Business as Mission in Myanmar

Church leaders in Myanmar discuss cooperative business opportunities in their dioceses.

Church leaders in Myanmar discuss cooperative business opportunities in their dioceses.

A Christian Response to Poverty

How should churches respond to the challenges of poverty and unemployment? And how does the mission of the church contribute to economic development and social transformation?

These are questions that many church leaders around the world wrestle with.

As a Christian leader in one of the poorest countries in Asia, Archbishop Stephen has a vision for self-reliant churches across Myanmar. He is eager to see community members free and empowered to use their God-given gifts and talents to serve and enrich their communities. Archbishop Stephen believes in this vision so deeply, he recently invited Five Talents to conduct a Business as Mission training for clergy and church leaders from across Myanmar.

Archbishop Steven with Mothers’ Union Leaders and Five Talents trainers in Myanmar.

Archbishop Steven with Mothers’ Union Leaders and Five Talents trainers in Myanmar.

We see the Glory of God from one degree of glory to another. We witness it in the small business activity where there was none before and in the of love and financial gifts that pour out from poor Anglicans in towns like Kwam-bi and Hpa An, evidence of the transformative power of the Gospel.
— Rev. Cavin Philbin, Business as Mission Trainer

Envisioning Economic Development

On February 18th and 19th, a team from Five Talents engaged 55 church leaders from eight dioceses across Myanmar on Christian Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Finance/Record Keeping, and Business Development. The aim of the training was to envision church leaders and encourage savings programs and microenterprise development in their communities.

During the training, church leaders broke into small groups and explored different opportunities for business as mission within their dioceses. The leaders focused primarily on agricultural and cooperative businesses and developed models and plans for rice and coffee farming, yam production, soap making, organic fertilizer production, and more. The leaders are eager to take these lessons back to their communities and encourage local entrepreneurs and small scale farmers to stimulate business development.

Participants in the Business as Mission Training in Myanmar.

Participants in the Business as Mission Training in Myanmar.

In Myanmar, Five Talents has worked closely with the Anglican Church and with Mothers’ Union, one of the largest women’s ministries in the country. Together we’ve seen a host of new businesses created and hundreds of families increase their income and provide a brighter future for their children. Our hope is to expand these programs to serve even more churches and communities across Myanmar.

Your prayers and support help to achieve this goal. Make a gift to Five Talents today and share hope and opportunity with families in need.

Social Capital and the Power of Relationships

Social Capital at Work in South Sudan

Around the world many development organizations focus on financial transactions and investments. At Five Talents, our priority has always been on building strong relationships and cultivating local resources. Rather than pouring money into projects, Five Talents helps people discover and develop their own capacity. This is because we believe that immense value is found in the relationships and resources that already exist within local communities. By strengthening and building upon these relationships and resources, Five Talents is able to stimulate social, spiritual, and economic development.

Understanding Social Capital as a Tool for DEVELOPMENT

The theory of social capital. . . can be summed up in two words: relationships matter. By making connections with one another, and keeping them going over time, people are able to work together to achieve things that they either could not achieve by themselves, or could only achieve with great difficulty. (John Field, 2003)

One of the greatest tools that Five Talents leverages to bring about lasting change is social capital. Social capital refers to social networks and the value that these relationships have within a given community. Social capital includes assets such as friendship, emotional support, goodwill, trust, cooperation, power, influence, business opportunities, shared ideas and more. While traditionally economists have focused on labor, finances, education, and technology as drivers of economic growth, recently there’s been renewed scholarly interest on the impact of social capital. We’re not surprised. Social capital is at the heart of good business.

Social Capital, Business, and Community Savings

By helping to train and form savings groups, Five Talents leverages and strengthens existing social capital.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Consider the case of Mary. When she joins a savings group in South Sudan, Mary finds herself learning in a community of friends and neighbors. While taking lessons in savings and financial management, Mary grows in her understanding of Christian values like honesty, transparency, accountability, faithfulness, planning, and stewardship; she recognizes the importance of these values in good business.

Over the course of about a year, Mary’s group develops strong structures to manage savings and loans, and their level of cooperation and trust grows. Mary receives encouragement and prayer support each week, and her friends offer advice as she makes plans to start her own business, a small tea shop.

When Mary is ready to take her first loan, the group is eager to support her and ensure that she succeeds. They know that their continued success is linked with hers. With a new kettle and tea mugs, Mary sets up her shop. Members of Mary’s group become her first clients, and she benefits from the influence, goodwill, and reputation of her group. Mary is able to use the existing social networks to market her business - word of mouth spreads quickly among her friends. As new needs arise in her business, Mary is able to look to her group again for advice as well as to access loans of increasing size.

Over time, Mary’s tea shop grows into a restaurant employing five others from her community and serving over 100 guests a day. Mary’s respect and influence also grows. She is able to use the profits from her business to send her children to school, cover medical costs, and put a new roof on her home. While the financial loans enabled Mary to purchase assets for her business, social capital served as the driving force for her development and success. This is how Five Talents powers change - leveraging local gifts, talents, resources, and networks.

We Don’t Do Loans. We Do Leverage.

What it means to empower the poor

Five Talents does not charge interest and does not provide loan capital to individuals. We used to do this, but over the years Five Talents has developed a model that we believe is much more effective at empowering the poor.

