Posted on June 12, 2023 Starting Businesses that Help Communities
Image of students learning how to start businesses
A new initiative in South Asia prepares church leaders to start faith-based businesses in struggling communities.

“Today many people in rural places and vulnerable communities are experiencing worsening poverty, hunger, and unemployment,” says International Associate Global Servant Dr. Wati Longchar. “The pandemic exposed that the market economy cannot protect and sustain rural and marginalized people in the face of a disaster. While the rich became richer, the poor faced greater challenges and even died of starvation in many countries.”

Twice in 2021, IM Area Director for East and South Asia Dr. Ben Chan worked with Wati to provide Christian leadership training in partnership with North East Christian University in India. The course helped church leaders understand the impact of the pandemic and how they could provide relevant care for their congregations and communities.

Participation quickly surpassed Ben and Wati’s targets, with more than 450 church leaders and seminarians from 12 countries completing the course. Given the success of the 2021 leadership seminars, Ben wanted to develop a new program for 2022. This six-month program would culminate with an invitation to students to apply for a Seed Award grant with a business plan developed during class. Seed Awards would fund life-changing small business initiatives to create jobs, help churches, and enhance the quality of life in vulnerable communities. Ben explains, “We teach fishing, but let us also help them build a fishpond!”

Ben wrote the proposal with support from Katie Boatwright, IM’s Chief Strategy Officer. As with any new project, IM needed to find funding to develop course content and secure start-up Seed Award funds. Zofia Dripps, IM’s Associate Executive Director for Mission Advancement, shared the proposal with two major donors, who generously responded with $78,000 toward the project and Seed Awards. Ben and Wati invited IM Global Consultants Dr. Ann and Dr. Bruce Borquist to design the curriculum and serve as lead instructors. The new 6-month Christian Social Enterprise Development program for Christian leaders in South Asia launched in January 2022. The same program was offered again in July through December 2022.

Ann and Bruce present the biblical-theological foundations for holistic mission and work with participants to identify an opportunity for a social enterprise in their community through prayer, listening, and research. Participants discover hidden resources in their context and develop a business plan to address a social problem in their community in a sustainable way. The class also includes presentations from Christian business leaders in South Asia. Among the students in the first 2022 cohort, sixteen applied to the award team for Seed Awards, and six received a $5,000 grant to set their business proposals into action.

As Ben explains, “Through this program, we want to enable the church to bless its community by starting a business that opens up a space to bring forth holistic transformation through the gospel, address a social problem, and provide income for the founders and the people they serve.”

One participant reflects on how eye-opening the program was for him: “Serving God involves giving hope to someone who does not have hope in their lives. Faith-based social entrepreneurship is a tool of empowerment to give marginalized people hope for a better future.

This story is originally from our 2021-22 Annual Report.