By Paul Harrington
In this new series on ‘BAM Success Factors’ we invite guest authors to share what they consider the key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. To open up the series, Paul Harrington gives us an overview of the most important BAM success factors he has identified through research.
BAM Success Factors Part 1: Professional and Technical Considerations
Starting a new career in a part of the world that is not your cultural home is a big undertaking for anyone. For those who wish to use their businesses as a means through which God can reach the world, the challenge can be even greater. Everyone involved in the Business as Mission movement wants to make sure that every practitioner that takes the bold step of setting up a business with Kingdom values in a new context succeeds. Thankfully, many of the keys to success for BAM practitioners are known and have been validated by scholarly research.
BAM practitioners aren’t the only group of people who live and work outside of their home countries. Many companies and governments, including the military, as well as mission agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) send their employees to work around the world. While government and military techniques do not necessarily provide insight into how BAM practitioners can succeed, research done by and for private employers, NGOs, and mission agencies provides insight into the factors that lead to successful deployment of their personnel and have relevance for BAM practitioners.
Success means different things for different people. Since business as mission is a unique discipline with defined goals that might include the fourfold bottom line – achieving the financial goals of the owners of the company, social impact goals of the community in which the business works, goals to protect and enhance the environment, and spiritual impact goals – success in a business as mission enterprise can be measured.
Since some of the professional and technical characteristics that are necessary for the success of BAM practitioners are common with other business-related disciplines, professional success factors for BAM practitioners parallels factors which exist for other business-related disciplines.
Training and Experience
The most important factors for BAM practitioner professional success include sufficient training and experience as an entrepreneur. BAM practitioners must have entrepreneurial capacities and capabilities that have been developed over time and practiced before they go to the field where they intend to start or operate a BAM business. Successful entrepreneurs have the ability to see business opportunities and translate them into profitable reality; they often have learned their skills by being a part of a small or medium-sized business. Recognizing the economic contribution that small and medium-sized businesses have in creating jobs and economic growth, many countries have government-sponsored small business development organizations which provide entrepreneurial training and resources.
Beyond the fundamental need for entrepreneurial skills and training, BAM practitioners that have the best track record for success have experience working in the type of business which they intend to operate in another culture. While there are successful BAM practitioners who have learned to operate in a specific industry as part of their BAM experience, the most successful practitioners have previously operated a business or worked in that particular industry.
While the processes and equipment within an industry can differ greatly throughout the world, there are common principles that are used within an industry anywhere in the world. For example, there are certain norms that someone who operates a restaurant or coffee shop learn about menu complexity and handling diverse requests from customers on a continuous basis that someone who has expertise in merchandise retailing will not understand. Successful BAM restaurant operators likely have been passionate about food preparation and service for years so that their business becomes a means through which they practice their passion. A good cook might be able to create a great meal even for lots of people but it takes a successful entrepreneur to be able to create great meals for lots of people and be profitable in the process. Successfully operating a BAM enterprise is the culmination of years of preparation.
Adequate Financial Capitalization
Since no business can operate without capital, successful BAM companies have learned how to obtain capital and maintain relationships with those who have provided the capital. For most BAM practitioners, the original capital comes from the practitioner’s own resources, supplemented by investments from friends, family, and persons who are committed to the cause which the BAM practitioner is pursuing. Since few businesses are profitable in the first months and years of operation, capital must include the ability to sustain unprofitable operations.
As a business grows and becomes profitable, so does the need for larger amounts of capital and with it the likelihood that repayment will be expected and interest will be charged. Capital might also include other forms of investment including equity. Successful BAM practitioners have learned how to run their businesses using standards that allow accurate disclosure of how a business is operating. BAM practitioners who haven’t learned to access capital often struggle financially which puts pressure on their ability to achieve their other goals, including their spiritual goals.
Spiritual Leadership Skills
The spiritual dimension is what makes a BAM business unique among all other types of business. The challenge for BAM practitioners is to do business well while also operating the business with a missional and pastoral mindset that is formalized in no other type of business. BAM practitioners who succeed in the spiritual dimensions of the BAM model succeed because they have demonstrated those spiritual leadership skills in other settings and because they have gained the training necessary to apply those skills in the cross-cultural environment where they work.
Diverse Mentor Support
Achieving each of the goals of a BAM enterprise is possible with support from a diverse system of mentors. Best practice shows that the greatest success comes from having one or more mentors who are specialized in the business aspect of the BAM enterprise and another mentor or group that are specialized in the spiritual goals. Because BAM practitioners many times are doing ground-breaking work in integrating a business in a cross-cultural context with spiritual goals, it is not likely that a BAM practitioner will find many people who have the experience and background necessary to provide guidance or to mentor in all aspects of the BAM enterprise. The BAM practitioner becomes the expert in integrating multiple disciplines in a cultural context which might not be duplicated anywhere in the world!
Operating a BAM business is an extraordinarily complex endeavor. Before beginning a new venture, research shows that in order to maximize success, potential BAM practitioners should obtain the experience and training not just in the technical or operational aspects of the business but also in the spiritual and interpersonal/relationship elements required to operate the BAM enterprise. We’ll talk more about the interpersonal/relationship skills and training necessary to maximize the success of a BAM practitioner in Part 2.
Paul Harrington mobilizes and mentors for the BAM movement in a cross-cultural setting.