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.

3. Learn from other experts

Clearly we are not the only group worldwide who have thought about business ventures within hostile environments. Many different organisations have useful insights into these issues, for example, the work on the Competitive Advantage of the Inner City by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter. An influential thought leader, Nate Silver and author of The Signal and the Noise suggests that people who are ‘foxes’ manage risk better than those who are ‘hedgehogs’ because foxes incorporate ideas from different disciplines. Be a lifelong learner with great research.BAM entrepreneurs must be willing to consider multiple points of view and learn from other respected thought leaders who have thought deeply about perceiving and managing risk. Be a reader. It is important for BAM risk managers to be voracious readers. Wearing so many hats and needing to understand your hostile environment means that there is no substitute for sitting down periodically with a good book. Connect regularly with research groups that monitor political and economic trends in the country. Successful BAM entrepreneurs should be adaptable and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, adjusting their approach as new data comes along. We need to be ‘foxes’ or, in Jesus’ words, “As wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16, KJV).

4. Listen and seek wise counsel

There is much we can learn from experts and also much to be learnt from listening to each other. It is common knowledge that no entrepreneurial effort is done alone, as all of us are dependent on a colleague, team, coach or consultant to cover areas of weakness. A best practice for BAM business start-ups is to have complementary associates and some formal consulting. As the business gets started and begins to get up and running, it is strongly advised that an advisory board be developed to provide a broad range of counsel, expertise and encouragement. A metric for accountability is essential and where it is not built in to the investor’s requirement or the franchising entity the business will need to self-structure it. In short, every BAM business needs consultants, a balanced leadership group and advisors. However, it is also essential that these consultants and advisors are well versed in the reality of working in hostile environments. Those standing alongside the BAM venture must be of one mind, which may mean that those in the ‘backstage’ need to get more experience or training in the unique challenges that hostile environments present. If not, advice and investment is likely to be structured according to the normal business environment of the home culture. This will certainly lead to unrealistic expectations.

5. Conduct a readiness analysis and build in regular evaluation

Not everyone is up to operating a business in a hostile environment. Therefore a readiness analysis should be mandatory. This will help show whether the subject is the right person for that business in that context, whether there are deficiencies in prerequisites, and whether missional goals can be realised. Readiness analysis should include significant research using The World Bank’s Doing Business website and other means to determine the opportunity and context for business operation. It should also include a missional research overlay to determine ministry openness, opportunity and risk. Even start-ups driven by experienced entrepreneurs need some indication of what they are trying to accomplish ahead of time. As the business develops, a business plan, financial projections and other usual planning tools can be developed.

A self-assessment or readiness analysis should be periodically performed to assess the health of one’s venture by an independent board and team willing to give and receive honest feedback. 360 degree feedback is a human resource tool that can help prevent failure. Many BAM failures result from dysfunctional or unhealthy internal issues rather than from external hostilities. It may be true that the hostile environment is an aggravating factor, but unless there is an outbreak of a natural disaster or war, it usually is not the single cause contributing to a breakdown.

6. Know why you are here

Risk is minimized if each businessperson has a clear answer to the question “Why are you here?” The answer must understandable to everyone who asks it, from the highest political official down to the local street sweeper. Every BAM businessperson needs to keep in mind why he or she is there, with the business reason integrated with the spiritual reason. The importance of the ‘Why’ is clearly stated in the TED talk by Simon Sinek (2010). Rick Love of Frontiers highlights the importance of having a 3D approach to communicating your identity in an article for the International Journal of Frontier Missions. He advocates that whether you are speaking to Muslims, the secular western world or in the church, your identity, mandate and message must be the same. The ‘Why’ you are there cannot change according your audience.

7. Conduct a trustworthiness audit

The BAM team needs to ask itself whether there are issues of trust that need attention or discussion in the following areas: finances and how money is handled, unresolved grey areas or hidden issues.  What trust issues emerge within your BAM team and extended network? Are you avoiding difficult conversations?

Develop a ‘Risk Watch List’ for your family and BAM venture. Begin by asking questions such as:

  • How well do you understand the potential influence of your ‘hostile environment’ upon your BAM venture?
  • Do you know what you don’t know?
  • Can you explain sufficient details of your business ecosystem so that you understand the vulnerable or weak points in the context of your hostile environment?
  • How might these vulnerabilities influence your business or mission?
  • What are more obvious examples of risk? (E.g. war, corrupt government agencies that could block approval, local mafia groups, spiritual opposition, isolation, etc.).
  • What are more obscure examples of risk which may pose greater threat because they are hidden?

Asking good questions can help to address strategic risks as well as some tactical level and some day-to-day operational risks.

