Have many conditions for most people improved in the last 100 years? Has poverty increased, stayed about the same, or increased in our generation? What do you think? I have asked many audiences around the world these questions, and most get it wrong.
In general, the world is a much better place for most people today than it has ever been before:
In fact, my birth country, Sweden, was poorer 150 years ago than sub-Saharan Africa is today.
In 1820, 94 percent of the world’s population was poor; in 1990 it was 37 percent, and now it is less than 10 percent. The biggest lift out of poverty in the history of mankind has taken place in our generation. However, this has happened not through aid but trade, and not through UN initiatives but through businesses, especially small and medium size. Financial wealth has been created through businesses, but also physical wealth (health, longevity, medicines, etc.), and cultural wealth (more books, theatres, operas, art museums, etc.).
Wealth creation through business has been and continues to be a key driver for this welcome progress.
Wealth creation through business has been and continues to be a key driver for this welcome progress. We also acknowledge the remaining challenges of poverty and environmental issues, but we must learn from history and ask the relevant questions.
There are rallying cries about fighting poverty, and the question is often asked: what causes poverty? However, should we not rather ask what causes wealth, because poverty will never be overcome unless wealth is first created?
The Global Consultation on the Role of Wealth Creation for Holistic Transformation aimed at addressing this. We were about 30 people from 20 nations, primarily from the business world, but also from church, missions, and academia. During the consultation process in 2016 and 2017, we discussed various aspects of wealth creation, including justice, poverty, biblical foundations, culture, wealth creators, stewardship of creation, and the role of Christians. The findings have been summarized in the Wealth Creation Manifesto and published in seven reports; and there is also an educational video.
This consultation built upon previous global consultations and reports, such as the BAM Global Think Tank reports and the BAM Manifesto. Let me share a few highlights from the earlier reports and manifestos, in chronological order:
‘We believe that God has created all men and women in His image with the ability to be creative, creating good things for themselves and for others—this includes business. We recognize that there is a need for job creation and for multiplication of businesses all over the world, aiming at the quadruple bottom line: spiritual, economical, social and environmental transformation.’
In 2009, we held a consultation at Wheaton College in the US on Business as Integral Calling. This is an excerpt from the Declaration:
‘Business can create value, provide the dignity of work, and transform communities by improving livelihoods. … It is our deep conviction that businesses that function in alignment with the core values of the Kingdom of God are playing and increasingly should play an important role in holistic transformation of individuals, communities and societies.’
The Atibaia Consultation in Brazil dealt with similar issues:
‘We acknowledge that, in the global market economy, one of the most effective tools for the elimination of poverty is economic development, and yet evangelicals have often failed to promote value-driven business solutions to poverty.’
Thus we can see how several global consultations over the years have recognized the need for—and the importance of—wealth creation through business.
The Bible talks about wealth in three ways; one is bad and two are good:
There is no wealth to be shared unless it has first been created.
Moreover, there is no wealth to be shared unless it has first been created. However, all too often the issue of wealth creation is misunderstood, neglected, or even rejected. This also applies to wealth creators—that is, business people—who often report feeling misunderstood or neglected by the church. As the BAM Manifesto (2004) encourages, we need to ‘recognise the fact that the church has a huge and largely untapped resource in the Christian business community to meet needs of the world—in and through business—and bring glory to God in the market place and beyond.’
The Wealth Creation Manifesto (2017) reinforces this affirmation:
‘Wealth creators should be affirmed by the Church, and equipped and deployed to serve in the marketplace among all peoples and nations.’
The role of business and its potential as an agent for holistic transformation is widely recognized by economists and historians, regardless of faith. Evangelicals around the world are increasingly and gradually embracing and applying these concepts, often found under the rubric Business as Mission (BAM). However, it is not exclusively an evangelical discovery, limited to Lausanne or WEA. There are significant BAM-like Catholic organizations in the Philippines and Indonesia, for example.
As Pope Francis says: ‘Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.’
Deuteronomy shows that wealth creation is both a godly command and a gift: ‘Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth’ (Deut 8:18). Business is about engaging in value-adding processes, which goes back to God’s command for us to work and to add value to creation through our work.
Business and wealth creation are not just activities or worthy pursuits. Rather, they are at their core related to who God is and who we are: ‘Wealth creation is rooted in God the Creator, who created a world that flourishes with abundance and diversity. We are created in God’s image, to co-create with Him and for Him, to create products and services for the common good.’
So what does the understanding of BAM (and wealth creation) and its practice look like in our day and age? We have tried to capture that in the book, BAM Global Movement: Business as Mission Concepts & Stories.
Its unique feature is the blend of short chapters explaining the BAM concept interspersed with brief case studies of BAM businesses. I write about BAM from biblical, historical, global, missiological, and conceptual perspectives. There is also an overview of the development of the modern-day global BAM movement. Gea Gort has written over 25 case studies of a variety of BAM companies from various industries on different continents.
On one of my trips to Indonesia I visited a village or small town that had been transformed through prayer, business people—and owls! The story of what I found (told in endnote) shows that BAM is real!
BAM and wealth creation are not new as concepts and practices, but about 20 years ago an international conversation on BAM was initiated. Since then, countless BAM and wealth creation initiatives have sprung up among four major constituencies on all continents: business, church, Christian organizations, and academia.
Business and wealth creation are at their core related to who God is and who we are.
The next major, global BAM-focused gathering will be the BAM Global Congress in 2020 in Thailand. BAM and wealth creation will also be addressed at the Global Workplace Forum in Manila in June 2019. In preparation for the plenary session and the BAM track, my BAM Global colleague Jo Plummer has written a paper of which this is an excerpt:
Business, done well, is glorifying to God and has enormous potential to do good. Business has an innate God-given power to create dignified jobs, to multiply resources, to provide for families and communities and to push forward innovation and development in human society.
Let me end with the appeal in the Wealth Creation Manifesto:
We call the church to embrace wealth creation as central to our mission of holistic transformation of peoples and societies. We call for fresh, ongoing efforts to equip and launch wealth creators to that very end. We call wealth creators to perseverance, diligently using their God-given gifts to serve God and people.
Mats Tunehag is a freelance consultant, speaker, and writer from Sweden. He has worked in nearly half the countries of the world, developing global strategic alliances for various aims and constituencies, including Business as Mission. He serves as Chairman of BAM Global.