Social Enterprise Is the New Gospel Outreach
Using finance and industry to win people to Christ
This article is adapted from a presentation given at the ASI Southern Union 2016 convention in Cohutta Springs, Georgia, April 2016.—Editors.
Social entrepreneurs are rethinking how we shop, trade, invest, travel, communicate, and donate. They’re even pioneering new ways to spread the gospel. The focus of my talk is to rethink how the gospel is being shared across a globe that is in-step with the times, media, and technology; and what we at the business end of a potential social entrepreneurial revolution are going to do differently to harness the power of development and social change, or be lost in a same old, same old time warp, allowing tradition to dictate the playbook.
Nobel Prize winner and somewhat controversial forward thinker George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” And, again, “We are made wise, not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”
I’m still a businessman at heart, and it’s in my nature to seek out opportunities to see a return on my investments, even in sharing Christ. I want to be intentional, strategic, and ambitious with my money, time, and talents as I put them to work. In truth, I only want to back winners. I sit on the same side as those who throughout history refused to let the world mold them.
Thinking About Shopping
Before we look at the blend of gospel and social enterprise, let’s look through the lens of shopping to see how other socially minded people may evaluate this seemingly mundane task. Do we buy based on price or product, quality, or country of origin, color of carton, or brand familiarity? Do we consider the labor costs of those who grew the food, or made the can that our beans came out of? Do we consider the pesticide residue run-off to the neighboring town’s drinking water supply, of the multi billion-dollar food processing plant? Do we think fair trade? Do we consider the environmental impact your furniture purchase had on the animals in a rapidly depleting rainforest? Are we making social change with our spare change?
Thinking differently about how we invest may move us away from investing in Budweiser or the British America Tobacco Company, but what about the managed super fund that we think is too hard to keep ethical? Would we consider investing only in ethical stocks that demand better conditions for employees, create spaces for fair trade brands to reach global markets, or invest in health technologies that don’t damage our fragile environment?
What about carbon neutral trains and buses; are we talking future or now? Is fair trade chocolate a mystic ideal for aspirational Californians, or is Walmart’s unconcern about stocking what many term “slave chocolate” on their shelves enough proof that we need to change the way we think, act, shop, and invest?
Car-sharing, ride-sharing, ethical shares—that brings me to gospel sharing. God has entrusted us with an amazing gift; a life-changing, character-advancing rescue plan; using God’s Son, a man, a God-man, a revolutionary-thinking, temporarily earthbound itinerant. Hia progressive doctrine says that eternal life is possible, and upon the testimony of His blood the gift of salvation was forever sealed in our favor.
Making Money Go Further
We’re gathered here to celebrate what we can do progressively and fervently to advance the cause of Christ. Were we to take stock of our cash investments to ministry, how do we weigh our traditional choices in the balance of growth versus conservative investing? By this I mean, do we back the name brands because we like the way the speaker wears his tie, his accent, and his view on women’s ordination, or are we more challenged by a globe without Christ? Are we intentionally seeking out ways in which we can use our offerings to leverage a bigger bite, a greater return on investment?
Let me plant the seed of an idea in your minds: What if for every dollar you gave to missions, 90 percent (or more) of that donation was re-used again and again in real cash? What if the return rate on your donation decision brought freedom from extreme poverty, and a one-in-four rate of acceptance of the gospel? What if, during this process, you captured a corner of the social enterprise market and discovered that you’d also co-invested in the formal education of thousands of children, provided healthcare, reliable housing, safe drinking water, and three healthy meals a day? What if you knew that your new way of giving was bringing freedom to survivors of human trafficking and providing skills for youth at risk? What if, by following Christ’s own example, you brought a simple package, the marriage of two definable aspects of world change: the inspired gospel and a sustainable livelihood—that totally insulates the poor?
Investments That Keep Giving
Back in the 1970s an innovator and social entrepreneur, economics professor, and Nobel Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, from Chittagong University in Bangladesh, discovered, tested, and pioneered microfinance. His brilliant undertaking created a sustainable banking industry by providing low-interest loans to impoverished mothers with no credit history. He wagered on their tenacious ability to provide for their children as sufficient collateral to repay small loans and escape the grip of unscrupulous loan sharks. He founded the Grameen Bank—“The Village Bank”—which has since lent more than US$5 billion to 11 million mothers, reducing their poverty and bringing real sustainability to communities that otherwise would forever be found on the wrong side of the tracks.
Many may find themselves wondering if this is some indirect and thus less faithful kind of mission. Our images of sharing the gospel often involve stadium-sized evangelistic campaign with its superstar preachers—Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, Benny Hin, Joyce Meyer, and even several well-known Adventists we could name. These are accompanied by large advertising campaigns on radio and television, expensive printed flyers and magazine ads, mass DVD production, and business-class air seats. An expensive film set is poised to capture the moment of mass baptism and well-paid backup teams are prepared to facilitate the event. We’ve all read about them, perhaps attended them. Some of you may have even been the celebrated speakers.
Now let’s apply some modern thinking to how we could use our limited monetary pool to reach similar results at a more grass roots level, or among those whose traditional national religion wouldn’t allow such an event. To do this, we need look no further than communities of people in deep poverty, use simple business principles and sensible investment choices, and watch the social enterprise movement—micro-finance—take off.
It’s not lost on me that the apostle James, in his letter, noted that one’s faith is meaningless—perhaps even borderline callous—if we ignore the poor. But the poor, as we call them, are not an underclass, but rather a large people group that simply lack opportunity because of a line of geography.
Instead of volunteers knocking on doors with survey forms about community “felt needs,” loan officers are employed. Caring members of vibrant Christ-centered communities that intentionally embrace opportunities to carry the precious story of salvation from Calvary to Calcutta, from Golgotha to the Goa, and by doing so, unlock a millennium of superstition and idol worship. Those who listen, like us, are merely searching for a better life for themselves, their families, and their eternal future.
