Thursday, 10 February 2011

Christian Social Entrepreneurship Today?

At a recent event it was my privilege to talk with Patrick Shine, senior partner at the Shaftesbury Partnership , "a social business whose mission is to create and inspire trailblazing social reforms that empower communities by tackling disadvantage and generating opportunity".

I remarked on how popular the term "Christian social entrepreneur" seems to be becoming, judging by the number of internet search returns. There is even a blog: "Compassion in Politics; entrepreneurial social change plus faith and Kingdom principles".Patrick admitted that the term had become something of a cachet, with some ambitious young Christian professionals keen to have it on their CV.

How refreshing, then, to read Mark Greene's article on Kim Tan, co-author of 'Fighting Poverty Through Enterprise: The case for Social Venture Capital'. "I am in the business of making wealth [in order] to distribute wealth", he says, and is unfazed by the (to most people) dichotomy of 'Christian venture capitalist'. He has indeed generated considerable assets.

A committed evangelical Christian, Tan lived for some years in Christian community in Surrey, UK, with some 45 others, as a way of rediscovering the radical lifestyle of the early church and "to deal with our material addiction". Without this experience, Tan says, "I wouldn't have learned how to hold things lightly".

Tan is the founder Chairman of SpringHill Management Ltd (UK), a fund management company in biotech and social venture capital investments. He is also co-founder of Transformational Business Network, a UK charity with social transformational businesses in developing countries, including the Kuzuko Game Reserve (South Africa) and the Hagar Social Enterprise Group (Cambodia).

Christian social entrpreneurship, in Tan's view, means helping the poor escape poverty. Micro-credit has been a crucial first step here. He looks for not only to invest in areas of the world where there is grinding poverty, but also to invest in such a way that local people take responsibility and are empowered long-term. In his experience, every job created in a developing country has the potential to affect ten other people positively.

"Some people are like rocks," he says. "they give when you strike them. Some people are like oranges; they give when you squeeze the. And some are like flowers; they give because it's in their nature to give. When I meet people, I ask myself 'do they smell of Jesus?'" Tan's basis for this is his grounding in the writings of the Anabaptists (see previous posts in my blog) and the biblical concept of the Jubilee, a time of social redress, justice and liberation for all the people.

Tan is convinced that his entrepreneurship isn't a special gift. "We have all these highly gifted, talented people: creative, innovative, with superb executional skills - and we let them rot in [church] pews!" Not only can such people make a genuine contribution to justice and the relief of poverty, but they can achieve their true potential in God - daring to dream bigger than they would have supposed.