Totally random thought. I haven’t even had a chance to do minimal research, but are there any BAM crowdfunding sites? Like a Christian kickstarter.com? If not, which one of you will step up and start it? Wait, why don’t I step up and start it?
Totally random thought. I haven’t even had a chance to do minimal research, but are there any BAM crowdfunding sites? Like a Christian kickstarter.com? If not, which one of you will step up and start it? Wait, why don’t I step up and start it?
I had intended on writing this post a while back, but it kept getting pushed back. But, it is a pretty important topic for BaM, and I think it’s the misunderstanding on this question that makes me wonder if the current BaM interest will ultimately fail. To get a good summary of how BaM is increasingly defined, check here. They quote several authors’ definitions of BaM. In short, BaM is real business and real mission…but what do most people mean by mission? If you read those definitions, you will find the general idea of mission as some sort of holistic blessing of a geographic location. If you think I’m misunderstanding or misinterpreting BaM feel free to let me know (here’s one uber-example of how BaM is anything besides Business for Church Planting)*, though part of the problem is that folks nuance the definition so much; however, almost all of the definitions include something besides business people running a real business and simply sharing the Gospel with those with whom they come in contact. If an outsider heard “Business as Mission”, my guess is that they would think of something like that last statement. And that’s pretty much how I define it.
Why do I do that? Why do I cut off so many good things? Am I anti-social development? Do I not like the idea of bringing economic growth to needy places? Do I not believe that Christians have a responsibility to help the poor? Did I skip the parts of the Bible that talk about God’s love for the needy?
Here’s why I define BaM the way I do – because I believe that the “mission” of the Church is directly related to the proclamation of the Gospel. Before anyone argues that I’m truncating the Gospel or the Church’s mission, let me elaborate. The Church has been commanded to do a lot of things including live holy lives, care for the poor, seek to bless those around the world, speak up for justice, share the Good News, etc. We are called to do all of those things until Jesus comes back, but only one of those things is inextricably linked to the actual return of Jesus. Only one of those activities is divinely ordained for salvation of men and women. All of them are good and right to do, but only one of them will be FINISHED before the second coming, and must therefore take pride of place among all the others. When the woman with the alabaster jar poured the expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet, and Judas complained about the waste, Jesus said, “You’ll always have the poor.” While not the point of the story, we do learn that we’ll never finally/ultimately end poverty, injustice, and other social ills before Jesus comes. That doesn’t mean that we don’t do what we can, it just means that those activities are of a different nature than the one activity that will be finished before Jesus comes. In response to the question of when will be the end of the age, Jesus answers in Matthew 24:14 this way, “And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in all the earth as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” So, Gospel Proclamation is set apart from and above all the other activities of the Church in this way. We’ve been given several tasks to perform, but only one task to complete. And it’s one that all of us can be a part of doing regardless of whether our professions are in business, poverty alleviation, caring for widows and orphans, mother, father, dentist, social worker, or waitress.
Another way of looking at this is understanding the difference between the root of the Gospel and the fruit of the Gospel. Only by trusting in the historical truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus can we be saved…that’s the root. But, once the root is taken hold, fruit should come out of it, including fruits of justice and service and love. We need the Gospel in order to become the Church, but the true Church that has truly received the Good News will seek to transform society in every way. I’m not trying to demean any form of service, but I believe that all of them are subservient to the role of announcing the Kingship of Jesus, calling men and women to submit to the one true King and worship Him forever.
So, what about BaM? If your company is transforming society in economic and social ways, great! If you’re using profits to start schools or feed the poor, awesome! If you workers are learning a good work ethic and are being taught to follow Jesus’ example as a servant, that’s wonderful! But, those things don’t have to be a part of your business’s bottom line to mean you’re doing BaM. You’re likely going to be attempting to help in those areas as an individual and as a part of the wider church body in whatever place you are serving as it is…and it is right that you do. Business is a conduit, one that can open opportunities to a number of areas of service, AND IT’S GOOD THAT WE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL OF THOSE. But, we only have one mission, one task to complete before the end of the age. If everything is mission, then nothing is mission. Are you sharing the Gospel? Does your business open doors for that? If so, then you’re doing business as mission, regardless of the number of employees you have, the social transformation that your able to enact, or the amount of profits you’re able to route towards good projects. If you’re not doing that, then you’re not doing Business as MISSION. If the mission is Gospel Proclamation, then BaM is any business (real business!!!) that provides a visa, relationships, influence, etc. and, therefore, opens the door for us to invite men and women to believe in Jesus. We all know that it is possible to help someone economically and socially and yet to leave them without the Gospel, and therefore in eternal separation from God. Let us use Business in every way possible to make sure that we don’t leave men and women without the hope of Christ. If your CSR policy is helping usher folks into the Kingdom of God, great! If not, it doesn’t mean you need to change your CSR policy, it just means you need to find a way to get involved in God’s mission.
If this is true, and I’m guessing that many will say it’s not, (but humor me) what should our BaM networks, conferences, best practices look like? For further reading, I recommend Gilbert and DeYoung’s What is the Mission of the Church?
*I do realize that there is a Business as Great Commission section, but if you read that section, you’ll find little to do with evangelism, disciple-making, and church planting. I’ve quoted the whole thing here for you with my own confused questions in parentheses:
The 3rd Biblical mandate is the global centrifugal thrust: to all peoples, to all nations. This is a major theme (not Central? how is the actual mission part not THE theme of BaM???) in the global BAM movement. How can we serve in and through business, empowered by the Holy Spirit, “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.
Business as Mission is about being a follower (actually, all believers are followers, aren’t BaMers supposed to be WITNESSES instead?) of Jesus, in business and to the whole world, especially in areas with dire economical, social and spiritual needs (I just feels like a leveling of needs – anything that is a need is equally important…and the Bible doesn’t agree).
This is CSR+ and this dimension is not an elective. We want to see the Kingdom of God demonstrated (not preached? proclaimed? declared?) among all peoples. It is Business as Great Commission.
UPDATE: I am a little concerned that this blog comes off as overly critical about something that I might be mistaken about. I wanted to get some feedback from a few folks that have been a little more involved in the organized BAM movement, and see if I’ve been fair. Here’s what I wrote them, and I’ll post their response if I get one and if I get permission.
Perhaps I’m mistaken, and that my problem is the misunderstanding of the term BAM. I take BAM, in general, to be any use of business to help advance the great commission. However, it seems that some people are wanting to define BAM more tightly into more of a Christian CSR. You could probably tell me which one of those definitions is correct. And depending on that answer, it might be that I’m expecting something from BAM that it isn’t designed to be (and there’s a proper name for what I’m proposing). Also, it might be the case that what people talk about and write about BAM isn’t the full picture, meaning that folks are trying to emphasize certain aspects of BAM when writing and speaking, while assuming the other parts to be “no duh.” So, at a network gathering, the talk might be all about the business/csr side of things, because they assume that people there are going hard after the mission side of things.
Chapter Four is all about who participates in the startup community. Feld doesn’t go too in depth on any of the participants (he’ll unpack some of them in later chapters). There are a few things that he brings up in the chapter that I find interesting for BaMers.
First, Feld, again, is adamant that it must be entrepreneurs that are in charge. He still hasn’t really unpacked why that’s the case. I can guess, but I’d rather he spell it out. I assume he will do that in the chapter on mistakes to avoid. For BaMers though, it’s a unique challenge. It’s hard enough for a entrepreneur in Boulder, CO to want to give time to helping new folks get off the ground and develop a whole community, a virtuous cycle, if you will, of folks helping folks. How much harder is it if the community is spread throughout the 10/40 Window or all of SE Asia? I wonder if perhaps someone stateside can head things up, but only if they are vested in the community as an entrepreneur as well.
Feld divides the participants between leaders and feeders. Leaders are entrepreneurs for him. Feeders are anyone (universities, coaches, venture capitalists, service provides, etc.) who want to work with, alongside of, or for the new businesses that are starting. It seems that most of the BaM networks are being led by folks who are less on the ground (for lack of a better term and uncertainty about what various network leaders are currently doing) than most of the folks starting the businesses. Even if they are in Chang Mai or Chihuahua, how do they foster startup community? That’s a great question for BaMers and I hope we’ll get some help in the “Events” chapter.
A really interesting idea, in my mind, that makes me anxious to read the university chapter is how BaMers can invite more feeders into the BaM conversation, and I’m not talking about that one guy who teaches a course on BaM. I’m talking about getting the Computer Science and Engineering departments at Christian universities involved. Of course, that brings up the question: how many Christian universities are actually turning out folks that are creating new, interesting, useful, helpful, profitable ideas. How good are these science-ish departments at Christian universities? In general, I think Christian universities are much better at the Liberal Arts. That shouldn’t surprise us, nor should it necessarily be the other way around. But if we are going to invite universities (the whole university, not just the mission program), which universities would be worth inviting? And I think I agree with Feld in that, it can’t just be the business schools either. That’s good, and sometimes great new ideas come from folks in business, but most innovation happens in places like the engineering departments, and then they find a business person to help them turn that discover, research, development into a money maker.
What about other feeders? I know that some BaM venture capitalist/angel investors are springing up here and there. I don’t know what kind of fees they charge, nor what sort of help they provide their entrepreneurs. I’m hoping that it’s even more personal than the best secular incubators/accelerators/etc. But my hunch is that, right now, we’re playing catch up. Again, this is an area where maybe one of you reading this knows more than I do about what is happening. I don’t profess to know it all…not even about this little sphere of the world. I know of at least one group charging more than 15% on the cash they allow to come through them via other channels (individuals typically), and it sounds like they aren’t very helpful once you do sign off on those terms. I’m not arguing for a free ride necessarily, but if you’re gonna ask for 15+% of my little startup, and you’re calling yourself a BaM V.C. then you better roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. This group actually takes that 15% off the front end, right out of what others give. So, they don’t actually have any stake in the game. Which makes me more than a little angry. ”Get in the game!” It’s not their money, nor their business. They’re just skimming. So much for Feld’s mantra “give before you get,” and he’s not even writing to “mission” people.
So, I love the metaphor of rails…like train tracks. The idea of putting sturdy things in place which enable someone to move – maybe even most really fast. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, I use rails or a track to describe the process of helping someone prepare for cross-cultural service. This time, I want to just start the process of thinking about rails for micro-franchising. Particularly, rails for the non-business background field worker. Remember, most cross-cultural workers fit into one of two categories: 1. No business background and no real experience in a marketable trade (i.e. something they could turn into a product or service to make money). 2. Some business background, but with no idea how their general knowledge and experience can be turned into a profitable product or service. So, when we talk about microfranchising with them, it’s gonna require tracks that can get them, perhaps, from “I’ve got nothing” to “I’ve got everything I need to get a biz up and running.” That’s a long track – a lot of rail line – with numerous stops along the way.
My friend Mike D. who I’ve mentioned before likes the term “Business in a Box” for what we’re talking about here…namely, an A-Z business startup plan and package. If you google “business in a box” you’ll get a lot of hits. None of the concepts they are talking about are nearly robust enough for what we want to see happen. Often what they mean by business in a box (BiB) are a few hundred business cards, a logo, a website, and a 30 minute DVD telling you how to do what it is you’re signing up for. Most of them assume that you pretty much know what you’re doing, but you just need their permission (granted through the reception of your first monthly payment of $19.95) to do what they do where you are. Those rails won’t support an apple cart, much less a locomotive. So what do our people need on the field? Honestly, I don’t completely know. Obviously some will need less help and some will need more. Some will have their own idea (Ex. “I want to launch an army of hotdog stands in downtown Beijing”) and need help pulling it off, turning it into the Pilot project of a potential microfranchise, our next BiB. Others will have no clue. I think this following list (which I might expand upon someday…hopefully soon) are things that might need to be involved:
1. The Idea – Especially for category 1 above, they may have no idea where to find an idea, product, or service around which to build a business. Category 2 might only need help figuring out how to monetize what they use to do in their new context.
2. How to do Market Research – Is my idea good? Will it work here? How do I know? Where will the demand come from? How do I survey?
3. A Business Plan – Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, some form of a business plan is needed, even if it’s the one page variety, which I like a lot. How do I take my idea and give it feet?
4. The Business Model – How are we actually gonna turn this product or service into money in this context?
5. A Face – This includes how to market and sell the product. This includes those things like business cards, logos, websites, etc. Most companies need those things, even micro ones.
6. Back Support – What if the business is exports? Who will do the distribution and sales stateside? Who will design and update the website? Who will help with accounting? How do I figure out all the customs rigmarole in my context? And where can I get some startup capital?
What does this look like for a category 1 fella who decides he wants to export Moroccan handicrafts to the U.S.? Well, in that case, his market is the U.S. market. There’s a lot of info out there about the U.S. market that he could study, OR we could connect him with a missionally-minded someone who’s already involved in importing handicrafts, furniture, leather goods, or whatever it is that our man finds to send over. This person already knows the market, can probably speak into what is selling at the time, and therefore be a lot of help in building the business plan/model. Likely they could provide good insight into these “Face” questions as well. And what about actually being able to sell these things in the States? I mentioned this a few posts back, but why couldn’t the sending agency hire someone to build distribution channels for, not only Moroccan handicrafts, but handicrafts from whatever country on the planet our Handicraft Exports Microfranchise BiB gets opened!? Sure, that would require starting a for-profit arm, but franchises pay royalties right. If this is done well, the guy on the field and the mission’s general budget all win. Instead of Joe Morocco trying to build distribution channels himself or, like a friend of mine tried a few years ago, have his aging mother try to do it, what would it look like to have a professional do it? Then everyone that chooses that BiB gets to share that channel, maybe even the brand which could eventually be a strength if handled well.
You see, we could hand people a box and wish them well, or we could hand them a box that when opened, plugs them into a larger system which is working for and with them. I think every microfranchise that we get started, the goal ought to be a fully branded and supported company. I’ve just watched a number of guys in various places doing the same kind of thing. They are with the same or similar organizations. They work hard and have a pretty good eye for what they’re doing. But, they are each trying to create a new channel. What would happen if they just decided, “we’re with the same company, just in different places. We find beautiful handicrafts all over the world. We currently have buyers in China, India, Morocco, and Nicaragua. When someone goes to our (singular) website, they get to see all of our pieces from around the world.” As traffic picks up, they all benefit. Instead of trying to get 4 website at the top of Google Search, they are working to get one website up there. They might even pitch in for some Google Ads together. Or the home side, where the selling and distributing takes place, handles that. Maybe one of the best things an agency can do for BaM first is to convince their field workers to give up their brands and websites in order to do something all together.
Chapter three is called “Principles of a Vibrant Startup Community.” I enjoyed this chapter as it was a very quick, but clear summary of current startup theory. In short, there are three current theories which attempt to explain the existence of startup communities. These theories argue:
1. Sucomms arise in places where the needed infrastructure exists. If everything that a high tech company needs to function exists in Silicon Valley instead of Salina, Kansas, then tech companies will flock there. If they needed to hire 100 GREAT programmers, they are more likely to head to Boston than Boise.
2. Sucomms arise in places where the needed openness exists. In the early 90s, Boston and Silicon Valley were sort of seen as equal in terms of high tech startups. This theory states that Silicon Valley is now heads and shoulders ahead of Boston because the companies there shared information with one another. They didn’t view other startups as competition. So, by sharing information, they all got ahead.
3. Sucomms arise in places which are “cultured.” Cultured people, called by Richard Florida “the creative class,” “want to live in nice places, enjoy a culture with a tolerance for new ideas and weirdness, and – most of all – want to be around other creative-class individuals.” And so, when all of these creative people flock to the same place and start interacting, voila, up spring a vibrant startup community.
Feld argues that these things are all hindsight descriptions. They tell us what those communities are/were like, but not how to help any other community to become that way. Feld goes on the offensive, and lays out a fourth framework which is prescriptive, not simply descriptive. Here’s his thesis for how to create a startup community in bullet points followed by 1 quote which I found interesting from his short description (he will unpack each of them in much greater detail) of each of those four factors.
