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. 

Risk management involves maximising the areas where we have some control over the outcome, while minimising the areas where we have little to no control over the outcome. More often than not, the link between cause and effect is obscured from our view. 

There are known knowns; things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; things that we now know we don’t know.  There are also unknown unknowns which are the things we do not know we don’t know. – Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

Hostile Environments

Hostility should be thought of as a spectrum along which we can find variables that are: healthy or unhealthy, toxic or nontoxic, mildly or highly corrupt, etc. Some forms of hostility are very clear, such as a war or great political instability. However, other forms of hostility are more subtle and may not be so easy to identify.

Because the environments – geographies, cultures, developmental stages – of this world are characterised by both variety and change, it is helpful to think of the threat of hostile environments as: mild, medium, strong or very strong in intensity. At these varying levels, hostile environments can hinder growth or cause difficulties for the mission of BAM. The health of the business can be impacted by adversarial, antagonistic, unfriendly or untrustworthy behaviours.

Probably the most prevalent form of hostility facing business ventures is corruption. Two-thirds of the world’s 176 nations have very high levels of corruption. We believe that the outward forms of corruption are inwardly fuelled by the combination of our sinful nature, accompanied by the invisible and often hidden powers and principalities – the spiritual forces of evil described in Ephesians 6:12.  

Corruption involves dishonest human behaviours in which a person or group abuses power and/or trust in order to receive something in return. It almost always involves cash or other assets, either being given or received for personal benefit. The influence of corruption in a myriad of forms affects the daily lives of people in many countries. The Governance Director from the World Bank Institute, Daniel Kaufmann, identified that, “Bribery has become more than a one trillion dollar industry.” (Six questions on the Cost of Corruption, n.d.)

BAM ventures often occur within the 10/40 window, as well as in the two thirds of the world’s nations with high levels of corruption. Such locations have risks that vary in scope, intensity and duration and some are also very dangerous environments.

Managing Risk and Developing Discernment

Recognising the nature of the risks we face is not easy. Learning how to identify and manage risks is a lifelong learning process and thus risk management and discernment should be viewed as a long journey. It is essential to develop the skills to recognise, interpret and respond constructively to risks. Since we are called to do mission in high-risk zones, we must take seriously this topic both in our personal lives and in our BAM ventures.

  • How can we recognise the nature of these risks in the 21st century world?
  • How do these risks interact and influence us personally and our BAM ventures?
  • How can we cultivate deep spiritual discernment?
  • How can we forecast interdependencies between our venture and our environment and thus create a watch list of potential risks?
  • How do we manage risks and problems for which we have had little training or preparation?

We believe that a dual approach, that of heart and mind, holds the best prospects for managing risk and developing discernment. The ‘heart’ approach draws from the rich tradition of contemplative spiritual practices that are an essential part of nurturing discernment as an asset in risk management. When we learn to manage appropriate risks that the Holy Spirit leads us through, we can experience the higher and deeper purposes of God for our lives and BAM. The ‘mind’ approach relates to learning how to benefit from the latest research in fields such as risk management and complex systems, along with comparable approaches from other experts and many other ideas.

To discern the nature of a particular hostile environment in which one manages a BAM venture, it takes the collective wisdom of the Christian community supplemented by the leading and help of the Holy Spirit.

Read more from the Report

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

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