Members of a savings group for peer to peer lending in Burundi

Understanding Peer to Peer lending

Instead of using donor's gifts to make loans that could make a new entrepreneur dependent, our partners use funds donated to Five Talents to provide training and to establish and equip local groups to save and invest their own resources. These groups then provide a platform to launch and develop locally-owned businesses. This approach is effective and sustainable.

Why Leverage Lifts More Out of Poverty

Even in the world's poorest and most vulnerable areas there are existing resources that can be leveraged as communities learn to save and invest together. In Five Talents savings groups, an individual may start by saving as little as 50 cents a week. As he or she saves together with neighbors and friends in a small group, each person learns business skills and tools for financial management and business development.

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”


After a short period of saving together, the group has enough funds to begin offering loans to its members. These start as small loans of $5 to $50. But these small amounts are enough to help each family start or expand their own small business. Over time these businesses grow, and the new entrepreneurs repay and recycle the funds in growing increments throughout the group.

Peer to peer lending empowers the poor

Peer to peer lending empowers the poor

The Difference Leverage Makes

By investing in training, Five Talents can mobilize and leverage local knowledge and skills to build sustainable businesses. By working with communities and in small groups, Five Talents can leverage existing social networks and capital. By using a “savings-first” approach, Five Talents can mobilize and leverage local resources to create long-term financial solutions.

Leverage means that every dollar given to Five Talents reaches more families, accomplishes more good, and delivers lasting results.

So, go ahead, make a gift to Five Talents and let your impact be leveraged:

Lifetime Achievement Award: Five Talents Celebrates Impact Makers


Jim Oakes receives the lifetime achievement award.

Over the years, Five Talents has been blessed with a wonderful family of friends and supporters. These faithful friends have helped us to grow Five Talents from a small charity with a big heart to a world class leader in Christian economic development. Recently, we recognized one of these key impact makers during a Twentieth Anniversary Celebration.

Jim Oakes has been a champion of development among the vulnerable poor and and has been actively involved in ministry with Five Talents for over fifteen years.

Lifetime achievement award

Jim has traveled numerous times for Five Talents around the world including 6 trips to South Sudan. As a long-time Board Member and Board Chairman, Jim has volunteered countless hours to build, support, and encourage the ministry of Five Talents, even dedicating an entire year to volunteer as Five Talents acting Executive Director.

Because of Jim’s faithful service, Five Talents is pleased to award him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

What is Poverty? A Definition from Five Talents

Five Talents serves the poorest and most vulnerable communities in developing countries

Most dictionaries define poverty as having "inferior quality or insufficient amount." 

The World Health Organization defines poverty as when individual or household income is below what is needed for sustenance.

More specifically, The World Bank identifies extreme poverty when per capita income is below the international poverty, which is currently set at $1.90 per day.

Extreme Poverty is defined by the United Nations as "a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services."

While these definitions are helpful, they are also inadequate. Poverty must be experienced to be understood. Among the poor, poverty is understood in terms of shame, powerlessness, hopelessness, and humiliation. Walk in the shoes of the poor and you will understand that:

Poverty is an unmet need and an unfulfilled longing. Poverty is lack of food, shelter, and everything good. Poverty is being sick and unable to see a doctor. Poverty is never having an opportunity to go to school. Poverty means not knowing how to read and write. Poverty is clothes that don't fit. Poverty is standing on the outside looking in. Poverty is dirty water you must drink. Poverty is a man without a job and a family without a home. Poverty is a long walk without shoes. Poverty is illness without treatment. Poverty is pain in the stomach. Poverty is vulnerability to every scheme, lie, and cheat. Poverty is an empty refrigerator. Poverty is no refrigerator, no stove, no electricity. Poverty is one toilet for one hundred neighbors. Poverty is a thief in the night. Poverty is a drunk father. Poverty is a child lost to preventable disease. Poverty is a mother weeping. Poverty is injustice without appeal. Poverty is cruel. Poverty is stress. Poverty is shame. Poverty is famine. Poverty is war. Poverty is pain. Poverty is life without life. Poverty marginalizes, poverty suffocates, and poverty kills.

More than 3 billion people live in poverty. In the time it took you to read this definition, twenty six of them just died. Eight died of lower respiratory infections. Six died of starvation. Five died of water borne disease. Four died of HIV/AIDS. Two died of malaria. One died in childbirth.

At Five Talents, we fight poverty. Find out how.


  1. World Health Organization. Multidimensional Poverty. Accessed 2018.
  2. World Bank. The 2017 global poverty update from the World Bank. 10/16/2017.
  3. United Nations. Report of the World Summit for Social Development. March 6th - 12th, 1995.
  4. Narayan, Deeta. (2000). Poverty is powerlessness and voicelessness. 37. 18-21.
  5. Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries. Black, Robert E et al. The Lancet, Volume 382, Issue 9890, 427 - 451.
  6. Top Ten Causes of Death by Country Income Group, World Health Organization (2012)
  7. Pneumonia and diarrhoea: Tackling the deadliest diseases for the world's poorest children, UNICEF (2012)
  8. Levels and Trends in Child Mortality; UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, UN-DESA Population Division (2015)