by Jo Plummer
Mission Agencies have long been a crucial player and partner in the contemporary BAM movement.
Many early pioneer BAM practitioners of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s either came from a missionary background or were members of a mission agency. These agency workers- turned-BAMers were at the forefront of the early wave of BAM companies because they were already at the front lines. Sent out with a call and vision to see people and communities transformed by the gospel, they discovered that business could be a powerful means of integral mission – meeting spiritual, social and economic needs in communities.
Looking back on 20 years and more of recent BAM history, we see that companies with missional goals embedded within their business model, business culture, company values, working relationships and so on, have often proved to be the most fruitful way for agency workers to pursue their work. But it has not always been easy.
Business failure – already a high possibility for seasoned entrepreneurs in home cultures – became a common experience for missionary-run startups with the additional hazard of being in environments often hostile to both mission and business. Many missionaries are by nature pioneering and somewhat entrepreneurial, however most early agency-related BAMers lacked the know-how and practical business experience they needed to create sustainable, scalable companies. Early BAM companies had few models to follow and lessons were learned the hard way.
Those hard-won fruitful practices are now being passed on, benefiting the current generation of BAM practitioners. They are able to stand on the shoulders of a host of early BAMers (from both business and mission backgrounds) because those pioneers heard the Lord and were willing to go, they were willing to innovate, risk and persevere. In turn, these early BAM pioneers stood on the shoulders of many generations of traditional missionaries that passed on their own hard-won lessons.
Beyond ‘Business as Visa’
Necessity is the mother of invention. In some parts of the world, starting a business has long been the only viable means to establish a settled, credible role in a community. William Carey, right back in the late 1700s, took a management position in an indigo factory when he first arrived in India because missionary visas were hard to come by in the days of the East India Company. And like William Carey*, modern day mission workers soon discovered that the power of a business model extends far beyond a means to getting a visa. (Read more on how it extends here).
Thankfully most agency workers who are getting into business now have many more resources to draw on. They understand that to have a credible, sustainable role in a community, their company has to be credible and sustainable. That means aiming towards excellence in business practice and the true integration of holistic missional goals into every aspect of a company – from business plan, to daily business life.
The days of shell companies, ‘faking it’ or just seeing a business as a means to an end, to do the ‘real ministry’, have thankfully largely passed. However, most mission agencies are still grappling on some level with what it means for them to truly integrate business and mission – within the agency as a whole, and even still, for the individual BAM practitioner within their company.
Any kind of non-profit entity that operates as an agency, whether it identifies itself as a traditional mission organisation or not, has a particular culture, language and modus operandi. This is rightly very different from the culture, language and modus operandi of for-profit companies. Add in different legal requirements, sources of funding, reporting structures, security challenges and hiring requirements, and it makes mission organisation and business relationships complicated on many levels.
Through choice or necessity, mission agencies have had to grapple with integrating a BAM strategy into their wider work. Challenges to doing so range from the lingering ‘sacred-secular divide’ undermining the value of business within the organisation, to figuring out how a for-profit legal entity should relate to a non-profit, to recruiting and deploying people with the right skill-set, etc.
How can mission agencies embrace BAM in such a way that they can make their most strategic contribution to the BAM movement? How can they be part of launching and supporting strong, healthy BAM companies and BAM practitioners? That is the subject of the BAM & Mission Agency Consultation that is currently underway involving 40 plus individuals representing around 25 global agencies. A report outlining case studies, common challenges, solutions and fruitful practices from the work of this Consultation will be shared at the BAM Global Congress 2020.
We are hoping that this report will help current agencies, agency-business partnerships, and new up and coming agencies – including the many fast-growing majority world agencies – understand common issues and find solutions more quickly.
Partnerships and Hybrids
Topics like resource sharing, outsourcing, partnership building and networking came up in each and every one of the four BAM & Mission Agency Consultation Groups, identified as a vital development area we need to work on for the future.
Agencies or non-profits can do things that commercial companies can’t do and vice versa – this is as true in the world at large as it is in the BAM community. That means that building partnerships and making the effort to collaborate can lead to far more impact.
In addition, ‘hybrid organisations’ (those funded by some donor income, some business income) can achieve things that neither a pure commercial entity or pure charitable organisation can by themselves and this can lead to some unique and creative solutions to difficult issues. Social enterprises, business/non-profit partnerships, some agency-related BAM companies are all examples of hybrids.**
Agencies ARE vital to the BAM movement because they can operate so differently, they have strengths and areas of expertise that other individuals and entities in the BAM community often lack. These include:
- Pioneer models – As mentioned above, mission agency related BAMers have been part of the pioneer generation and are now able to pass on fruitful practices, as well as help inspire and mobilise the next generation with their stories.
- Areas of expertise – Agencies have developed many specialist areas of expertise that other constituencies can learn from, including missiological training and preparation, cross-cultural know-how, disciple-making and Christian growth resources, language acquisition, pastoral care, contingency planning for hostile situations, etc.
- Network power – Mission agencies often have large networks that may be valuable sources of industry expertise, funding, potential staff, consultants, or advisory board members, etc.
- Mobilising and educating power – Agencies can take a lead in advocating for the BAM strategy through these networks; to seminaries, churches, other agency types, and networks focused on other kinds of ministry (education, government, arts, media, etc.). This advocacy work can lead to mobilisation, as business people see their skills and experiences as valuable in the work of global mission.
- Innovation – Quite a number of traditional mission agencies have innovated over the years and have spun off new types of agency or initiatives that are solely BAM-focused. These new entities are helping deploy new BAM practitioners and provide unique services to BAM companies, including:
- Providing essential support functions – We are just getting to the point in the BAM movement where there is enough critical mass that support services, such as consulting, recruiting, investment, member care, incubation, etc., for BAM companies can begin to be commercially provided. Historically, mission agencies have been a significant source of supporting services and resources to the fledgling BAM movement and have facilitated the matching of these resources with needs.
As more and more business people are mobilised into the BAM movement, it will be vital to grow strong connections that lead to continued resource sharing and partner initiatives with mission agencies. We need the contribution from each constituency in the BAM community in order to have a strong, flourishing movement.
Join us for the Mission Agency Track at the BAM Global Congress 2020 – more information below.
*I recommend reading ‘The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture’ by Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi for insights into what William Carey learned about the power of business training and engagement in the work of transforming a culture.
**A further note on hybrids: While we celebrate the unique contribution of hybrid organisations, we also recognise that they can introduce all sorts of complexities and pitfalls that we don’t have space to fully address here. Suffice to say that any partnership initiative between charity and for-profit should be extra aware of issues like legal and tax compliance, transparency, conflicts of interest, unfair competition, and so on.
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of BAM Global 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.
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Join us at the BAM Global Congress, the ‘one stop shop’ for the global business as mission movement. The Congress is open to everyone interested and only happens every seven years, so don’t miss this chance to connect with BAM leaders from every continent! Find out more information about the Congress here.
The BAM Global Congress in April next year will also reflect these four constituencies, including in the program:
- An Academic Track
- A Church Track
- An Agency Track
Plus, business topics and sub-tracks of all kinds:
- BAM stories and cases
- BAM planning and start-up
- BAM operations
- BAM incubation and investment
- Practical integration of business and missional objectives
- Industry-specific Roundtables
- The application of BAM to tackling human trafficking and poverty
- The application of BAM to taking the gospel to the unreached
- And many more.