Research: Microfinanced Business Success Tied to ‘Spiritual Capital’ in Developing Countries

November 17, 2015

Higher levels of spiritual capital—the motivation, energy and work ethic one gets from a relationship with God—have a positive effect on business success, employment and innovation in developing countries, according to new research from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.

The study, “The Role of Spiritual Capital in Innovation and Performance: Evidence from Developing Economies,” is published in the journal Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice.

Researchers surveyed groups of people in two cities—Nairobi, Kenya and Surabaya, Indonesia—who had received microfinance loans from banks and credit organizations to start various businesses, such as vegetable stands, bike repair, barber shops and small farms.

“Microfinancing has really taken off in the past two decades. We set out to answer the question, ‘What explains the success of the microfinanced entrepreneur?'” said study co-author Mitchell J. Neubert, Ph.D., management professor and Chavanne Chair of Christian Ethics in Business.

“We found that after controlling for other forms of capital, spiritual capital is still impacting their business’ success. Businesses are growing. More people want to work with them. They’re getting more sales. They’re having the confidence to try new things and venture out. Instead of just selling vegetables, for example, they diversify into something else that other people aren’t selling.”

Researchers measured the success of these business operations based on total sales, numbers of employees and innovation. A total of 282 surveys—114 from Kenya and 168 from Indonesia—were analyzed.

After accounting for financial capital (how much money one has), human capital (skills and abilities), social capital (personal and professional networks) and psychological capital (attitude and confidence in one’s abilities), researchers centered on spiritual capital.

To measure this, survey participants were asked to self-report their “closeness” to God or Allah and the importance of that relationship by using a scale of 1 to 7 to gauge responses to statements like:

Researchers found that a one-unit increase on the spiritual capital scale associated with a 39.7 percent average increase in sales and a 31.3 percent increase in employment.

“When you add in spiritual capital—their relationship with God and their attempts to live it out and interact with others—it predicted important business outcomes,” Neubert said.

The authors suggest that business owners with spiritual capital may be perceived as being more trustworthy, which, Neubert said, wasn’t surprising.

“If I had a variety of people I could buy from or work with in my village, and I didn’t know much about them, other than this person seems to be living out their faith, and I see them at a church or a mosque, then that’s going to give me some information that I don’t have about the others,” he said. “In developing countries where the rule of law—contracts and enforcement of appropriate business behavior—is limited, you need other informal indicators of who can be trusted.”

People with spiritual capital also were more innovative, according to the study.

Innovation was measured with similar scales as mentioned above, and included statements such as:

“Innovation is important because successful people aren’t going to do what everyone else is doing. They’re going to try to figure out what’s not being done or what can be done better,” Neubert said. “This study tells us that a stronger perceived relationship with God, and its influence on how you treat others, may be a source of greater receptivity toward and confidence in implementing new ideas and a heightened awareness of customers’ needs that leads to acting innovatively.”


Study co-authors include Steven W. Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship, Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business; Retno Ardianti, management faculty, Petra Christian University, Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia; and Edward M. Simiyu, lecturer, entrepreneurship and procurements department, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Nairobi, Kenya.

Source: Baylor University Hankamer School of Business