It goes without saying that the product or service you develop will be tightly interwoven with your missional goals: social, economic, environmental and spiritual. We can learn a lot from mainstream business about how to most effectively develop products and market share that will turn a profit and create economic impact. We can also learn much from the social enterprise movement and other socially responsibility companies about how products and services integrate with both social and environmental impact. But business as mission integrates a fourth bottom line, that of spiritual impact. In what ways does the product you develop or the service you offer intersect with the spiritual impact of a BAM company?
We asked four BAM practitioners in very different sectors in different parts of Asia to share why they chose their business and how it connects with the spiritual goals for their business:
Extreme Sports Equipment – Wholesale and Distribution
For us it’s impossible to separate our products from the impact we want to have as a business. First of all we want to make sure that all our products have integrity. We use the finest quality materials to make our equipment. Factories here tend to use a lower grade of materials when mass producing this type of equipment. We asked our manufactures to use the highest grade of materials possible and have a good standard of quality control in place. We pay more, but we feel that supplying top-quality equipment is integral to our credibility and our message. We also include graphics and images on our equipment that have a gospel meaning behind them. Every graphic has a story and we include booklets with our products that explain what the images mean and essentially tell the gospel. We are actively engaged with the extreme sports community here, we sponsor competitors and hang out with the people who are into our sport. We’ve started a kind of church among this group, we go where they all gather together and we do a bible study there, we regularly meet with a core group of 20 to 30. We send representatives from our company out as they do product distribution to other cities and they are able to build relationships with community leaders and begin to disciple them. – Jon and Dave
Language Academy – Education
I have a passion for training and my wife loves to write curriculum, so taking over a Language Center was a natural fit for us. It was a struggling company at the time, but we could see how it had potential to make an impact in the Muslim nation we are in. People from all over the Middle East come here to learn English and other languages – we offer five languages all together. Some of our staff work exclusively within our Academy, others teach part-time and very intentionally engage in evangelism and church planting work, much of that out of the relationships they build through the center. Education and training work is a great environment in which to be a witness for Jesus and share biblical ideas since we get to spend intensive time with our students. We also have a children’s language program that mostly focuses on English teaching, since the demand for that is so high. We go into Arab Schools and teach children from 4 to 18 years, mainly immigrants from Middle Eastern countries, many coming from difficult situations. The English language represents hope for the future for them and we get to build really good relationships with whole families. We talk in our classes about religious beliefs, for instance at Christmas we were able to share all about who Christ is. We also get to go and drink coffee with the parents and make friends outside the classroom. – Steve
Accessory Design and Production – Small-scale Manufacturing and Handmade Goods
The process of making our products is a really good way of making real connections with people. We do our production on a cottage industry scale and it’s a place where you can make and talk at the same time. We can get to know our employees, share life with them and begin to disciple them while we are working together. Most of the ladies here already know how to make this kind of craft, but they don’t produce things that are marketable. Our company does the design work and helps the ladies with stable employment, making goods at a higher quality, which we can actually sell. The kind of employees we want to have in our company are often the most vulnerable, they are HIV positive, or have been exploited in the past by employers, or come from unstable home situations. They are not ready to be in a large factory environment, but for our small-scale manufacturing we have groups of 5 to 8 ladies working together and it’s the right kind of situation for them. This production model also keeps our overheads down so that we can offer our products at a competitive price. As we grow we will have a leader for each production group that shares a biblically-based value each week and can open up conversations about the gospel. – Peter and Maria
Restaurant and Boutique – Hospitality and Retail
I have always love serving people and creating things. I loved to pretend I owned a restaurant when I was a kid. Fast forward to about 7 years ago, I had moved to South East Asia and this dream of starting a café resurfaced. As we were preparing to open in 2010, we prayed about who to hire. We want to raise up people in our community through creating good jobs. Some of the people we employ are HIV positive or are illiterate and we train them up and aim to transform the way they think about themselves. We began with about 15 staff, and now we have around 30 staff. They mostly work in the café, but some are working on our associated bakery or making goods for our in-house boutique. As I prayed about our work here, the Lord showed me that we were to be a “lighthouse” to our community. I build relationships with my employees, customers and other business owners in our area. As the boss, I tend to invite others in to do intentional discipleship with my staff as the opportunity arises. In the local area here I’ve found that I’ve build real trust with people and can be a witness to them through that bridge of friendship. There is group of business owners here and we connect with each other informally, helping each other with advice. There are also many expats in our town who are very suspicious of most of the Christians here, but I have been able to build a connection with some of them because of the kind of business I am in and the way I approach it. – Arlene
A Checklist for BAM Products and Services:
- It is going to make money? Without a long-term viable product or service, your spiritual (or any other) impact will be limited.
- Does your product or service honour God? Is it high quality, delivered well and not harmful?
- Is you product or service beneficial for the community?
- Does making your product or offering your service bring you into contact with people you are hoping to reach?
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.