The Power of Business to Lift Communities Out of Poverty

This month we are exploring different motives a missional entrepreneur may have for pursuing business as mission as their strategy of choice. In this fourth post, we are exploring the power of business in lifting individuals and communities out of poverty.

Business is uniquely positioned as an essential and sustainable solution to ending poverty. Current global economic shifts and technological advances are creating a unique opportunity at this point to bring this goal in reach. Business by its nature is a relational activity, and a potentially transformational activity. Business not only creates jobs, it is where networks and relationships are the norm, creating networks and relationships that are essential for community restoration and transformation.

I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business.  That is because business produces goods, and businesses produce jobs.  And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year.  Therefore if we are ever going to see long-term solutions to world poverty, I believe it will come through starting and maintaining productive, profitable business. — Wayne Grudem, Business for the Glory of God


The role of businesses and job creation in ending poverty

Thriving businesses and job creation are vital for ending poverty. Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economist and Senior Vice President at World Bank states, “Jobs are the best insurance against poverty and vulnerability” (World Bank, 2013). John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, shares from his own business experience, “Business is the greatest creator of value in the world. It’s helped lift humanity out of poverty and into prosperity” (Fox News, 2013).

From the voices of the poor themselves (in a survey of over 60,000), jobs and businesses were cited as major paths out of poverty:

In a large set of qualitative studies in low-income countries, two of the main reasons that people gave for moving out of poverty were finding jobs and starting businesses. (Narayan, Pritchett, and Kapoor, 2009)

The development world has reached a similar conclusion, that aid alone is not the solution to poverty. Renowned books, from Dead Aid, to When Helping Hurts, and Toxic Charity warn us of the destructive tendency of “us to them” aid that wears away at the dignity and productive capacity of people and communities.

Rob Tribken, owner of Best Fresh Foods and founder of the Center for Faith and Enterprise echoes the limitations of charity and need for increased focus on growth of indigenous business to end poverty:

I believe that for the (BAM) movement to live up to its potential for reducing poverty, practitioners need to re-affirm the moral and creative value of business as business, and without apology put business as business at the center of the development process… charity does not end poverty—only indigenous economic development driven by the creative process of business enterprise, operating within an adequate moral, cultural, and legal framework, can do this. For the sake of the poor we need to remember this. Rob Tribken, Refocusing the Business as Mission Movement

There are several important elements of Rob’s argument here on the role of business and poverty (his full paper is included in the appendices of the report). He talks about business as business, not mission in the cloak of business, but real, profitable, value-adding businesses as our calling, and the best way of addressing poverty:

To be clear, when I speak of business I mean the creative process that is for the purpose of producing and delivering products and services that can be profitably exchanged with others in the marketplace… It is business enterprise in the creative sense that has combined with democratic values and open markets to provide the principal engine for economic development—the economic development that enables human beings to move out of poverty and to more fully develop and utilize their particular gifts. Business in this sense is also, inherently, a community building process; business effectiveness is usually built on highly developed collaborative relationships, an important by-product of which is the building of human community organized around mutual benefit. At its best, the Business as Mission movement (BAM) reflects this creative aspect of business enterprise… BAM practitioners need to remember that it is the ability of business enterprise to promote the creation of economic value—and specifically the profitable production and exchange of worthwhile products and services—that represents its unique contribution to the elimination of poverty and the liberation of the poor.

Grasping the Opportunity

As we seek to answer God’s call and apply the best practices and principles we have gleaned, we need to keep in mind that we are part of global body. We are people with unique talents, each wonderfully created in the image of God. We can only truly succeed at the transformation necessary to end poverty in partnership, in relationship, in community with one another.

With entrenched structural barriers that limit “access to the pond”, it is not an easy task to end poverty, but progress is being made; extreme poverty (those that live on US$1.25 per day) has been cut in half in the last 20 years.

The question is, how many more could be freed from the injustice of poverty? What could happen if every Christian who sees their business as mission embraced their role and ability to end poverty?

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Adapted from the BAM Global Think Tank BAM and the End of Poverty report. We recommend reading this report in full.

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