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In the time of Jesus, the word “Kingdom” was not a nice word. It was a word of power, of violence, of exploitation, of abuse and of fear. Think of the King Herod who had all the children under two years old killed in an attempt to kill the messiah who had been born. Think of the next Herod, 30 years later, who had John the Baptist beheaded at the request of his wife. Think of the fear generated by the Roman empire, and the soldiers who controlled the land of the Jews, and Pontius Pilate who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. “Kingdom” was not a good concept.

Jesus turned this on its head when talking about the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. He pointed his hearers to the abuse that was happening around them, and then contrasted this with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a place of justice, of righteousness, and of peace. The Kingdom of God is a place where the poor, the disadvantaged and the sick are cared for and respected.

The contrast is strong and is very intentional. “Look around you and see the kingdoms of earth. Now look at what God wants for His people.” Jesus does not reject the concept of “kingdom” but he transforms it to show the potential that it ought to have.

Let’s move forward to today’s world. In many respects the modern equivalent of kingdom is in globalisation, and the power of the economic organisations. When we look at global corporations too often we see that same mixture of power, exploitation, abuse and fear.

Let’s be clear that globalisation and the growth of the mega-corporation has not all been bad. Globalisation and the shift of production to the developing countries has done more to pull people out of extreme poverty than any development projects. The growth of the garments industry in Bangladesh has been a key reason for the increased the enrolment of girls in school. Families realise that if their daughters finish school then they are more able to get a job in a factory. The garments factories of Bangladesh are places of terrible exploitation and abuse – but people still queue for the jobs, because even this is better than the alternative.

For us as development organisations, we are often in the position of pointing the finger and highlighting the exploitation. We tend to avoid any engagement with business activity other than microenterprise. What I want to do is to turn this around and invite us to look at the idea of “Kingdom Business” or “pro-poor business”. Like Jesus did with the vision of Kingdom, let’s turn it around and look at what a business based in the principles of God might look like.

Introduction to Economic Development Issues

fish

We all know the old proverb about “Give a man a fish...”. I see four levels for this. At the starting level of the humanitarian crisis situation – yes, in crisis situations of earthquake, tsunami, cyclone or war we need to feed people on a daily basis. In these situations people are unable to feed themselves, and they need to be fed. Humanitarian response in disaster situations is a fundamental need faced by all development organisations.

The second level of “teaching to fish” is about capacity building, and helping people to find resources and opportunities that they are not using, and to be able to access these to support themselves.

However, in many cases the issues are not about capacity, but about access. The “man” of the proverb cannot fish because he doesn’t have access to the river/lake/coast. Issues of human rights are often the cause of poverty in communities. This is the third level of the proverb, introducing the issue of rights based development.

However, feeding your family with the fish that you catch each day is still subsistence living. Living in the modern world requires a cash income in some form. Even for essentials such as medical care, or materials to build a stronger, weather proof house a cash income is necessary. We need to start a “fishing” business that will give employment to many in the community. This is where we have to look at and understand the economic pyramid.

The Economic Development Pyramid

triEconomic development starts at the level of microfinance. This is the favourite tool of development organisations. This is about small scale loans to individuals to start some form of trading activity. An example is a woman from one of our Bangladesh programmes. She learnt to use a sewing machine, which she bought with a loan, and started making school uniform shirts for sale to neighbours. There are many similar examples of successful microenterprise.

There are two problems with this level of microenterprise. The first is that it is still very much living on the edge. It doesn’t take much to push it over the edge and cause it to collapse. A sickness, or some other family crisis, the business “capital” has to be spent to cover the emergency, and the business is back to starting point. There is nothing in reserve.

The second problem is that not everyone has business skills, even for this level of business activity. Some people just cannot manage a business activity. They are better as employees, with someone supervising them and telling them what to do.

The next layer of the economic pyramid is cooperatives and Fair Trade organisations. These help to support microenterprise operations. They provide guidance, support and training for the families involved, and a marketing structure that enables them to get the best possible price for their products. As development organisations we promote Cooperatives and Fair Trade organisations for their support role. However they only work well where there is unity in a community, and in some situations cultural issues can limit their effectiveness.

The next step up the economic pyramid is the SME (Small to Medium Enterprise) business. This refers basically to any business enterprise where an owner/operator/manager employs others to work for the enterprise. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development website (www.wbcsd.org) quotes a figure of 95% of private sector firms being SMEs. They say that SMEs “have a key role to play in poverty alleviation by promoting economic growth that is inclusive and reaches the majority of people”.

As development people, what particularly interests us is the “Social Enterprise” format of SME. These are business enterprises with multiple bottom lines – concern not just to make a profit, but also for social, environmental and spiritual issues. This is what I am presenting as a significant and underused tool for development.

