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My Business, My Mission - Current themes for the Marketplace Movement

A Conversation with Doug Seebeck
Doug Seebeck is a man with some stories to tell! After more than 16 years of frontline involvement in cross-cultural business partnerships, he has some wonderful tales about the transformation he has seen through business right around the world.  Last year he and co-author Timothy Stoner published some of these stories in My Business, My Mission, one of the most vivid books on business as mission to date.
I had the privilege of chatting with Doug Seebeck about some of the themes that he writes about and that resonate in the wider marketplace ministry and business as mission movement:
The ongoing need for affirmation and mobilisation
My Business, My Mission tells the stories of business people from diverse backgrounds, from Asia, Africa and the Americas, and over and over again there is a breakthrough moment. Doug Seebeck describes it this way “When business people ‘get it’ – that God wants them to be the way they are, to be these entrepreneurs, that God wired them to be the way they are and that they are exactly where he wants them to be – it’s like a celebration and they begin to live differently and they do their business differently”. 
Doug helped found Partners Worldwide because of the message he was hearing from business people, “Show us how we can make a difference”, “Surely there is more for us to contribute to mission than writing another check”, “How can we get involved?”
I asked Doug whether 16 years on this is still the message he is hearing? He shares: “I am constantly surprised… I have shared the stories of those early business guys over and over, and I worry that it’s not really fresh...  But then I’ll meet a new person and they are dealing with this right now in their local church. These are business people with tremendous experience, they want to get involved, but nothing in the church is engaging their skills.  In too many places business people are still not being affirmed, they are not commissioned and they are not told that they are marketplace ministers and that what they are doing is really the church on the front-lines. I think we’ve made some progress, but I think affirmation is still a very real need.  So yes, our role is still to give this affirming message and then to help with tangible ways of getting involved.”.
The effectiveness of true partnerships
One story in My Business, My Mission concerns Roberto and Rosa Espinoza, a young Nicaraguan couple who, after starting their own businesses, gathered together 27 Christian business owners to form the ‘Network of Nicaraguan Professionals’. This group meets for mutual encouragement and support and this is something that is highlighted as a key for success, not only for this particular group but for the whole Partners movement. If you look closely, relationships are at the bottom of each success story - between business people within nations, but also across cultures.  
The ethos of facilitating partnerships rather than running programs is at the core of Partners Worldwide. Doug Seebeck shares: “As we have become more involved in situations it is tempting to want to jump in and run a program, instead of doing the work of nurturing partnerships and then stepping back.  We could just go in and run a program and call it ‘business development services’… but we would be in danger of losing the global connections. What we have found is that it is no longer ‘US to the rest’… we have affiliates in the USA learning from affiliates in Nicaragua and elsewhere, helping us make a difference in our own communities. We don’t want to lose that dynamic.’ 
I asked Doug what he thought some of the keys to fostering true partnerships were: “Well we can’t go with the attitude ‘we’ll come in and make it better’, we really have to go and listen. When we go in for an exploratory trip and make connections on the ground, we let the local Christian business people develop the agenda. The local business people come up with the plan, what to focus on and how to organise it locally, based on all their connections. The heart of it is really listening, not jumping in with our ideas.  Another key is servant leadership, to come with an attitude of ‘how can I serve’. Then as you serve in that way, people open up and trust builds. Then you can get under the veneer to the underlying issues of poverty… good things start to happen.”
A movement of Kingdom entrepreneurs
As Roberto and Rosa’s story unfolds, their biggest dream is revealed, ‘Their aim is nothing less than a nation of businesspeople on their knees before God’.  This is something particularly exciting that comes up again and again in Doug’s stories – the focus on empowering national entrepreneurs to be the real change-agents in their own communities.
Long-term transformation through business will happen in nations largely through national Christian entrepreneurs. Therefore the posture of ‘outsiders’ should be that of catalysts, enablers and encouragers, just as it should ideally be in all mission and development work. Going cross-culturally to places where these is the most need is still a great need in itself - but it shouldn’t be the end.  God is stirring up this passion for mission in the marketplace in entrepreneurs all around the world. 
Doug shared what he sees happening on the ground, “Yes absolutely the multiplication is happening locally, we are seeing it.  A challenge for us is to be willing to come in with the least baggage possible. We have learned this in church planting, to ask what really is the essence of the gospel, how do we communicate that and then leave a group to self-replicate and put their own forms in place. One guy in Uganda read a Partners Worldwide fund brochure he picked up from a friend in church and as an SME owner himself he started mentoring 130 other entrepreneurs in a micro-enterprise program, all from simply reading that message.  It may look messy to us, not quite the way we are used to doing things, but we are asking ‘how do we help nurture this movement without stifling?’  We now have way more business mentors from other countries than we have from the USA. We have understood that if we have 1000 mentors who really get it, they will replicate that 10,000 times locally and that is what is happening.”
Transformation starts with me...
In one of the final chapters of the book, Doug Seebeck pulls out an important truth: ‘What we have learned is that if we wish to impact the world, we must be impacted ourselves. We must live the change we wish to see.’  In many of the stories, business people started off with a passion to bring transformation ‘over there’, or ‘here in my community’, but what they experience is transformation in themselves. 
I asked Doug about the multiple impacts of business as ministry that he sees. “As business people really start to understand that their sphere of influence is their primary arena of ministry, they live their lives differently, they run their business differently, they treat their employees differently… and the effect of that just rolls on itself.  The transformation starts with them, then all of a sudden they are concerned with community issues that they never saw before… then more initiatives start happening. I’ve seen social change, economic change through business growth and job creation and I’ve seen churches planted. Spiritual change happens with the individual and it spreads from there.”
God is concerned about the whole of life: our physical circumstances, our stewardship of creation, our society and issues of justice, the corporate and the individual, what is on our tongue, what is in our hearts. I think that is what excites me about business as mission, kingdom business, business for transformation… or whatever you want to call it! In the end it is just business. It is business done by people who are dedicating themselves to God and allowing Him to bring change in their own lives… and as they do that the ethics of a small company might be changed, or the tax policy of a nation… the faith of a person might be transformed, or the worship of a people.
Jo is the editor of www.businessasmission.com in conversation with Doug Seebeck, Executive Director of Partners Worldwide and co-author of My Business, My Mission. All quotes from “My Business, My Mission: Fighting Poverty Through Partnerships" by Doug Seebeck and Timothy Stoner (Faith Alive 2009) used with kind permission.
This article first appeared in full in the Business as Mission Quarterly e.zine Issue 2: June 2010

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posted by Justin Forman | 10.27.2010 - 5:31 AM


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