How Business as Mission Can Help End Poverty for Good

by Doug Seebeck

The Business as Mission movement has made remarkable advances over the past 20 years. It is a powerful movement that affirms God’s call to business and the central role of business in missions and insists that business is critical to the redemptive work of God in the world and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

While there is much to celebrate, now is the time for a rallying cry for what can and must be done in the 20 years ahead of us. Indeed, the health of our planet, the flourishing of our neighbors, and the integrity of the Gospel itself depend upon our concerted focus and action. And that focus is the end of extreme global poverty as we know it today. To this end, we need the Business as Mission movement to serve those at the bottom of the pyramid who are scraping by on less than $2 per day.

Our vision at Partners Worldwide is to see the end of poverty so that all may have life, and have it abundantly. This is a grand, audacious goal we know we can’t accomplish alone. And yet, for the first time in human history, the number of our fellow human beings who face extreme poverty has fallen to under 10 percent. The latest figures from World Bank suggest the extreme poverty rate fell to 8.6 percent last year—a rapid decrease from 36 percent in 1990. It is truly amazing! 

A Call to End Poverty in the Most Challenging Places

We share the goal of ending poverty for good with the United Nations (UN) Development Program and many other global as well as locally-based organizations around the world.  In fact, ending poverty by the year 2030 is listed as the first of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted by the UN in 2015.

The end of systemic and extreme poverty is also the foremost indicator of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. Which is why 650 million people still living on less than $2 per day is utterly unacceptable; especially given the wealth, technology, and unbelievable surplus of abundance many in the world enjoy.  Further, progress has been uneven, and current forecasts indicate that the world is presently not on track to end extreme poverty by 2030. In fact, according to recent reports from the World Bank, progress in the fight against poverty is slowing.

Why? Simply put, because the “easiest places” to address poverty, where there is relative peace and stability, have been saturated with development efforts.

But the most difficult places remain, well, difficult.

The World Bank and other leading experts have distilled the data to help us understand what these difficult contexts are like. They include conflict zones, fragile and failed states, coastal areas affected by climate change, and nations with weak infrastructure and governance.

Data also tells us that 70 percent of people living in extreme poverty live in rural communities, and the majority depend upon agriculture to survive.

The other 30 percent live in large cities, many of whom left their home villages in search of a better life—and jobs in particular. They often find themselves in the shadows of five-star hotels, expensive restaurants, and booming industry. They witness economic prosperity, yet find themselves disconnected from opportunities for a better life. Disconnected, in fact, from access to basic needs like clean water, electricity, education; and yes, a reliable job that develops their innate talent, affirms their dignity, and helps provide for their family.

This isn’t to imply that addressing poverty in places where relative peace and stability abide is easy—it’s not! But how much more complicated is reducing poverty in fragile states like Zimbabwe and Myanmar?

Using the Power of Business and Partnership to Fight Poverty

As people called to business, we know that business is the way to end poverty. The vast majority of people living in poverty say that their greatest hope of escaping poverty is to get a job or start their own business.

When people get good jobs, they are able to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. And when entrepreneurs start their own businesses, they support not only their family but create jobs for others, too.

Catalyzing job creation in communities facing poverty is a critical way the Business as Mission movement can help end poverty for good. The World Bank projects that Africa alone will need 600 million new jobs in the next decade just to stay on pace with projected population growth and new people entering the labor force.

So, how can we come alongside entrepreneurs in places most affected by unrest, war, and destructive climate change?

For Partners Worldwide, it is by partnering with local community institutions with leaders who believe in the power of business to bring opportunity, hope, and flourishing to everyone in their midst.

These institutions come in many varieties, whether cooperatives, micro-lending institutions, or even the local church. But what they all have in common is a vision to serve businesspeople and farmers, and a desire to affirm that business is part of the solution to poverty.

We partner with these local institutions in over 30 countries around the world to provide business and agribusiness training, mentoring, access to capital, and advocacy tools. We also connect these partners to one another – building a trusted, global network in which shared learning and collaboration can take place.

We have been amazed at the impact of this locally-led, partnership-oriented approach to ending poverty through business. Take Northern Uganda, for example, which was ravaged by conflict at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army and left millions displaced and the economy in shambles. But now through the Partners Worldwide local network, thousands of entrepreneurs are rebuilding their livelihoods, restoring hope for their families, and restarting the local economy.

Similar stories can be told about our partnerships in Liberia and Myanmar, where civil war, genocide, and mass displacement have continued to impede progress. The same is true in Nicaragua and Zimbabwe, where civil unrest and economic crises have not stopped the momentum of local Christian leaders who are called to business.

Paul Navamani, the Partners Worldwide Partnership Manager in Sri Lanka, is aware of the long road of recovery from conflict that is ahead for his country:

“Our work to end poverty in the most remote parts of Sri Lanka is like nothing else happening in the nation. Addressing poverty sustainably in some of the hardest to reach communities, coming alongside the vulnerable and forgotten widows of war… this is the beauty of Partners Worldwide. Through local partners who own the work on a grassroots level, we are able to help end cycles of familial poverty in geographies that are largely overlooked by the rest of the world.”

Paul’s words challenge all of us in the Business as Mission movement, whether we are starting our own business, or helping others start. Because now, there is no excuse for poverty anywhere in our world.  We are only limited by our imaginations and our willingness to follow our Good Shepherd who said He would go after the one lost sheep, even after the other 99 were safe and sound.

This post is  part of a series of blogs in April 2019 focused on solving global issues with innovative BAM solutions

The BAM 2.0 Series

Over the coming months we will go into greater depth on each of these key issues.

In March we continued with our introduction to the series, looking at how far we’ve come and some of our ‘big hairy audacious goals’ for the future.

In April we took a deep dive into our ‘Why’ – what are some of the pressing global issues that BAM can address, including poverty, unreached peoples, the refugee crisis and human trafficking.

In May we looked at some limiting issues such as the sacred-secular divide, our definition of success, our geographical depth and our connectedness; issues that we must overcome for future growth.

In June we’ll look at resource gaps to overcome, including human capital, financial capital, mentoring and support, prayer and continuity planning.

We hope you enjoy this series! Follow us by subscribing to The BAM Review email or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Doug Seebeck is a visionary leader who has spent half of his 39-year career in global economic development abroad. He is the founding president and CEO of Partners Worldwide, a global Christian network that uses business to end poverty. Through partnerships with local community institutions, Partners Worldwide provides mentoring, training, access to capital, and advocacy tools to entrepreneurs in over 30 countries around the world. Seebeck is also a founding member of PW Entrepreneurs, a social-venture capital fund investing in high-impact global enterprises.

In his co-authored work My Business, My Mission, Seebeck shares stories and lessons learned from inspirational business leaders around the world. He holds a B.S. in Agronomy from Washington State University and an M.A. in Leadership Studies from Azusa Pacific University.


Photo credit Partners Worldwide