Good Examples from History

As I was sitting down to write something positive about the opportunities for transformation in business I received this link to a BBC article sent from a friend: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8467833.stm

It’s well worth the trouble to read the whole article.  It’s about the impact Quakers made in British industry and it gives hope about what can be done to improve society through business, even by a very small and ostracized minority.

There are some clear parallels between the Quakers in 19th Century England and the current Turkish Christian community.  Both are outside of mainstream society.  Both are limited in public service opportunities and both represent less than 0.1% of the population. Unfortunately, so far the Christian community in Turkey is not known for running the high quality firms that ooze integrity and gain the trust of the general population.  That’s what made the Quaker firms stand out.  They focused on products that were good for society (what could be better for thee than chocolate?) and they treated their employees and customers with respect and integrity.  Great traits.

I’d suggest that we as Christians in Turkey sit down and take note. Starting from the time of George Fox in the 17th century the Quakers were badly treated and generally ostracized as heretics by the majority Anglican community.  They had strong views about social injustice and saw it as an imperative of their faith to change things for the better for the sake of the poor and the oppressed.  Quakers took the lead in the abolition of slavery in the U.K. and also in the U.S.  They spearheaded prison reform and demonstrated through the companies discussed in these articles that honest, transformational business was not only possible, but even profitable.

I find it particularly encouraging that the analysts writing for the BBC saw the oppression of the Quakers as being part of the reason for their success.  One of the reasons the Quakers had focused on business was that they were barred from receiving university degrees.  That meant they couldn’t serve as lawyers and doctors.  But business was open to them.  In fact, their successes started to diminish once the barriers were removed!

It’s worth thinking (and praying) about what we should do with the barriers we face.  National and foreign Christians face challenges doing business in Turkey and, like the English Quakers of 150 years ago; we can make a difference despite, or perhaps because of these challenges.  Another comment in the analysis is that there was a “friendly competition” between the Quaker companies.  They had camaraderie through their brotherhood that allowed them to compete in a healthy and trusting way.

It is still true that businesses which are known for treating people well, keeping their word, being honest in advertising, producing socially responsible goods and services and caring for the poor and broken in society are businesses which will be rewarded in the market.  With today’s social networking technologies it’s easier to establish and grow networks than was possible with traditional advertising.  Good news spreads quickly through Twitter, Facebook and Blogs and so does bad news.  Use the natural networks we have, take advantage of the technologies to spread the word quickly and pray.  Perhaps we can follow in some old footsteps and help transform a market and a society.  Good examples are worth following!

Robert Andrews – a long time BAM’er living in Turkey