The Journey So Far

We live in Nepal. We make software. We love it and think we’re good at it – though sometimes the mess makes me want to cry! We’re a business as mission thingy – BAM for short.

When our daughter was six, she confided to Juliet that she knew both the “S” word and the “F” word. She was right: she did. Just not the ones you’re thinking of. Trying to run a business in Nepal has been a bit like that. Every so often you think you know stuff, and a while later you find that you didn’t know as much as you thought you did.

We’re celebrating a milestone – our little company has just turned ten, and that has brought on a wave of thankfulness, the odd regret, and a few “what-if?”s. Here are a few thoughts on the journey so far.

Build to last Although we’re in a “want it now” world, unless you’re 22 and had the thought “why not build a social network?” before anyone else, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to build a business that lasts in under ten years. Note too we’re saying “build” and not “create”. It’s not so much making something out of nothing, as it is taking the things you’re given (mainly the people) and putting them together in a way that works. And anything to do with people takes time.

Look: if your age starts with a one or two, firstly it’s a miracle you’re reading this and not on Farcebook. But seeing you’ve got this far, listen to this: forget the short career break. Forget the house, the mortgage. Forget the expectations of your friends, your boss. Think about doing the surprising thing and giving this mission beastie the time it takes to build something that lasts.

The cure for faking it A Nepali friend once told me that he knew a lot of people who had become Christians for the money. That will sound strange to a Western ear, but in a poor country your options are limited, and Christians love to help people who have found faith. The trouble is that while twenty years ago there was a real cost to becoming a Christian, in the new Nepal that’s not always the case, and it is creating problems for the Church. There are a lot of Christians here with a sense of entitlement.

Business isn’t the solution to this problem, but it does provide a real connection between what people contribute and the wages they earn. Our clients also provide us with a reality check: they aren’t being forced to use us, and we need to provide them with enough value for money that they don’t go elsewhere. Compare that with working for a Church or an NGO, where the money might still come in if you do a mediocre – or even a bad – job.

Abba was right It is a rich man’s world. Sometimes in South Asian cultures you feel as if they’ve taken all the greed and self-centredness of the West and magnified it. Here, climbing over your friends to be successful, or cheating to get ahead, is considered a virtue!

Jesus warned us once or twice about the risk of money becoming a god. The trouble is, a business has to think about money. There are accounts, tax, wages, income, expenses. Profit even. Businesses that ignore the money side usually aren’t around for long. That said, BAM ventures that obsess about profit don’t really reflect the values of the One we claim to follow.

We’ve had a bit of a conversion about making a profit – for the first ten years we wouldn’t have identified it as one of our objectives. But these days it’s on the list. We want to make a honking big profit. Great gobs of it. Then we want to give lots of it away. There are so many needs here in Nepal. Food. Education. Health care. Respect. Life as God intended it, loving and being loved. Helping people be who they were created to be takes resources, and we want to do our bit to help.

We wish we could provide lots of jobs that would suit the millions of people in Nepal who never got the education they deserve, and which we took for granted. But in our business, we do stuff that sometimes makes our brains hurt: you need a good education to be in the running for a job with us. We can only employ a couple of unskilled people. We wish it wasn’t so. We wish we didn’t have to rely on the trickle-down effect. But this – writing software – is what we’re good at, and we love it, and wish that all jobs were as interesting and fulfilling as ours.

The power problem Power is a problem in any organisation, but with BAM you’ve got all sorts of new problems. Firstly, as a boss you’re powerful whether you want to be or not. If someone shows an interest in faith, are they doing it because they want to please you? Because they think they might get a raise or a promotion? It’s tricky. So much of what Jesus taught was about how the traditional way of relating to people (power) wasn’t His way, wasn’t the way. It’s a real challenge to create an organisation where people do things because they want to, not because you’re compelling them to, whether that be getting a good day’s work done, or responding to the love that draws us all.

Yet in a very strange way a BAM organisation is also vulnerable. We’re a stroke of a pen away from having to shut up shop and move to another country. It happens. And there’s not much recourse, let alone justice. We also hear amazing stories of employees who have brought companies to their knees for no good reason. So much of modern business is about removing vulnerability – we buy insurance, we plan for the unlikely, even the unexpected. Maybe it’s good we can’t be like that.

You’re so vain! These days you could be forgiven for thinking that BAM was the only game in town. If you find any BAMer giving you that impression, cut them down to size, would you? Remind them that BAM is a welcome part of the family, but it’s not the prima donna. We need to remember that we’re only able to do what we do through the support and prayers of the wider Christian community, and that theologians, nurses, engineers, counsellors, plumbers and so on are needed just as much as the BAMsters.

Ten years in business… and we feel as if we’re just hitting our stride. We’ve been blessed with some wonderful people to work with us, a few newbies to run with the baton, a supportive mission agency that has let us be us, and the love of a huge team of supporters. We’re so very thankful!

Craig and Juliet are Kiwi Partners, and have been living in Nepal for about fifteen years.