promiscuity, children’s school fees, costs of health care, etc.. Our business exists to meet these social and spiritual needs, but our primary role as a business is to provide goods and services and to create jobs. There are churches, health clinics, and NGO’s that we partner with in our community so that our company isn’t all things to all people. While our goals are beyond that of a traditional business, we are not experts in all of these areas, nor should we try to be. I think we are better at accomplishing all of our goals because we partner in this way.

Lessons from the Edge: Investing in BAM Companies

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

Peter has lived and worked in a professional and business capacity for over 30 years throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South and North America and is a pioneer in the business as mission movement. He currently consults on business as mission all over the world and is the CEO of a global investment fund for BAM enterprise in the Arab world and Asia.

Financial capital is only one of many kinds of patient capital needed by business as mission companies 
There are seven forms of capital which need to be strategically integrated into a BAM business over a long, patient, persistent timeline in order to achieve the sweet spot of optimal impact. These seven forms of capital: human, intellectual, financial, social, spiritual, infrastructural and natural capital, all need to be strategically integrated in a balance that will be variable for your context. If you are not paying attention to all of these forms of capital, you risk being knocked off the sweet spot and your impact will be diminished.

Return on investment from BAM companies is possible
Although not easy, it is possible to invest with modest expectations of financial return into even the most difficult environments and, risk of loss notwithstanding, see a full return of capital and a modest return on investment. One challenge is finding companies that are investor-ready and able to meet the rigorous standards necessary. However we have found that relationships, based on integrity and trust within the Christian community, bring remarkable risk-reducing benefits. Company owners generally are admirably open and honest in their applications and conduct of their business affairs, and often make significant personal sacrifices in order to serve Christ, and to honor the loan obligations of their companies.

Competent mentoring can make a vital difference for BAM companies
There is a compelling value proposition for BAM companies and their investors in receiving competent, wholistic mentoring. The mentoring provided has been vital in building relationships of trust with the companies, which then facilitates growth and even greater acceptance of advice. Responsiveness to experienced input has enabled companies to grow and develop into better-managed and effective models of Christ-honoring business. Mentoring has been instrumental in early recognition of looming problems, with timely solutions protecting against financial and other loss.

Lessons from the Edge: Dealing with Bribery in China

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

Dwight Nordstrom is a veteran of doing business in Asia for almost 30 years. He is on a continuing journey of learning how to deal with bribery and corruption as he leads Pacific Resources International, to expand manufacturing operations in China.

Don’t make blanket statements about bribery and corruption. 
This issue is simple, yet complex! It is good practice to talk about individual cases versus making unilateral statements. Brainstorm with others. Ask, What does this mean in this context?  Is there a different way we could do this? Is there a way we could still win this business? 

Have a zero tolerance approach in your top leadership. 
Within your own company leaders – especially in your purchasing and financial operations – you have got to have a zero tolerance for bribes. Have good frameworks in place to train, implement and evaluate that zero tolerance approach.

Be incredibly selective about what industry and type of business you get into. 
There are a lot of businesses I wouldn’t touch because it is such a corrupt industry. Select the type of industry very carefully since that will determine how much corruption you will face. Build your competency in an industry that is less corrupt before taking on business in more corrupt sectors.

 

Lessons from the Edge: Inspired by Quality Coffee

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

‘Ben’ has spent a decade and more of his life in the specialty coffee industry. He has an unwavering passion for quality in coffee that has grown into a pursuit of quality in all aspects of his life – in business, in mission, and in relationships.

The quality of relationships in the company matter as much as the quality of the product.
In a sense, the quality of care for one another in the company is an equally desired product of the business. Let reconciliation have a major role in the company culture. Concepts we teach, like forgiveness, kindness and so on, become real and implanted in a persons character, in the context of relationships. This is where the real meaning of those company values comes alive.

Intentionally embody the mission in all aspects of the business.
I have realized that my mission is not to bring people into the church, but to help them to see Jesus. When Jesus’ values are synonymous with the company values, corporate life together becomes a training ground for life in the gospel. Business is a place where the values that Jesus embodies are taught and lived out through daily business life together.

Do business with excellence and ask God to show you all that he has intended for it. 
It is important to take business seriously and see it as something to be honored and stewarded as a gift from God, to be used for his purposes. It is important to invest my utmost into it and hope for the most from it. God designed business to create wealth and so I need to have a healthy view of money and wealth. To hope for success and growth is good!