Business in Brick Lane: Reinventing Church in Multicultural London

“I’ve had more significant conversations in this coffee shop in one week, than a whole year working in a church building,” tells Paul Unsworth. “We need new models of church where people can have a sense of belonging regardless of what they believe.”  In a busy, multicultural and popular street in East London, this Baptist pastor is re-inventing church. He and his team started a commercial coffee shop – as a church. They learned some keys on the way.

The coffee shop opened its doors June 2012 in Brick Lane. In this area twenty thousand people come to visit the shops and market on a regular Sunday. Many kinds of faiths are shared, but Christians are hardly to be found. While walking here one Sunday, Paul knew, ‘We have to be here, among these crowds’. They named the coffee shop Kahaila, which is a word play with the Hebrew word Kahila, meaning community, and the word Chaim/hai, what is connected with ‘life’. These words represent their purpose of bringing life to the very centre of the community: to plant a church as a café. Paul, “Traditional churches work well for Christians, but we want to explore how we model a church that engages people outside the church. Those kind of people who see church like they do a red telephone box – an amazing building that’s part of our heritage. They don’t want these telephone boxes removed and love to see it standing somewhere in a street, but they will never use it. They look at church the same way: they love the architecture and the fact that it is part of British culture, but it’s not for them.”

No business, no mission

The whole coffee shop endeavour did cost a lot of money and effort. Over a hundred thousand pounds were invested; partly donated and partly borrowed. This meant that they had to run the business well in order to raise an income, and to attract clients. Their aim was to become one of the best coffee shops in London and they seem to be well on their way: nearly four times as much profit was made as initially anticipated. But what’s more: people are finding them and recommending Kahaila on internet for their good coffee, food, service and atmosphere. While regularly adding the comment online: ‘Oh, and these guys are Christians’. Read more

The Viking Spirit: BAM In and From the Nordic Region

We share 4 short excerpts of BAM stories both in and from the Nordic region. For the full case studies, see the BAM Global Think Tank report on BAM In and From the Nordic Region.

BAM In the Nordic Region

Hans Nielsen Hauge: Changing a nation 200 years ago

We might call Hans Nielsen Hauge the first social entrepreneur in the Nordic countries. Indeed it would also be true to say that he carried the values of business as mission as he clearly had a huge impact on individuals and society in financial, social and spiritual aspects.

As a serial entrepreneur he started as many as 30 companies in Norway within a period of 4 years in 1800-1804 – that is almost one company every second month. Busy man! These companies were not micro enterprises but rather larger scale industries such as factories, mills, ship yards, mines and printing presses.

Hauge traveled – mostly by foot – throughout most of Norway, from Tromso in the north to Denmark in the south. He held countless revival meetings, often after church services. In addition to his religious work, he offered practical advice, encouraging such things as settlements in Northern Norway and helping people start businesses.

As a social entrepreneur Hauge wasn’t motivated by becoming rich and did not pay dividends to shareholders. He was rather motivated to serve society. He plowed money back into the business and then turned operations and ownership over to others and moved on. His followers started many other industries in turn and in a period of extreme economic crisis, when almost all the prosperous timber barons and iron works owners went bankrupt because of the Napoleonic wars, he showed a way to prosperity for anyone with initiative. This led to a new rise in Norwegian economics some years after the independence in 1814. In this matter Hauge was but one of several contributors, but he was one of the most influential. He was especially influential in the way he combined economics and Christian morals: modesty, honesty and hard work, among others. Read more

Muslim Village Transformed Through Prayer, Business People and Owls

It was warm and humid. One may say almost too hot for a Swede. But the story that emerged was more than cool.

I listened to the mayor of a small Muslim village. We sat outside his house, drank tea and nibbled on fruit, nuts and sweets. He was enthusiastic and composed. As a devout Muslim he had come to appreciate Christian business people in a way that surprised him. There is a long and sometimes violent history of severe distrust and tension between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia.

The village used to be quite poor. Rats ate 40 percent of the crops every year. These creatures also spread disease. Collaboration for irrigation was non-existent. There was a lack of entrepreneurial spirit and seemingly no-one thought about praying for a difference.

