Over the years I had the priviledge of working with a number of faith-based organisations. They had to be conscious of avoiding use of public funding for actions that would support 'proselitism'.
In recent years we witnessed a surge of religious sentiment, primarily driven by increasing attention to Asian traditions emphasizing holism and cosmopolitism. Bhuddism, Confucianism and other Asian traditions are embraced by both public and private entities for the purpose of self-efficacy. They have come up against the backdrop of increasing fundamentalism of fractions of mono-theistic religious systems carrying a truth-claim that no longer suffices for enligtened individuals in Western societies.
Secondly, in the last decades a number of humanistic perspectives were religiously exported, supported by development programs and major donors. The other day I had a conversation with a Hivos staff member who supported this notion. We both observed that religious as well as humanistic perspectives often lacked appreciation of endogenic value systems in trying to bring change to societies where structural inequalities obscure the power balance.
I reconsider the terminology and wonder what proselitism actually means. Is it not about making converts at the level of convictions, based on value systems often derived from ideologies? Is the same not true for business models: Some work, some don't? People swearing by ideologies like a 'free market' despite realities of increasing restrictions currently unfolding. We keep on implementing an economic growth model while currently that does not seem to make much sense. So where is the alternative?
Yesterday's Africa Works gathering in Driebergen featured a workshop on Religious Entrepreneurship in Africa facilitated by senior researcher Benjamin Soares of the Africa Study Centre. The guest-speaker Dr. Asonzeh Ukah of the University of Bayreuth in Germany had a talk entitled "Jesus is Good for Business" presenting the Nigerian case. Apparently Jesus is acceptable as a salesman. Possibly even as a saviour, as long as he saves our business. I must say that I have little sympathy for the 'prosperity' gospel that often comes along with pentecostalism currently massively embraced by poorer segments of society in Africa and Latin-America.
Nevertheless it is rightly stated that religion, economics, and entrepreneurialism are often rather closely intertwined in Africa. Could religion postively inform business? There are plenty of stories and proverbs linked to business realities worth taking to heart. Who knows, some souls may be saved in the process.
Africa Works is an initiative of the NABC, the Africa Study Centre, NL Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen, founder of URAIDE.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.