Entrepreneurs Waiting in the Wings?

June 23, 2011 — 8 Comments

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The past couple of posts I've written have dealt with books that attempt to look to the global South for the source of the next big era in Christianity. Citing explosive conversion rates and growing populations, Thomas Oden, Philip Jenkins, and Jehu Hanciles all assure us that the shifting tide of global Christianity is already pulling toward the South and that revitalization of the faith in the North and West will, most likely, come from there as well. But even the amateur student of history knows that these kinds of global shifts do not happen in isolation. While there may be chicken-egg debates among historians, theologians, anthropologists, economists, and others about which gave rise to which, there is no denying that global shifts in religion have nearly always correlated with other world-changing movements.

Even a brief, leapfrogging look at Christianity highlights a few of these synchronizations. The first century spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire could not have happened without the innovation of the Roman road system also being near its zenith. The Protestant Reformation and its emphasis on a return to the scrutiny of Scripture would not have been possible without the advent of the moveable type printing press. Nonconformists in England may have been quelled altogether had there not been a newly discovered land separated by a vast expanse of ocean to use as haven. Evangelicalism's roots in early American history could not have found soil more fertile than the seedbed of a country founded on an ideology which upholds individual liberty and prosperity. Therefore it is inadequate to discuss what might happen in Christianity globally without also paying some attention to what else may also be happening during the same time and on the same scale.

Rob Salkowitz's Young World Rising is a book that does just that. He looks at regions and countries where populations are trending younger and growing and seeks understand the role that information communication technology and entrepreneurship might have on these young and emerging economies. These economies will likely be, as Salkowitz puts it, part of the "knowledge economy." Instead of more traditional goods and services, "[t]he new kind of knowledge economy entrepreneurship made possible by information and communication technology holds even more potential . . . It is the creation of something–content, data, insight, entertainment–from nothing except human talent and imagination" (16). Appealing to the ubiquitous presence of cell phones, the rapidly growing reliability of wireless and satellite high speed internet, and the affordability of smart phones, Salkowitz sees us entering into an era where connectivity will launch us over the hurdle of knowledge access, enabling individuals and communities to participate in direct entrepreneurship as never before. This sounds a lot like the kind of impact that the printing press had on the dissemination of ideas 500 years ago.

Beyond access, however, Salkowitz sees emerging economies becoming players on the world stage through their contributions. "The bottom line is that the countries that have been the drivers of innovation and productivity for the past several centuries are running out of juice" (20). The countries that gave rise to the digital revolution will likely be left behind in the wake of a culture they helped to create but to which they never adapted. Lingering legacy structures will languish as decentralized, highly collaborative, rapidly adaptable networks of talent and capital reach across borders and cultures. A blurring of private, commercial, professional, social, and cultural networks into an amalgamated whole will shift focus away from carving out neat institutional ideologies and toward sector collaboration.

To this point, the book is highly congruent with the three authors mentioned above. Salkowitz is describing a massive global shift that will likely catch the West napping, unless there is some sort of wake up call. One could easily replace Salkowitz's entrepreneurship and wealth creation language with that of Christianity and missiology and the book would land quite nicely alongside Oden and Jenkins. Salkowitz goes a bit futher, however, by offering up a chapter on "Engaging the Young World" in which he outlines what he believes are key strategies and takeaways for Western enterprises to lean into this global shift and emerge on the inside looking out, rather than the other way round. This kind of perspective is sorely missing in Oden, Jenkins, and Hanciles, all three of which hint that there are practical things Christians in the West ought to do to anticipate the coming global shift, but each is reticent to get too specific about what those things are.

In short, Salkowitz urges business in the West to identify and partner with Young World emerging talent now by reshaping current structures to align more closely with the values of emerging entrepreneurs. This will result in attracting young talent into existing organizations. Once in the door, Salkowitz asserts that the job is not yet done. These young bucks must be given some deference and allowed to shape the business or organization in a way that is reflective of the emerging market desires. Business as usual cannot continue, and it does no good to put new wine in old wineskins (so to speak). Instead of a "watch and wait" approach, Salkowitz is advocating a "hire and shape" approach.

What might this look like if transferred to existing institutional structures within Christianity? How might historical denominations fare in America if they intentionally sought young, vibrant leadership from Africa or Latin America and allowed that leadership to make decisions? Hanciles dealt with this some, but his assessment was not broadly optimistic. Looking at the role that the Episcopal church plays in the the global Anglican communion, he noted that though a large number of Anglican fellowships in the global South have decried the Episcopal church's ordination of openly homosexual clergy, the broader Anglican fellowship has been reluctant to make a formal redress due to the large percentage of capital the Episcopal church generates for the worldwide fellowship.