But some good friends and colleagues of mine visited the mayor and his village. They are Christian business people, they wanted to help and they wanted to build bridges across a religious divide.

At first the mayor declined. Why did business people come, and not charity workers or government people? On top of that, these people were Christians – not Muslims. But one Christian businesswoman suggested that they at least could pray. She said that prayers make a difference; yes God can make a difference. It was agreed. Something happened and it became a turning point. The mayor invited them to come back and they did. Read more

In Business for Freedom: The Red Light District of Kolkata

The company ‘FBA’ is located in the largest, and most infamous sex district in Kolkata, India. Within a few square miles more than 10,000 women stand in line selling their bodies to thousands of men who visit daily. Many are trafficked from Bangladesh, Nepal and rural India. For others poverty has left them without options. The cries of hungry children drive them to sell their bodies. FBA opened its doors in 2001 starting with twenty women who were desperate for an opportunity to be free. It was hard work teaching uneducated and unskilled women to sew jute bags at a quality acceptable for the export market. Some could barely use a pair of scissors and in those early days the average daily output per person was less than two bags. It was particularly frustrating when bags were sewn upside down and inside out and nobody noticed. Slowly these problems were overcome with much training and patience. Today, while many of the women are still not the fastest sewers, the business produces around 1000 bags a day made from jute and cotton material.

FBA entered a new market in 2009 by offering fair trade organic cotton tees (t-shirts). Girls showing ability in bag sewing were given the opportunity to train and learn new skills sewing t-shirts. Although smaller than the bags unit, FBA Tees is capable of producing 400 tees per day.

In the first few years all screen-printing was outsourced locally, however print quality and timely supply was out of our control. To overcome these problems and take advantage of the opportunity to create more jobs for freedom, FBA now has its own screen-printing unit supplying two customers, FBA Bags and FBA Tees.

Read more

Navigating Legal and Tax Challenges in Southeast Asia

We interviewed the founders of a group of retail companies that started in 1999 and now operate in three countries across Southeast Asia. We asked them what their greatest legal and tax challenges have been and how they have overcome them.

One of our first and biggest challenges was figuring out how to set up and operate our businesses in Vietnam. Although the law has changed since we first started out, at the time it wasn’t possible for a retail business to be owned by a foreigner. We had a production company there which we fully owned, but for the retail side we had to be creative. We followed a well-used route at the time that involved setting up an agreement with a trusted Vietnamese partner to establish the company, with written contracts to back it up. Although this route was legal, it wasn’t clear cut and wasn’t always easy to know how to navigate the situation.

Each time we have registered a new company in one of the countries we’ve hired a local law firm or business consulting firm to help us go through the business registration process. This has been essential because where we operate, this is not something you want to do on your own. We use a lawyer and we check with consultants locally about the process. We got our Vietnam registration completed in six months, whereas others have taken years. Getting that expert input is essential – if you don’t have everything right, it can really come back to bite you.

In Vietnam it is difficult to process anything without paying extra ‘fees’. We don’t pay bribes (i.e. offering money to receive a service we are not entitled to), but we do occasionally get extorted for money (i.e. being forced to pay extra for a service we are entitled to). Although we do try and resist being extorted, it does happen from time to time. Read more

Paying Taxes with a Mountain of Cash: A Taxing Story!

Death and taxes, though often said to be the only sure things in life, are not often a source of amusement. However, here is a funny story from one tourism business in Asia that had to pay their taxes the hard way.

Three years after opening their tourism business, the department of tourism finally created the proper paperwork for filing the tourism tax. In developing countries systems and processes are a work in progress. The company paid their other government taxes when due but with the tourism tax, they set aside money in the bank until the government processes were in place. Three years of taxes added up to approximately US$25,000.

Due to risk of corruption, the tax office required that the payment clear the account on the same day it was received. No money could be left in the account overnight. There was no guarantee that a check would clear or a wire transfer go through in the suitable amount of time prior to the end of a day’s work, so cold hard cash was the only acceptable form of payment.

On the morning of paying the tourism tax, the owners parked the company car in front of their bank and walked in with backpacks and duffle bags to make the withdrawal. Not knowing how much space US$25,000 in local currency would require, they tried to plan accordingly. Read more

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

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