Doing Good While Doing Business

The following is a transcript of a talk given by Dr Snowy Khoza (CEO, Bigen Africa) at the launch of Ziwani on 25 June 2021. You can watch the full video here or listen to the podcast here.

 

A blessed afternoon to all Ziwani partners and participants. Ziwani’s launch theme: The role of God-honouring businesses in Africa, came at the right time when our beloved continent is facing huge challenges – from infrastructure backlog to disease burdens. COVID-19, for example, has added enormous burdens, more so in Africa than any other continent, for various reasons which we all know. It is my privilege to join all the great and amazing God-serving business leaders today. My presentation will focus on restoration: why and how redemptive business is key to transformation in Africa.

First, I will focus on contextualisation of what redemptive business, restoration and transformation mean within our Bigen ethos of doing good while doing business. Secondly, I will share why we believe that redemptive business can contribute to transformation in Africa. Finally, I will share how we are currently contributing to transformation on the continent.

What is clear is that we all believe that God-fearing businesses can bring restoration, rebuilding and renewal to transform our beautiful continent. Ziwani therefore, is the right instrument to ‘sit at the lake’ – to drink from the well of collaboration and co-creation as redemptive businesses operating on the continent.

There are three critical concepts I would like to contextualise, as I will later apply them within the Bigen context. The first is redemptive business. We at Bigen believe in what we call ‘kingdom business’, which is the same as redemptive business, because we believe in delivering to transform – not in the religious sense of delivering from sin, but delivering services in a manner that improves the quality of life, thus saving lives and livelihoods. Some business leaders who do not understand redemptive business tend to confuse it with ethical business. Let me share with you how I differentiate between these two concepts.

There are two main characteristics of ethical business leaders. First, they do what they do because it is necessary in order to be respected. Secondly, they do the minimum required. However, there are four characteristics of redemptive business. The first is that in redemptive business, we do what is essential – even if the impact is hidden and nobody knows what we are doing. Secondly, as business leaders, we are collectively accountable to a higher standard in service delivery. Thirdly, we know that ours is a calling. And finally, we bring maximum blessing wherever we are and in whatever we do. So my question to us is this, “Are we ethical businesses (i.e. doing what is necessary and minimal), or are we redemptive businesses (i.e. doing what is essential, doing the most we can, with greater accountability because we know that this is a calling)?” I hope you will reflect on this.

The second concept I would like to contextualise is restoration. For us at Bigen, restoration means many things. While we build new infrastructure, we also restore. We focus on bringing back to life – repairing, rehabilitating, renovating, fixing, and rebuilding infrastructure, taking it back to what it was originally. So we try to ensure that assets (whether infrastructure, finance, or buildings) are developed and managed in such a way that basic services are brought to communities. I must emphasise that when services are restored, families and communities are restored as well. Why? Because through improvements in basic services (for example homes, schools, factories, hospitals, and so on will have clean water, sanitation, and electricity) the quality of life is improved. So restoring things like infrastructure is important to bringing restoration to lives and livelihoods on the ground.

The third concept is transformation. This concept is critical as it brings to bear why God put us on earth. In South Africa, transformation is normally discussed in the context of race and gender in particular – given our social, economic, and political background. However, on the continent of Africa, issues such as race are not as relevant. As Africans, we want to transform lives, and we believe that in order to transform communities and improve the quality of life through infrastructure development, we always have to do good while doing business. Transformation is slowly taking place on the continent as many businesses bring services, products, and capital. I believe that as we continue doing good together as redemptive businesses, we can do better and do even more.

Why then do we believe in redemptive business to transform the continent? It is argued by many capitalists, the markets that fund it and the business practices based upon it, that these are both good and corruptible. It is well known that most businesses are enablers of widespread harm to both people and the planet as they chase power and wealth through profit-driven motives. Exclusion, exploitation, financial fraud, environmental degradation, inequality, indignities, and human rights violations are a daily practice, without conscience or shame. We live in a broken, unfair, abusive, harmful, and sinful world, and business follows the ills of society. Redemptive business is when we build new organisations, new products, new brands, new partnerships, new processes, and new patterns that in turn create possibility and opportunity for others. And thus, creativity and innovation make things happen, and happen in the right way.

As redemptive businesses, we have to surrender our visions and our ambitions to God and do good while doing business. Good, not only to ourselves, but to current and future stakeholders – that is employees, customers, shareholders, partners, and communities. In doing good, we take risks to bring restoration using resources, processes, and systems without counting and wanting to be seen. We need to intentionally participate towards a healing transformation. And to consciously promote the ‘triple bottom line’ of profit, people, and planet in keeping with the sustainable development goals, both in heart and in practice to the glory of God Almighty, and not to the glory of shareholders and investors.

In addition, the reasons why redemptive business is critical in bringing transformation on the continent is because as leaders we should be aware that the field is huge, but the labourers are few. Four challenges come to mind. The first one is righteous anger or indignation towards evil, or when things are not of God. Righteous anger comes naturally and forces us to take appropriate action when confronted by corruption, racism, injustice, oppression, and tragic degradation of our environment. This anger provides us with an empowering feeling to step out of victimisation and helplessness when confronted by corrupters and criminals for example, those who want us to give them brown envelopes [bribes]. Africa is deteriorating, as evidenced by what we see happening in South Africa. Ephesians 4:26 says we can be angry but not sin, so let us not be part of the things that are not of God.

