Viewpoint: The case for mixing faith and business in Africa

But beyond the argument for helping people get out of poverty is the importance of pulling people out of poverty for the global economy so everyone wins. Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid, popularised the stance of “trade instead of aid” for Africa. While aid is helpful for development, it is not a sustainable solution. And until this balances out, developed countries will likely continue to pour out aid to assist. These are the same countries who are reeling under debt like the US and UK At some point, if there isn’t a shift in this system, like the world financial systems, it will reel out of control and break, leaving more destruction in its path.

Trade, markets, and business, on the other hand, are the engines of thriving economies. Africa’s poverty is systemic, so a systematic solution is needed not just pockets of solutions.

First, we need to identify and leverage existing systems that have enough momentum to catalyse economic opportunity. Second, we need to find ways to catalyse trade within these networks in Africa to create wealth instead of poverty, reducing reliance on aid.

Faith and business have co-existed for hundreds of years in Africa. The Islamic faith spread through Arab traders in Africa. While Christianity started in North Africa and Ethiopia many centuries before Islam, it did not spread into sub-Saharan Africa in a major way until Europeans came to the continent. It is now time to activate this channel as a market, or economy to benefit many.

The Christian faith network is organised in local, regional, and global spaces, which can perhaps be considered markets not just faith communities or organisations. For example, local churches are normally under the leadership of a geographic administration, which in turn is connected to state, national, and international church administrations.

There are also often direct connections between churches in developed nations to those in developing nations, focusing on specific projects like building schools, houses, and hospitals.

It also should be noted that, in the United States, faith is a specific market segment. There is a very strong Christian marketplace, including music, messages, books, etc. CBA, a Christian retail sector association, estimated that in 2006 Christian sales through its members exceeded $4.6 billion. This doesn’t include sales in mainstream bookstores and discounters like Barnes and Noble and Wal-Mart.

So, faith and the marketplace do mix. Why can’t the social networks in the Christian faith network be leveraged for other economic pursuits on a more systematic and global scale, connecting one community at a time?

The Christian faith network can also bring a transformed ethical framework, trust, and emphasis on people into the alternative market constructed around them. And, if anything, the importance of these factors in the wake of the global economic crisis should be self-evident.

Leveraging faith networks in agriculture

So how would something like this work? One of the best markets to consider is agriculture because of Africa’s ability to be a major agricultural consumer and producer. Africa has a growing population, increasing the demand for agricultural products.