Indigenous entrepreneurs who grow profitable companies for Christ are essential for human flourishing, especially in the world’s hardest places.
Why indigenous? Local leaders are best positioned to create solutions that get to the roots of stubborn problems, and they know their own cultures well enough to avoid many of the unintended consequences that come from outside interventions. Why entrepreneurs? Men and women who launch and build companies by choice are the backbone of durable economic development. These innovators drive GDP growth, provide vital products and services, and shape culture. Why profitable companies? Profitable companies create and sustain jobs, which is the best way to alleviate material poverty. Growing businesses produce dependable incomes for families and contribute to rising standards of living within communities. Without profitable businesses, local churches, ministries, and even governments would not exist.
Across emerging and frontier market economies, an expanding movement of faith driven founders, investors, mentors, university leaders, pastors, and entrepreneur support organizations are working together to build vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems. These indigenous ecosystems provide a nurturing environment for entrepreneurs and offer a paradigm shift for how Christians can engage in high-impact economic development, investment, poverty alleviation, and missions. In the decades ahead, they have the potential to create scalable solutions to spiritual and material poverty for billions of people worldwide.
Economists estimate that globally there are more than 700 million people living in extreme poverty—currently defined as less than $2.15 a day. Until COVID-19, extreme poverty declined steadily over the past 25 years. The World Bank now projects that 47% of the world’s population lives on less than $6.85 a day. Stop and consider what life would be like trying to provide for yourself and your family on such limited resources. How would you do it? What trade-offs would you make? However well-intentioned, aid and other forms of charity will not resolve these challenges. Entrepreneurs who build and steward economic engines inside their own communities are the optimal way to get to the roots of these problems.
Sinapis was founded in 2010 with a mission to make disciples and alleviate poverty through the power of entrepreneurship. We offer training, advisory services, access to capital, and ongoing community to equip entrepreneurs in emerging and frontier market economies to grow businesses that create economic, social, and spiritual impact. We directly manage our own programs in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda and partner with entrepreneurial capacity-building organizations in eight more countries—Brazil, Burundi, Egypt, Ghana, Liberia, Mexico, Mongolia, and Mozambique. Sinapis serves Small and Growing Businesses (SGBs), typically with 5 to 250 employees. SGBs build emerging market economies and account for up to 80% of new job growth. A Summer 2022 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review highlights the need for organizations like ours to offer long-term support to businesses in emerging economies.
After more than 12 years of serving entrepreneurs, we are witnessing a remarkable surge in momentum for faith driven entrepreneurship in emerging markets. Entrepreneurial ecosystems are maturing in places like Brazil, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, and earlier-stage ecosystems are gaining momentum in other countries like Ghana, Mongolia, Moldova, and Rwanda. Across Africa, venture capital (VC) financing in African tech startups in 2021 reached 2.7 billion USD. According to The Economist, that same year, “604 African startups raised $5.2 bn.” The top 10 most valuable companies in Sub-Saharan Africa have a combined market capitalization of 86.1 billion USD.
In early February 2023, we hosted the second annual FORGE Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, in partnership with Faith Driven Investor and Angello. The 2023 summit drew over 150 leaders from 32 nations. FORGE is the only annual conference for Christ followers engaged in entrepreneurial ecosystem development in emerging and frontier markets. During the summit, entrepreneur capacity-building organizations and investors shared best practices in equipping entrepreneurs, grappled with the challenges of increasing capital access and generating strong investment returns, and discussed the importance of mutual submission between Christian investors and founders. Our goal in all of this? Find breakthrough, scalable solutions that advance God’s kingdom in the hardest places.
As this movement gains momentum, several themes are emerging.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems produce greater impact than individual organizations.
Too often, entrepreneur support organizations and investors build plans, set KPIs, and rush headlong into growth without attempting to understand the history of the communities they serve or the work of other stakeholders already in place. Slowing down and taking an ecosystem view increases the likelihood of lasting change. So what do we mean by an “entrepreneurial ecosystem”? The Kauffman Foundation defines it as “a network of people supporting entrepreneurs, and the culture of trust and collaboration that allows them to interact successfully. The speed at which talent, information, and resources move through the ecosystem can affect entrepreneurs at each stage in their lifecycle.” Christ followers who equip entrepreneurs and invest in their companies have a unique opportunity to build into these ecosystems and add distinctive elements that promote shalom in all aspects of life and community.
Indigenous leaders with national vision should chart the course and set the pace.
In missions and entrepreneurial ecosystem development, we are witnessing a seismic shift from Western-led to indigenous leadership. To see lasting solutions to our world’s most pressing issues, local entrepreneurs and other key leaders must chart the course for ecosystem development. They understand local business opportunities and the nuances of navigating legal and political systems. They can lead at a pace that engages vital local stakeholders, increasing the potential for generational impact and sustainability. Does this mean that international organizations and investors don’t have a role to play? Of course not. The body of Christ is a global family. International leaders offer valuable partnerships and, ideally, embrace the role of a servant to the incredible potential of the leaders and ecosystems God is raising up around the world.
Discipleship provides the strongest foundation for ecosystem development.
