B4T: Thoughts on Creating a Transformational Business

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transformational business

My youngest son caught me by surprise.

Yes. I like the Business as Mission concept. I encourage it. But he just poked a hole in my positive view of it!

And the more I thought about it, the more I had to agree with him. (These are the moments when you realize your kids have grown up and become themselves.)

See, I thought it was a great idea to raise funds here in the U.S., then go to Morocco and start a Mexican restaurant. The revenue from the restaurant would pay all workers’ salaries. Donors in the U.S. would pay the founder’s salary. And we would have lots of people to talk to about Christ; people to disciple. 

And then he said, ”That’s unfair competition!”

And I said, “Huh?” 

He elaborated. “I want to create a business that is reproducible in their economy and with their system of business–yet as a believer. And if the founder’s salary is coming from the U.S., it is not a reproducible business!”

Oh. He had me.

He wanted to start a business that was a real business, a business that would bless the people in and of itself, not just serve as a “means” for my being in that country, my golden ticket to a visa.

My dream was too small.

The Heart and Soul of B4t

Transformational Business (B4T)–as well as sustainable BAM–don’t just bring in a small business. They create a business model which a national believer could replicate, starting in square one. 

Unfortunately, too many BAM businesses are not sustainable in a local economy. Their national bookkeepers and accountants, after years of failure to make a profit, may wonder, “Why are you really here?”

The heart of a transformational business creates change in a country, economy, way of life. It doesn’t just share the news of Jesus (hence the word “transformation”).

But a national must be able to recreate the transformational business to accomplish true transformation. Transformational business aims to have their business be replicable within the local economy, business processes, and Christian ethics.

They can’t recreate it if the manager or owner is paid by a foreign source.

Is it harder, more challenging? Yup.

But it brings a double blessing to the people you serve.

Hazelnuts: a Transformational business?

I like hazelnut lattes. Obviously, to make them you need hazelnuts.

Judging from the way Oregon hazelnuts have risen in price on the international market over the last ten years, there are a lot of people who like hazelnuts. (Enough to make me wonder why I haven’t invested that direction.) Turkey still produces 75% of the world’s demand, but I’m partial to Oregon hazelnuts.

This morning, I’m wondering about a (thus far fictional) B4T idea. What if you went to Nepal and started growing hazelnuts? Could that be a transformational business? 

Nepal has the elevations, soils and climates needed to grow hazelnuts.

A big investment? Yes. Several years of slow infrastructure growth? Yes.

Hazelnuts: The (So Far Fictional) Results

  1. You are providing work to a lot of people.
  2. You are providing those jobs in the rural areas, not the cities. Governments love that!
  3. You are obviously long term. Again, governments like that thinking.
  4. It has a lot of value per shipping pound ($1800 per 100 lb bag), with a well-developed international market.
  5. You will be talking with people few other believers will get a chance to talk with.

Seriously. At first, some people will ask you why you are investing and living in their country. And you’ll have some great conversations as you naturally live and work there. You have an easily understandable reason for being there. (Not to mention God happens to be amazing at setting up “divine appointments” to speak about him.)

Granted, my little dream-over-a-latte is a mixed B4T example. For the first 10 years, it wouldn’t be reproduced. It would take a large foreign investment and knowledge transfer. But when established as a viable business and industry, hundreds of small farmers and businessmen could get into the act (similar to coffee in Guatemala and Colombia), to a very positive effect on the economy and society. It isn’t tourist-dependent. It isn’t urban. A farmer can start small and grow–perhaps in a co-op to sell and gain knowledge.

Yes, transformational business may require beginning capital to launch an entirely new business, including knowledge transfer–including local capital when the national replicates the business. But the second and third renditions of the business should be able to start with capital from within the country.

I envy the unique and creative ways God is working today in transformational business–the ways he’s using real business to help us truly love even better those in foreign nations. It makes me wish I were in my twenties again–and of course, sipping a hazelnut latte.

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