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Refocusing the Business as Mission Movement

By Robert H. Tribken
February 28, 2011

The Business as Mission movement is emerging as an important vehicle for ending poverty
and transforming lives, but there are competing philosophies associated with its meaning and
execution. I believe that for the movement to live up to its potential for reducing poverty,
practitioners need to re-affi rm the moral and creative value of business as business, and without
apology put business as business at the center of the development process

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 profi tably exchanged with others
in the marketplace. This is quite different from, for example, using political or family influence
with governments to control resources and capture subsidies, or using social coercion to maintain
a privileged economic position.

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

At its best, the Business as Mission movement (B.A.M.) refl ects this creative aspect of business
enterprise. I am concerned, however, that too much of the discussion of business as mission deemphasizes
or even ignores the importance of this aspect.

Community development, multiple bottom lines, church planting, and other things that come up
in B.A.M. discussions all have value. But B.A.M. practitioners need to remember that it is the
ability of business enterprise to promote the creation of economic value -- and specifi cally the
profi table production and exchange of worthwhile products and services -- that represents its
unique contribution to the elimination of poverty and the liberation of the poor.

Sometimes our language seems to imply that business is only virtuous, and theologically
worthwhile, if it involves exogenous benefi ts: support for community or church projects, an
opportunity for evangelism, or a platform for demonstrating Christian discipleship. While
these benefi ts may certainly be worthwhile, we should reject any implication that the profi table
production of worthwhile products and services by business is lacking in theological or human
value except to the extent that it supports these other benefi ts.

This goes beyond economics. To fl ourish, people need to have the opportunity to use their gifts
to create value and to have the freedom to exchange this value with others for mutual benefi t.
A proper approach to B.A.M. respects the human agency of the poor and recognizes that it is
healthier to treat individuals as customers, suppliers, and partners than as passive recipients of
our charity or as targets of our transformation efforts.

I am not saying that charity is unimportant. Think of the poor mother who needs $3.00 for
malaria medicine for a sick child, of children who cannot go to school without aid, of remote
villagers who are without medical and dental care. These are important human needs and we
should certainly fund their alleviation.

But 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.

Tribken is a California business owner and a Uganda team leader for Partners Worldwide. He
is also the founder of the Center for Faith and Enterprise (www.faithandenterprise.org).By Robert H. Tribken
February 28, 2011





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