Integrating prayer and discipleship into ecosystem development from the beginning yields the greatest outcomes for God’s kingdom. At Sinapis, we weave our Kingdom Business Framework and practical discipleship tools into our training and alumni services. In Romania, a movement called Guild Faith provides another helpful example. In 2021, this passionate group of entrepreneurs and church leaders identified entrepreneurship as a major need in the country and, more broadly, in Eastern Europe. Instead of rushing to offer training, launch an accelerator, or raise a fund, they started with discipleship. In practice, this meant studying God’s Word together, praying for the nation, and wrestling with what it means to build an economy for Christ. As they now prepare to equip entrepreneurs in the region and attract local and foreign investment, their shared commitment to Christ provides the foundation for everything to come.
Limitless Potential Meets a Sobering Reality
The spiking interest among God’s people in entrepreneurship and investment in the world’s hardest places is thrilling. The potential feels limitless. But here’s the challenge: the global Church is only accomplishing a tiny fraction of what is possible in supporting entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystems in these countries.
Why? Here are three major factors:
Our giving and investing are skewed toward home.
God makes it clear that to shirk our responsibilities to care for our families, churches, and communities is a serious violation of His will (1 Tim. 5:8, 1 Cor. 9:7–14). But God’s heart for the nations and those living in extreme deprivation is equally clear. When we consider the scope of global needs, especially in emerging and frontier market nations, the global Church should look for every opportunity to bring resources that can do the most good. Yet the data shows that only a small fraction of philanthropic and investment capital is deployed in the most challenging places on earth. How much should those who live in rich nations try to optimize every aspect of their lives and even ministries while hundreds of millions lack access to the Gospel, struggle daily to survive, and face choices most of us would deem impossible?
Our time horizon is too short.
Whether born from a desire to see immediate results or a theology that is convinced that Christ’s return discourages long-term thinking, we must approach the challenges and opportunities posed by the world’s hardest places with multigenerational vision. “Sinapis” is the Latin word for mustard seed. Jesus’ description of this small seed that can become a large plant that supports the life around it provides a helpful picture of how transformation occurs. Sowing and reaping take time. Seeds need good soil, sunlight, water, and time before a harvest. Similarly, entrepreneurship, investment, and discipleship all require long-term commitment and patience to see results. God is presenting us with an opportunity to set aside our “microwave” expectations and build entrepreneurial ecosystems that fuel the growth of God’s kingdom from inside the culture.
Our risk tolerance is too low.
It seems followers of Christ are often more risk-averse than the world. If we truly believe Christ won the victory over death and God adopted us into His eternal family, what do we have to lose? Why are we afraid to take substantial risks to see His kingdom come in the hardest places? I’m not arguing for foolishness, but most of us are so worried about making mistakes that we confuse caution with stewardship. We need to ask ourselves, are we willing to risk more of our lives, sense of power, financial margin, leisure, and reputation for this great Kingdom calling? Are we willing to dream bigger and consider our lives cheap to see God’s kingdom reign in new ways in places filled with darkness?
God offers us a remarkable opportunity to join His people across the globe to support entrepreneurs that can change nations. Dream with me for a moment:
Can you imagine thriving communities of faith-driven entrepreneurs in every country in the world? Think about the least reached, most difficult places. Do you believe it is possible?
Can you imagine faith-driven entrepreneurs in frontier markets building companies that create millions of jobs, impact industries, and grow entire economies?
Can you imagine the horrors of slavery and human trafficking being replaced through hope-filled employment?
Can you imagine Christ-following investors deploying billions of dollars into companies in the markets that need it most?
Can you imagine philanthropic capital making it possible to equip millions of entrepreneurs in business and help them grow as followers of Jesus?
Each day, these dreams move closer to reality. Indigenous faith-driven businesses and entrepreneurial ecosystems can make a tremendous difference in our world. They offer a dignified, sustainable path forward for poverty alleviation and create economic engines that God uses to fuel the growth of His kingdom. Now is the time for our generation to engage and support them.
 The World Bank Group, “Poverty Overview.” Last updated November 30, 2022, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview;2022; “Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2022: Correcting Course.” Overview booklet. World Bank, Washington, DC. License: Creative Commons Attribution CCBY 3.0 IGO. See “Overview” page xiii, and “Full Report,” page 53, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/server/api/core/bitstreams/b96b361a-a806-5567-8e8a-b14392e11fa0/content.
 Sonali Rammohan et al., “Pacing Entrepreneurs to Success,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University, Summer 2022, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/pacing_entrepreneurs_to_success.
 Rafiq Raji, “Africa Fintech Is Booming despite Challenges,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, December 8, 2022, https://www.csis.org/analysis/african-fintech-booming-despite-challenges.
 “Adventurous Capital: African startups are raising unprecedented amounts. What next?,” The Economist, July 21, 2022, https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2022/07/21/african-startups-are-raising-unprecedented-amounts-what-next.
Victor Oluwole, “Here are the Top 10 most valuable companies in Sub Saharan Africa by market capitalization,” Business Insider Africa, April 21, 2011, https://africa.businessinsider.com/local/markets/here-are-the-top-10-most-valuable-companies-in-sub-saharan-africa-by-market/z730zf4.
 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation,“Glossary and Resources,” Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook 3.0 @2019, ESHIP Summit, https://www.kauffman.org/ecosystem-playbook-draft-3/glossary-and-resources/.