8. Prepare and train for launching BAM initiatives

A typical BAM venture in a hostile environment will face many complex issues, often far beyond the scope of an equivalent business in a non-hostile environment. This demands that BAM practitioners in these contexts are well trained. Training is not necessarily about dealing with specific issues, rather to increase capacity and impart a broad skill set to deal with the challenges, risks and threats that will be faced on the way. Currently there are two main types of BAM practitioners, those that have come from a missionary background and those with more of a business background. Both of these categories of people have strengths and weaknesses because of their backgrounds. We believe that it is essential that potential BAM practitioners should participate in specific areas of training to help them be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses.

As well as the readiness analysis – an assessment of the individual to ascertain if they are ready to take on the challenge of their proposed project – is clear that there also needs to be individually tailored training for each person. No two projects will be the same, whether they are in the same country or not. At this point no one individual or training programme has the capacity to do that, so the individual (or team) will need to pass through a number of preparatory stages to get them ready. The individual would do well to seek out a coach or mentor with the appropriate experience to help guide them.

9. Team up

It is rare for one person to have the full range of skills necessary for the unique challenge of BAM in hostile environments. A team with individuals with complementary experiences and skills will provide greater resilience and chance of success, as well as a commitment to an on-the-job learning process. Those with a missionary training are likely to have more understanding of language and culture. In hostile environments, as in non-hostile environments, this translates into an ability to hear what is going on in the locality. This should make them more streetwise and therefore robust in the face of the risk factors specifically found in hostile environments, although they may lack business skills and experience. Those from a business background may be weaker in language and cultural adaptation. They may also be operating a business that is outside their core area of expertise. However, in general they are going to be more competent at navigating the business through standard business processes and pitfalls.

10. Establish a set of guidelines for decisions on business ethics

A set of guidelines for decision-making on business ethical issues in hostile place invaluable. There will not be one document that will solves every issue for everyone every time but guidelines can help. For more help on this issue, read Guidelines for Cross-cultural Business Ethics.

11. Have authenticity and integrity

In an era when many so-called BAM businesses are ‘fakes’ it is highly important to have authenticity and integrity. It is important for a business to create real value, i.e. create community and economic values, create jobs and help solve the basic economic problem of the region. Anything less lacks integrity and authenticity. A business plan is usually a good way to ensure you build and run a business for profitability and sustainability. In a hostile environment a lack of authenticity and integrity can often lead locals to falsely accuse you of being a spy for your country. Alternatively they may jump to the conclusion that you are a missionary, which could be just as dangerous.

12. Integrate contemplative spiritual practices

Spiritual disciplines and practices are essential to nurturing your discernment. In other words, learn to be led by the Spirit and commit yourself to a distinctive way perceiving risk. One must be aware that doing business as mission is a spiritual battle. Therefore, it is the responsibility of each individual and or business entrepreneur to be responsible for developing discernment and wisdom as part of their own spiritual discipline. If spiritual discipline is lacking then business leaders and their businesses are more vulnerable in the spiritual battle they face on a day by day basis. In order to reduce vulnerability it is also our recommendation that mentors, prayer teams and/or other support is provided as part of the ongoing discernment and wisdom practice for success in BAM business.

13. Gain useful practical skills

There is a surprising list of helpful things that you can do to manage some risks in hostile environments. For example:

  • Be the best driver that you can be, or make sure that someone in your team is an excellent driver. Many of the fatalities or serious injuries in the BAM community come from traffic accidents.
  • Make sure someone in the team is practical, and has a working knowledge of mechanics, plumbing, electrics, etc. A surprising number of accidents happen at home as a result of unsafe local practices. Having someone that can spot dangerous practices is a wise idea.
  • Learn how to read a map. In this world of increasing dependence on GPS systems our Western society is losing some of its traditional skill sets. The ability to make it home or to your destination may depend on map-reading skills, especially in those areas of personal danger.
14. Work to have a ‘local face’

A different way forward within BAM was learned as a result of the Crossroads Center experience in Africa and has been termed ‘The Joseph Approach’. The basic idea is the exchange of a western (Christian) business face for a more local ‘Joseph face’ to help mitigate the threat of becoming a target or ‘lightening rod’ for terrorists and extremists. The Joseph Approach involves a paradigm shift from the external influence of a foreigner’s business to impacting local marketplace leadership from within. As Joseph became an influence in the house of Potiphar and later with Pharaoh throughout all of Egypt with an ‘Egyptian face’, so other BAM practitioners may be called to be ‘Josephs’ in the context of established local businesses. And as Joseph was faithful to listen to God and follow His directives, BAM practitioners might also focus on hearing the Spirit of Jesus in the context of the business and be God’s witness and example from within.


Read more from the Report

This post was adapted from original material published in the BAM Global Think Tank Issue Report on BAM in Hostile Environments

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