Thursday, November 19, 2009

Five Thoughts on Urban Business as Mission

Last month, I had the pleasure of presenting with Rudy Carrasco of Partners Worldwide at the Christian Community Development Association conference in Cincinnati. Our workshop was an introductory presentation on Business as Mission (BAM) with a look at both the theory and the practical application of the movement in an urban setting. It’s now been a month later. Here are some thoughts related to the workshop:

Urban Ministries are interested in BAM
Without a doubt, there is a growing interest in the area of applying business as mission to urban settings. The current recession has emphasized the need and value of employment-based job training programs. It’s not enough to just provide job-training and job placement services.

Urban communities and organizations also need sustainable vehicles of employment in order to help individuals with severe barriers to employment, such as felony conviction, homelessness, or addiction, succeed in the workplace. The large number of attendees at our workshop, added at the last minute, shows that community development ministries understand the importance of jobs to long-term success.

BAM makes some people nervous
Even with the popular interest in business as mission, some individuals are uncomfortable with the mission of business. In urban settings, business has sometimes been seen as a cause of social ills and not as an agent of positive social change. That message was very clear in some conversations at the conference. The Urban business as mission movement has to show how businesses run by incarnational Christ-followers can be positive forces in tough neighborhoods.

There are lots of urban BAM ideas
Throughout the conference, numerous people and ministries shared some fantastic ideas for urban businesses with a social purpose. Everyone’s enthusiasm for business as mission is translating into some very practical faith venture employment training businesses. And I think many of them are likely to succeed as self-sustaining businesses.


Urban BAM needs knowledge, synergy and best practices
Urban Christian community developers have many ideas for businesses with a mission but they recognize they are lacking in the area of practical knowledge. Many who attended our workshop shared they are searching for the “how to’s” of urban BAM. This provides an opportunity for kingdom synergy.

At the same time community developers are feeling a need for specialized business expertise, a potentially large collection of Christ-following entrepreneurs are searching for ways to employ their specialized talents towards kingdom goals. The job becomes one of connecting people towards greater faith venture purposes.

And in the end, Urban BAM needs to declare a set of best practices to help potential faith entrepreneurs navigate the tricky waters of balancing the double bottom lines of mission and profits.


Bam has primarily been an international phenomenon
The CCDA conference reemphasized to me how business as mission has primarily been an international movement. Very few individuals or organizations are promoting domestic urban business as mission. The movement is seen as having its best impact internationally.

Even though many of the most exciting business as mission operations are overseas, I think domestic Urban BAM has an equally large potential impact. Many tough urban areas in the United States offer equally difficult environments for business development. Yet, these same areas offer a huge potential in lives and communities changed by the positive impact of business.

And I think Urban BAM can bless international BAM in turn. Domestic business as mission provides a convenient entry-level experience for U.S. Christ-following business leaders that can grow over time into the toughest communities throughout the world.

If you are interested in looking at the slides from the CCDA business as mission workshop, Rudy has posted them to his blog at: Business as Mission at CCDA 2009

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