Moses Lee

Why the Base of the Pyramid Movement Needs God

churchIn my previous post, I suggested that BoP enterprises should consider partnering with faith based organizations (FBOs) on the ground, particularly in countries where religion plays a large role. In this post, I’d like to put forth another distinct, but similar idea: FBOs in the West can play a large part in the overall BoP Movement. Crazy, right? Maybe not.

A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review highlighted the results of a survey on charitable giving in the United States. The survey showed that there is a gap between donor intent and actual giving. 47% of the respondents to the survey stated that they gave money in order to assist the needy. However, in actual giving, only 6% of donor dollars was given to organizations that primarily seek to meet the basic needs of people in the United States. Internationally, only 2% of donor dollars was allocated to assisting of those in need. So where is all the money going? Answer: FBOs.Time to sound the alarm, right? ?Wake up, donors! Smell the coffee. Start channeling your money elsewhere.? This is probably the reaction most on this blog would have.

I’d like to look at this from a different angle. There is no doubt that in the United States, FBOs, particularly churches, are the most well funded non-profit organizations. If you think about it, each Sunday, donations are collected in the form of tithes and offerings from churchgoers across America. It is no wonder that many churches are well off.

But to say that churches and FBOs are not using their resources to help the needy is incorrect (though I do think that they can do a lot more). For example, when disaster strikes, it is often FBOs that are first to respond in aid and support. This type of work just generally goes unaccounted for in mainstream media. Nicholas Kristof writes in a recent Op-Ed piece:

In parts of Africa where bandits and warlords shoot or rape anything that moves, you often find that the only groups still operating are Doctors Without Borders and religious aid workers: crazy doctors and crazy Christians. In the town of Rutshuru in war-ravaged Congo, I found starving children, raped widows and shellshocked survivors. And there was a determined Catholic nun from Poland, serenely running a church clinic.

As it relates to the BoP Movement, I think many FBOs are perfect candidates to jump on board not only because of funding, but also because of their mandate to ?love thy neighbor.? Imagine what could happen if churches and other FBOs from the West started channeling their resources and energies to affect the billions of poor in a sustainable way? As an active volunteer at my church in Ann Arbor, I have shared with many of the leaders/pastors the idea of using market based approaches to addressing poverty in areas of the world we are involved with.

Many would hesitate at this, however, because throughout history, we have seen examples of very hurtful and harmful work done in the name of God. Take for example the Crusades. But I think to hold past transgressions against all present day FBOs is unfair. As well as using one-off examples of fundamentalist organizations to paintbrush all FBOs.

But the cynics ask: what about FBO’s proselytism efforts? Personally, I think it is totally inappropriate when faith is forced on people or used in quid pro quo situations. But when faith is presented to others as an option, is that so bad? I mean, isn?t that a part of what business is about: increasing choice for consumers?

FBOs are not perfect by any means. There are a lot of complications when working with FBOs when it comes to tackling social issues such as poverty. But in this day and age, perhaps they can be a powerful partner in building out the BoP Movement. As for me, I will continue to evangelize FBOs to use the BoP approach.