These modern-day fishers of men are in a sense no different than the disciples of old and the Waldensian merchants of the Dark Ages. They are all compelled by a strong sense of justice and a longing desire to set captives free. Jesus declared unequivocally that He came to set us free. Isaiah 58:6 implores us to remove the chains of injustice and let the oppressed go free. This is a message of freedom. The gospel is freedom.
Forward thinking donors are rushing to align themselves with movements that not only result in baptisms, but use community-minded innovators, who, like them, see a better way to bring Christ to un-reached people groups. The result is that “this gospel preached unto all the world” is tearing down cultural, racial, and traditional religious beliefs in favor of a loving relationship with a heavenly Father Who never lets us down.
Let’s Talk Numbers
So, the metrics: US$250,000, invested in the right micro finance program will avail approximately 2,100 small loans. Clients typically show a 96 percent loan return with an applied interest of 1.14 percent per month. Loans are repaid over 10 months. Each month three weeks of payments comes off the loan while one week’s payment is client savings, held in trust in the bank at average 2.4 percent interest, until the loan is repaid. Then clients can borrow a further and larger micro loan; savings are again accrued, and after the last cycle of microfinance has been repaid, the loan client has collectively added $580 in savings to her account—more than one year’s pre-loan income. Also, and quite astonishingly, the micro bank has made sufficient funds to cover salaries, pay rent on a building, and grow the program.
So, yes, she has a business, and it may make some profit. But with real data showing that 96 percent of loans are being repaid, this suggests that not only are the businesses flourishing, but the financial insulation this brings to the family home strengthens the future of thousands in once-impoverished communities. An abundance of evidence shows the retention rate of new believers won through such slow and patient work is rooted in something more tangible than the emotion of the stadium event.
The leverage factor: Each client is a mother. The average number of children is 5.4, most of them still in school. In groups of 30 these mothers meet with loan officers, more accurately, community Bible and social workers. Once a week they meet to pray, share, read the Scriptures, and repay loans.
At these informal social gatherings, women can encourage and pray for each other. They’re also encouraged to join home or underground church movements, where they may fellowship with other believers, be baptized, or publicly confess Jesus as Lord in a profession of faith. One in four clients accept Christ as Savior and Lord.
Children who have witnessed the transformation in the lives of their mothers ask questions and are encouraged to join suitable programs so that they may also discover Christ; now an army of some 2,800 children from just the first loan cycle. Husbands and fathers are taking notice and seeing their wives making better choices and learning how to quit smoking, healthier eating, and better choices for their families. The community notes that this family is doing better. Social elevation has been but a dream previously.
Let’s add the growth metrics: 525 mothers and 2,800 children over a 10-month loan cycle: let’s not include men yet. Once this money has been returned, we can lend it again and again and again. In fact, the leverage is so great that major banks are looking with incredulous interest—and envy—at the ability these poor mothers have for repaying loans, when those institutions are struggling to get 80 percent of their large loans repaid.
In just five years a forward-thinking, gospel-motivated social entrepreneurial investor has sown into the eternal lives of 19,950 people, and the social enterprise still has the remaining—or initial—US$250,000 capital to invest.
When was the last time you heard of a large evangelistic campaign in an Islamic community in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, or the southern Philippines? When did you last read about exponential growth in Christianity in these same countries? Where traditional methods are either failing or quite simply not keeping up with population growth, new methods have to be used to share the love Jesus has for His children, those who He has commissioned us to take care of, feed, clothe, support, and, most of all, emancipate.
Social enterprise is the only way forward to share the gospel in locked-down anti-Christian areas in which true friendship evangelism is actually working and sweeping through villages, urban slums, and remote regions. The movement is making a difference.
The question is, will we join it, or simply continue using the one arrow in our current quiver?
Memo to Stockholders
It’s stating the obvious that we care deeply about people. We care about our choices, our words, and our actions. In fact, I’m sure that many here right now think carefully about ethical shopping choices and the impact your dollar has. Because I believe passionately in people, in choices that are wise and thoughtful with my own investing, shopping, travel, and my influence, I want to reach out to you and encourage you to use a similar measure of passion about your choices that effect other people’s choices.
In Australia, Andrew Forrest, a billionaire mining magnate and director of Fortescue Metals, sent a memo to the 4,500 companies that are on his books as trading partners. Forrest, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, cares deeply about social change and the impact his company has on people all over the world. His memo asked any of his trading partners that couldn’t guarantee slave-free workforces in their trading circles to rethink whether their business with Fortescue Metals was worth keeping. He put them on notice about their choices and made them decide whether they were going to join the movement for social change or not.
Seventh-day Adventists have a long history of caring for people and their wellbeing. In fact, we’ve built a global health business out of caring for people. Let’s now do the math: Caring for people, being socially justice-minded, passionate, and intentional about sharing Christ, all added together, equals—what? I think you know the answer already.
My friends, it’s time to think differently, to become deliberate and passionate social reformers-; to be like Jesus in preaching a Sermon on the Mount, but also like Him in creating and innovating new ways to materially, functionally change the lives of real people.
The apostles give us a great example. They sold out. They divested themselves of property, formed socially cohesive groups and innovated ways to bring the gospel message—two millennia later—to you and me.
Next time someone asks you to support their ministry, ask them what their return on investment is going to be. Ask them if they need help to evaluate the benefits of the outreach they do, and use your business skills to support them in making better choices in spending a limited monetary pool for sharing Christ.
David Caukill is development director of International Children’s Care-Australia. ICC-Australia is a separate organization from International Childrens Care, and is a member of ASI, Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries.