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The Hope for Ethical Entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia

Entrepreneurs can be a channel for good. But it takes core beliefs, accountability, and stamina to endure.

I recently met a Christian entrepreneur in Indonesia who shared that corruption was the most significant constraint to starting up his business.

While registering his business, he ultimately refused to pay bribes. For nine months, he refused. During this time, he continued meeting regularly with other entrepreneurs. And as iron sharpens iron, he encouraged them to uphold these ethical standards as well.

Take a look at the context.

Last year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was originally founded with a shared vision for economic growth, social progress, peace, and political stability.

Amazingly, over the past several decades, Southeast Asia has shifted from a region of mostly poor populations to the hub of production, trade, and human capital that it is today.

With a combined population of 630 million, the ASEAN’s ten national economies are expanding rapidly. In the Philippines, the GDP rate of growth is over 6 percent annually, while Indonesia and Myanmar’s economies are not too far behind. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2020, Southeast Asia will have the 5th largest economy in the world.

In this light, business opportunities seem to be growing exponentially!

However, many entrepreneurs face ongoing challenges: fluctuating access to markets, trade barriers, centuries of ethnic tension, diverse political regimes, and corruption.

The story continues.

After nine months of refusing to pay bribes, the entrepreneur received a call from the same government representative who said: “No bribes. Come and pick up your paperwork.” The representative then added, “There is something different about you.”

They exchanged phone numbers that afternoon, and still communicate to this day.

So, how can more business owners be a channel for good? We can begin by heeding the words of Jeremiah: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).