1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
“Because of this intense focus (that it companies focusing solely on their issues and needs), it’s unrealistic to think that all entrepreneurs in a community will be leaders. All that is needed is a critical mass of entrepreneurs, often less than a dozen, who will provide leadership.” I find this interesting for us because what field worker isn’t already swamped with what they have going on (language learning, outreach, business, etc.) and therefore has the time to play a leadership role in some larger sense. I think this is true of sucomms stateside as well, so it takes a unique person who, despite their demanding work, desires to play a leadership role in the wider sucomm.
2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
“I like to say this (long-term commitment) has to be at least 20 years from today to reinforce the sense that this has to be meaningful in length” This is a commitment to the developing community, in a specific place. How does this work for us folks trying to initiate and support BaM virtual communities?
3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
“This applies to entrepreneurs, people who want to work for startups, people who want to work with startups, or people who are simply intellectually interested in startups.” Are we going to be able to see communities that naturally spawn new startups with the limited number of players that are currently involved? Do we need to move beyond just have a few field workers, a few BaM experts, and one or two academics involved in our little meetings?
4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.
“(There are certain) types of activities (that) have a role, typically in shining a bright light on the people doing good things within the startup community, they don’t really engage anyone in any real entrepreneurial activity.” Are the conferences that are being held around the world productive, and I mean are they producing real startups? It’s good to be encouraged in our work, to be exhorted to doing things excellently when we get back to our little contexts, but what is actually produced at these get togethers? To be honest, I don’t know. Someone enlighten me. Is it typically an expert or two telling everyone else what they might try, OR is there an activity that gets everyone involved in creating something together/alongside one another.
Feld explains further: “The emergence of hackathons, new tech meetups, open coffee clubs, startup weekends, and accelerators…stand out in start contrast (to those types of events that just highlight what a few are doing). These are activities and events…that last from a few hours to three months and provide a tangible, focused, set of activities for the members of the sucomm to engage in.” I think of some activities I’ve heard of recently of companies giving workers 2 days off from their “day jobs” to team up and create something new that they might want to present to the company for production. When BaMers get together, what are we doing and why? Is it the best thing? Is it resulting in something more than a little encouragement. Really, would you be more encouraged by hearing the story of someone’s success or engaging all of your energies for a couple days in trying to think outside the box together, to create something that doesn’t already exist, and ask, “how can this work in Thailand, Bolivia, or Yemen?”
I’m sure we’ll see these 4 points in greater detail, and I hope we’re as challenged as I think we will be.
I actually won’t say too much about Chapter 2. I believe that it is supposed to be the narrative of the Boulder community from which various points will be made, in a non-narrative way. I’m not sure if the narrative accomplished what it was supposed to do (foreshadow upcoming chapters by highlighting points/people/procedures that produced the current state of affairs in Boulder). Instead, I feel like the author tried to blend a bit (to much) of his own story into the community story and we’re left guessing what was really important until later chapters. If you think there might be important takeaways from the chapter that won’t be covered in coming chapters/sections, please speak up. For me, I felt it was the third introduction of the book (1. Preface, 2. Introduction, and now Chapter 2).
Having said that, I did enjoy the chapter as just a story. So, there’s that!
This post is an invitation and the invitation is an experiment. One of the things that it seems we are attempting to do with BaM is to learn from one another. We’re encouraged to get coaches and to join a cohort of sorts. We have conferences stateside and abroad to share best practices and receive input from BaM experts, or at least those who are a little further down the road, because is there really anyone that would call himself a BaM expert?
So, the invitation is to join me and whoever else would like in interacting over a book. And this particular book will be doubly in-line with our search for BaM community because not only will we talk through the book together, but the book itself is about how communities that spawn startups form and grow. It’s called Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City by Brad Feld.
I’ve chosen this book because I’m interested in a couple of things. First, I want to learn as much as a I can about how startup communities form and work (what are their shared commitments and practices), and I also want to think about whether such a community must exist in one geographic region (i.e. city) or if a virtual community could exist. I’m wondering if agencies could network their BaMers in such a way as to allow this type of community to form throughout Asia or Africa or the World. How are BaM networks different from startup communities? I think we could glean a thing or two from Feld’s book.
So, my hope is to write a summary of each chapter here, share my thoughts on that chapter – most likely as it pertains to the above two ideas, and then to invite your own thoughts about those ideas or anything else.
OK, so pass the word and let’s get folks interacting!
two three questions…
1. Could agencies set up a for-profit company whose stated purpose is to launch profitable start-ups in the developing world, let’s call it BizDev International? Could it be completely unattached legally to the sending organization? Could it be that those going to creative access nations are employed by this company instead of the mission? Could it be that when asked what they are doing in their country of residence that they could answer, “I’m employed by BizDev International to seek out and capitalize on start-up opportunities in the developing world.” Could Agencies Do That?
2. Could a sending board set up an entity that employs people full time to be the stateside partner to tentmakers on the field? For instance, I know that a lot of folks are doing exports from the majority world to the states (coffee, artisinal items, etc.) But most of these folks have no capacity whatsoever to sell and distribute their product…simply a website. Could we help these people AND make quite a bit of money, if we employed sales and distribution people (people with a lot of experience in these areas) to work stateside on behalf of these folks on the field? Could the folks on the field benefit from feedback from these experts who can tell them whether, in fact, there is a market for Vietnamese wood carved cats or Somali ginger root? Could we find highly qualified people to be our stateside reps? Could we find a way to pay them like they deserve (my preference)? Could we find people with this experience who have just retired who want to do this pro bono? Could this help folks on the field? Could it make money long-term? Could we use profits not only to pay folks income but to fund more work(s)? Could it be sustainable? Could Agencies Do That?
3. Could an agency develop an in-house BaM training program? Could they capitalize on their current field staff’s cumulative years of experience (good, bad, and ugly) by surveying with questions like “What do you wish you had known about business before hitting the field?” or “What part of running/starting a business has been the most difficult for you?” How long would the program have to be? In Europe the MBAs are crunched into 6-18 months of full time study. There is a ton of stuff in an MBA that would not be useful for a BaMer, so you could cut that out. What’s left? 1 month? 2 months? 3? What would DEFINITELY need to be included? What if the participants had 5-10 of biz experience already? What if they had ZERO experience? Where would you start and where would you finish? What would you call it? If you move the letters in MBA around, you get BAM – Business Acquisition Module? Or we love knew acronyms, right? How about TMB – Training for Missionary Businessmen? Or TBB – Training in Business Basics? Or LAB – Launching Awesome Businesses!? Regardless of the name, what do we think about this idea? Could Agencies Do That?
I had a terrific conversation the other day. My new friend, Mike D. is asking some great questions about BaM, and hopefully I can wrangle him into writing some here for us. One of the things we spoke about (with most of the wisdom coming from Mike and a lot of “that sounds awesome” coming from me) was the topic of franchising. Not in the sense of we need to raise half a million bucks to start a KFC in the UAE, but in the sense of are there folks already doing BaM somewhere in the world who have figured out their small part of the marketplace and can package that so that someone else can do the same thing in another city, country, etc that shares similarities.
For instance, you’re a former professional surfer now serving in Indonesia and you’ve set-up a surf school and shop combo, and it’s humming. It turns out that there’s another former professional surfer (yeah, I know it’s unlikely, but just go with me for a minute) who loves the Lord and is serving in another unreached area with good waves. Now, FPS (former pro-surfer) #2 doesn’t have a business background, but with a little help to go along with some God given wisdom and natural business savvy, he could thrive.
Could you package what you’re doing and hand over a blue print to FPS#2 to take and run with? Could you franchise?
I think we have to be careful not to think that originality produces a purer form of BaM, or of guarding our ideas as if they belong to us. Yes, let’s be creative, but let’s be creative together. Is there something you can share with someone else that might advance their work regardless of whether you get anything out of it? And is the way that we talk about BaM needlessly worded so that it holds up a brand new, never before seen idea as better than one that takes an existing idea and applies it into our context?