The second challenge is cutthroat competition. Beloved, the continent is huge, why compete unhealthily and unnecessarily? The African continental Free Trade Area is alive. It allows us to collaborate and co-create. We can share our resources and build a marketplace where godly principles operate so that businesses can flourish, and communities can be transformed. Remember that we are called to be our “brother’s/sister’s keeper.”

The third challenge is living in the past. We know that trauma, oppression, and victimisation have destroyed our continent. We in South Africa and Rwanda for example could write books about our experiences. No matter how difficult this can be, I believe we can let go of the wounds of the past, and forgive in order to reconcile, rebuild, and restore our continent through our business to a whole new continent full of love, joy, and peace – uniting as one for future generations. Let us restore by uniting through, for example, Ziwani to transform the past and bring new capital, products, and services onto the market.

The last challenge is that of evangelism malpractices. The ability to touch the hearts and souls of others is a gateway to inner peace, clarity, and well-being – and this has been destroyed by false preachers and false prophets. Business has no leg to stand on to evangelise when the ground is shaking through community unrest because communities no longer trust anyone. If they cannot trust the people of God, who can they trust? Businesses have to prove themselves trustworthy. We as redemptive businesses can change this within ourselves to the outside world. We can make the devil a liar by glorifying God Almighty in all we do in our businesses.

Now how does Bigen, as a redemptive business, continue to contribute on the continent of Africa? Because of time, I will focus only on three areas which help us to contribute to transformation wherever we operate on the continent.

The first one is strategy. Strategy brings about cultural impact. God Almighty was at the centre of my decision when I was called to join Bigen in 2010. Thankfully (and all glory to God) the shareholders, the board, and Bigen employees embraced me and supported my strategy of improving the quality of life through infrastructure development – not only in South Africa, but throughout Africa. From a strategy development perspective, we intentionally wanted to do good. Our strategy was clear – we would expand from the South to the West, and to the Eastern regions of our continent. We chose not to go to other regions for various reasons (as you know, the continent has five regions).

The outcome for both groups was to create a cultural impact of doing good in everything we do. The good is expressed in our mission of doing good while doing business. It is expressed in our delivery of services in infrastructure development, focusing on water, sanitation, agriculture, transportation, energy, real estate, and health – so that we can deliver good quality, on time, within specifications, and within price or budget. Also, in serving our customers with respect and dignity, and in creating development impact outcomes and value in the way we deliver products, services, and programmes. Thus, our integrated reporting focuses more on development impact such as the number of jobs created, enterprises developed, local development, poverty eradication, number of homes built and connected to water and electricity, health services, and so on. Now, my question to you is, “What is your business strategy saying about your boldness in acknowledging God to transform the continent through restorative services?”

The second area is operations – operations to make an impact on the lives of people. When we implement our services and programmes, everything the organisation does further develops, supports, and delivers our strategy. Our staff and partners know, for example, that we pray when we start our board, shareholder, and staff meetings, and that we are unashamedly a Christian business. From our culture of doing good, our systems, process, policies, and procedures – up to assets such as capital, business models, technology, innovation, and partnerships remain committed in doing good. People-impact for us is seen in blessing people through fair pay and fair treatment. Employment conditions are conducive for people to be able to work and create wealth for their families. Our partnership approach – such as partnership agreements, attest to the impact that we want to make.

Also, through humility, grace, generosity, justice, patience, and mutuality, we are able to do good. Again, through creating a conducive environment for all to actualise themselves and be able to contribute to improving the lives and livelihoods of others. In addition, rather than just sharing with people about the goodness of the Lord, telling them that Jesus saves, and putting a classroom at a school as part of our so-called social investment programme, we put a stake in the ground through the Intuthuko Foundation, and also our high school and university bursary programmes. The question to you is, “Are your business operations supportive of people-impact? Are you treating your employees, partners and communities with respect and dignity? Are your business policies and procedures articulating your intent to redeem people across the continent?

The third and final aspect I want to touch on is leadership – leadership that brings transformative impact. We have learnt that transformation on the continent starts, falls, stands, and ends with leadership. Many are the challenges of leaders. Driving a transformation agenda on the continent is not easy, especially when leaders are not redeemed. Critical in leadership too, is environmental stewardship – how can we protect the environment, because the environment will protect future generations? Another challenge for leaders is corruption. This is one huge pandemic that continues to destroy our continent. Transformation impact will only happen when the motives, ambition, worldview, character, and imagination of organisational leaders are transparent so that the world may hold such leaders accountable. Our light cannot be put under the table – it has to shine and destroy the darkness. So dying to self and becoming more surrendered, more accountable, and generous, creates a winning, redemptive leader. I have seen many such leaders, but many, too, are not. My question to you is, “Are we ready to evangelise in order to restore the goodness of God on the continent through our businesses?

In conclusion, let me leave you with these fundamental questions. The first one is, “What type of businesses are we – ethical or redemptive?” Secondly, “Who are we as leaders?” Thirdly, “What do we do in our business strategies and operations to transform Africa in a manner that pleases, not the shareholders, but God Almighty?” And the last one is, “How can we work together as the body of Christ at the lake, through Ziwani to bring real transformation on our beloved continent?” My plea to us is let us unite, let us stand together and glorify God in everything that we do. I thank you, and may God bless Ziwani.

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Dr Snowy Khoza