Yet, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, there are some enterprising Anglicans in Rwanda and Nigeria who are not content to let Anglican Christianity in America become completely dominated by an increasingly theologically liberal Episcopal Church. Seeing America as fertile soil for mission, the Anglican Mission in the Americas (under the oversight of the Anglican Church of Rwanda) and Convocation of Anglicans in North America (under the oversight of the Anglican Church of Nigeria), both have ordained bishops and are actively (even aggressively) planting churches throughout North America. Their hope is to offer an end-around to the Episcopal Church, making communion with the global Anglican fellowship in a theologically traditional stream possible on the continent.

It remains to be seen what direction these newly appointed bishops and prelates will take as their numbers and influence grows. One of these, Todd Hunter, is a graduate of George Fox Evangelical Seminary (where I am doing my DMin studies) and a former leader in the Vineyard association. His movement over to Anglicanism is multi-faceted, but I wager would not have been possible if the Episcopal Church in America was his only option. What impact will he and his colleagues have on the Rwandan Church? What impact with their Archbishop have on them? That will be interesting to note as it may signal a way forward in other existing global Christian institutions such as the Catholic Church, the UMC, and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Anderson Campbell

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  • robsalk

    This is a fascinating and unusual take on my work. Thanks for taking the time to read and consider the ideas so carefully. Best of luck in your studies.

  • Anderson Campbell

    Thank you. It was a fascinating book to read. As I read, I couldn’t help but wonder what your observations on the recent developments in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, etc., are?

  • robsalk

    North Africa/Mid-East uprisings are examples of what happens when old modes of governance and authority can’t (or won’t) accommodate the ambitions and expectations of their connected young populations in an institutional context. Young World govts and societies don’t have to be perfect, but they need to demonstrate the capacity to change. Recent elections in Nigeria, for example, for the most part satisfied the desires of young and wired political activists there for fairness and transparency – though Nigeria obviously has a long way to go. The availability of information means that authoritarian regimes can’t depend on propaganda and hopelessness to keep the popular will in check. They will need to resort to naked violence, or make genuine reforms. China, as always, is the exception because they have managed to build a parallel information system that is every bit as technologically sophisticated as the one beyond their borders.

  • Anderson Campbell

    We’re observing incredible numeric growth in Christianity among young adults in the Young World. As I alluded to near the end of my post, much of this growth is in Christian traditions that are still rooted in Old World institutions (the Catholic church, the Anglican church, etc.) I know this is extending your thesis beyond your expertise, but what impact might this have on the religious landscape in the Young World?

  • robsalk

    Way beyond my expertise in multiple dimensions! All I can say from my limited personal experience is that the global “class” of Young World entrepreneurs are often motivated by their faith (especially true of the example I cited in the Philippines, and also in Ghana), but are extremely ecumenical in their dealings with others. As a Jewish American, I have been made to feel welcome by devout Christians, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists in both my physical travels and intellectual explorations. I often hear the young people express frustration with traditional sectarian divisions in their country, especially when it manifests as a method for established powers to maintain arbitrary authority.Is there any forum where I engage more with you and your colleagues – maybe a webconference or live chat? Everything I’ve read from you folks has been very thoughtful and coming from a perspective I really had not considered.

  • Anderson Campbell

    Actually, yes! We are going to be discussing your book in a live chat this coming Monday at 8am PDT. I think you’d be more than welcome to join us as our guest. If you can’t make that, perhaps we can work something else out. Email me: eddie [at] thecrookedmouth {dot} com and we’ll get something worked out.

  • Loren Kerns

    Speaking of ‘old world’, I look forward to hearing first hand what the young leaders in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church think about these issues when we meet in early September….

  • Rodger McEachern

    Eddie – great application to the church…I see the ‘clash of cultures’ between the west/non western church and the young/not so young…as you and Rob point out…and I also see the resistance of western churches have towards their non western brothers and sisters…thought the fault lines I suggest is more ethos and following from this theological…than it is power and control…in other words more socio-logic…I think Hanciles is correct when he cautions the successful transference of non western Christianity to the west…due to cultural differents…in this I wonder if what Rob S, speaks of….the influence of non western business upon the global economy…based as it is upon market and business dynamics [even in the use of technology]…can be seen in the same light as global Christianity. Perhaps the ‘language’ of business is more easily transferable from non west to west than is the language of religion. #dmingml ((tags:dmingml))