The multinational corporations are of course at the pinnacle of the economic pyramid. As development organisations we have a tendency to hate the multinationals. We hate them for their greed, and for their exploitation of the poor. We accuse them of unethical practice, and the misuse of their power in the market.

However, as I indicated earlier, they have often achieved more for poverty reduction than the largest development projects. The most effective responses for development workers are either to work directly with the multinational company to improve their practice, or to facilitate a public education campaign highlighting abuses in ways that force the companies to review their operations. The Ethical Fashion Guide produced by Baptist World Aid Australia and Tearfund NZ is a great example of this approach.

Making Business Work for Development

What interests us for this discussion is the concept of a “pro-poor business”, and particularly the development of “social enterprise” business as introduced above. An ordinary business has just one fundamental requirement or “bottom line” – to make a profit for the owner. Those using business as a development tool talk of a “triple bottom line”: Economic – to be successful the business does have to have an economic return: Social – the business is seeking to have a social impact in the community where it is operating; Environmental – the business is concerned for environmental issues. Of course for Christian organisations we add a fourth “bottom line” of expecting the business to have a spiritual impact.

These are businesses that target communities where many are below the poverty line. They build local operations that create jobs and generate income and investment for the community. Often this will require the provision of training to equip people for the jobs, and the building up of physical and institutional infrastructure. The economic return is not to an outside investor, but is put back into building the business and the community.

This is not corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is where an ordinarily operating company puts a portion of its profit into community activity. The social enterprise business is NOT “Let’s do a business so that we can use the profits to help poor people”. The business IS the development activity. The business is focused on holistic transformation in the context of the multiple bottom lines. The business is committed to being both profitable and sustainable, while serving the needs of the target community.

Banzaid and Marketplacers as two departments of NZBMS have worked together on this model of business as a development tool. Freeset Bags and Apparel Pvt (FBA) was established by Marketplacers in 2001 on the fringe of the Sonagacchi red-light district of Kolkata. Its aim: to provide alternative employment for women trapped in the sex trade. Over the following years FBA expanded, as its overseas market penetration increased, growing its range of products – into cotton and canvas bags, and tee shirts – and now employs over 200 women from within the community.

As Freeset expanded they became aware that over one third of the women they were working with had come from the district of Murshidabad, to the north of Kolkata. Working with Banzaid the Freedom Businesses project aims to provide training and employment opportunities for women from the Murshidabad district assessed as being at risk of being caught by the sex-trade traffickers.

For more detail on the project, visit the Freedom Businesses section of the Banzaid website.

Conclusion

A Story about Three Servants
Matthew 25:14-30 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

The kingdom is also like what happened when a man went away and put his three servants in charge of all he owned. The man knew what each servant could do. So he handed five thousand coins to the first servant, two thousand to the second, and one thousand to the third. Then he left the country.

As soon as the man had gone, the servant with the five thousand coins used them to earn five thousand more. The servant who had two thousand coins did the same with his money and earned two thousand more. But the servant with one thousand coins dug a hole and hid his master’s money in the ground.

Some time later the master of those servants returned. He called them in and asked what they had done with his money. The servant who had been given five thousand coins brought them in with the five thousand that he had earned. He said, “Sir, you gave me five thousand coins, and I have earned five thousand more.”

“Wonderful!” his master replied. “You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!”

Next, the servant who had been given two thousand coins came in and said, “Sir, you gave me two thousand coins, and I have earned two thousand more.”

“Wonderful!” his master replied. “You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!”

The servant who had been given one thousand coins then came in and said, “Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest what you don’t plant and gather crops where you haven’t scattered seed. I was frightened and went out and hid your money in the ground. Here is every single coin!”

The master of the servant told him, “You are lazy and good-for-nothing! You know that I harvest what I don’t plant and gather crops where I haven’t scattered seed. You could have at least put my money in the bank, so that I could have earned interest on it.”

At first glance we may be tempted to see this on the level of microenterprise. Five thousand coins. Two thousand coins. One thousand coins. It doesn’t sound like a lot! Five thousand Bangladesh Taka is definitely in the microenterprise range. However what we are talking about in today’s terms is actually many millions of dollars of investment. This is a king handing over the resources of the national treasury. The servant with the five talents is running a mega-corporation. Even the one talent is a significant fund for investment.

Sometimes as development organisations our attitude to the business world is like that of the last servant “Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest what you don’t plant and gather crops where you haven’t scattered seed. I was frightened and went out and hid your money in the ground. Here is every single coin!”. Business is hard to get along with. Business harvests what it doesn’t plant. So we avoid this thing that could be a very valuable tool.

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In the time of Jesus, the word “Kingdom” was not a nice word. It was a word of power, of violence, of exploitation, of abuse and of fear. Think of the King Herod who had all the children under two years old killed in an attempt to kill the messiah who had been born. Think of the next Herod, 30...