Spirituality And Entrepreneurship: An Indigenous Perspective
Spirituality and entrepreneurship are rarely encountered together, but for Indigenous peoples, they are inseparable elements of what constitutes Indigenous entrepreneurship.
In the ordinary course of business life, when one hears the word ‘entrepreneur’, one is likely to imagine a heroic, wealthy individual whose pioneering mindset and singular focus on a vivid prescription of success has carved out a niche into a highly valuable new offering. Entrepreneurs of this order typically attribute their success to innate stoicism, which one may call self-belief, self-efficacy, self-discipline, or the what psychologists describe as an ‘internal locus of control.’ This is the omnipotent view of entrepreneurship, in which the individual entrepreneur makes things happen, a view which pervades Western scholarship.
The counter-narrative is a transcendental view, in which the spiritual dimension matters greatly as to who we are, what we are and what we do as humans, and therefore, as entrepreneurs. According to Indigenous elders and scholars, we (humans) are spiritual beings first and foremost, the embodied self is a bounded and finite representation of who we are, where we come from and where we ultimately must go.
It is our (an Indigenous) way of describing the interrelatedness of all things – humans and nonhumans, material and immaterial, the seen and unseen, the known and unknown elements of this world. This is the cultural logic of the Indigenous world view and it applies to entrepreneurship as much as to any other endeavor.
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3 critical points
There are three critical points about Indigenous spiritual belief systems as they pertain to entrepreneurship.
First, they tend to be polytheistic, that is, they believe in more than one or many gods as we find in ancient Greek culture. For an Indigenous example, traditional Māori spirituality is premised upon an epochal hierarchy starting with Io-matua kore, the supreme being who created Rangi, sky father and Papatūānuku, earth mother, who bore some 70 gods of the elements, their children: Tānemahuta, god of the forests, birds and of people, Tangaroa, god of the seas, and Rongomātāne, god of cultivated plants and of peace and so on.
Second, alongside colonial annexation of Aotearoa New Zealand by the British Crown in 1840, Christianity was embraced by Māori, the Indigenous people, particularly among the Northern tribes. In the process of colonization, monotheistic faith in God displaced polytheistic faith in multiple deities, but knowledge and practice of ancient Indigenous spiritual beliefs were not entirely extinguished.
Today, Māori identity is imbued with this pluralism: Māori spirituality and Christian spirituality coexist. The former explains a Māori world view, the latter a Christian world view. The existence and acceptance of one does not deny the other.
Third, the concept of spiritual capital offers entrepreneurs an enlightened innate form of wealth that consists of our fundamental purposes, aspirations, motivations, and values, which we can use to enact a more sustainable approach to organizational, economic and community life. According to Zohar and Marshall (2004), spiritual capital requires spiritual intelligence, which is deep knowledge of who we are, which influences the thoughts and actions of who we can be. Spiritual capital is not confined to religious capital but pertains to what any person might regard as sacred.
This resonates with a Māori world view, where spiritual capital consists of fundamental values and beliefs that explain creation, our place within it, and the essence of all things.
Māori spirituality helps explain Indigenous entrepreneurship theory and practice. For example, the ethics of kaitiakitanga (guardianship and stewardship) over natural resources, the ethics of manaakitanga (generosity) in the care of people, the ethics of whanaungatanga (relationships) in collaboration, the ethics of mana (power and authority) as the basis for economy, and the ethics of tapū (sacred) and noa (profane) in conservation. These are spiritual values which continue to have a material influence in Māori management in primary production, health, social and education service provision, and digital and media sectors, among others. Indigenous approaches to sustainability and well-being are inherent within these values, but re-instituting this displaced knowledge as a decolonizing project is a mammoth undertaking.
Insight into spiritually-based entrepreneurship
So what does this mean for those who aspire to spiritually-based entrepreneurship? Here are six key insights.
- Acknowledging people as spiritual and physical beings recognize the complete person.
- Values and beliefs are forms of spiritual capital, which can activate entrepreneurship.
- An intrinsic ethic of care arises when we accept people and environment as interdependent.
- Entrepreneurship is a spiritual and physical endeavor because it entails faith in the unseen.
- Recognizing Indigenous spirituality creates space for coexistence of alternative world views.
- Reciprocity, redistribution, and responsibility offer an alternative prescription to commerce.
In the pursuit of material well-being, or simply surviving, entrepreneurs can easily neglect their spiritual selves. But as Indigenous elders and scholars tell us, spirituality influences our overall well-being and our spiritual capital that enables this state of being. This thinking is not limited to Indigenous entrepreneurs but applies equally to non-Indigenous too.
The question is to whom do we turn for guidance as to what spirituality and entrepreneurship looks like and how we might accomplish this unusual amalgam? In my view, our elders hold this knowledge and our youth hold the potential to use it. Bringing the two together in meaningful ways is an essential task.
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