Practical perspectives on redeeming the supply chain

Through her award winning company, of eyeSlices®, founder and CEO Kerryne Krause is making a tangible contribution to the social justice landscape in South Africa. In this summary of her interview with Ziwani’s Sibs Sibanda, she offers a few practical examples of how Christians can operate as what she calls, a ‘community of conscience.’

Practical perspectives on redeeming the supply chain

‘Linking the supply chain to social justice is not a new idea, nor is it limited to Christian businesspeople,’ says Kerryne. ‘The global retail sector, for example, is putting more and more pressure on brands to audit their supply chains regarding issues such as child labour, minimum wages, mistreatment of minorities, environmental consciousness, and so on.’

So how does redemptive engagement by Christians in business look any different from what ethical business is already doing?

Kerryne answers, ‘The first thing that comes to mind, is motive. God looks at the heart. Many businesses fall in with emerging trends, or contribute to various causes, purely for the sake of positive brand association. But the ‘why’ behind our actions matters – is our aim to be compliant, or to be transformative?’

She continues, ‘God’s Kingdom is often counter-intuitive. In tough economic times, business leaders feel justified in cutting their labour force, or cutting salaries. But would the CEO be prepared to take a salary cut, in order to retain more staff? It is important to be wise, but are they willing to do what is right, as opposed to what is acceptable?’ As a Christian business leader, you are sometimes called to make big sacrifices, without anyone else knowing about it.

Many Christians feel that their role in society is to point out everything that is wrong or evil. Kerryne disagrees, ‘We need to realise that part of our role as agents of redemption is to affirm what is good. Ethical business is already doing so much with respect to auditing the supply chain – and as Christian business leaders we can affirm that it is good, and add momentum to it. Then, we can trust God for even more creativity and wisdom to address social justice issues, and be even more generous in spirit.’

Supporting social justice through manufacturing

Kerryne explains how eyeSlices® supports social justice through redemptive practices in manufacturing.

‘As business owners, even when we don’t have a lot of resources, the one area where we can make a difference is skills development. We need to see the potential in people,’ she says. ‘But I have to confess that this is sometimes a thankless task – you go through all the effort of finding someone, training them, and then they leave you when a better opportunity comes along.’ She continues, ‘At one time, I became disillusioned. I just wanted to employ someone who already had the skills, who could just do their job. I would pay them a good wage, and treat them fairly, but didn’t want to go the extra mile anymore.’ She felt God speak to her, saying, ‘This is not only about your business. You’re putting skills back into the economy, and making a difference in people’s lives. I care about them, too.’

It is good to keep that perspective, Kerryne realised. ‘It isn’t always about us, about our efforts, about our little business ecosystem. Every redemptive action has a knock-on effect, and we shouldn’t become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,’ as is written in Galatians 6:9.

Another way Kerryne and her team supports social justice through manufacturing, is to support local business. ‘We source 99% of our ingredients, packaging and other manufacturing requirements from South Africa, as opposed to importing from China. We visit our suppliers in person, we know their values – so that we can authentically audit our supply chain, while also stimulating the local economy.’

Even this is not a fail-safe approach. Kerryne remembers, ‘Besides sourcing from local suppliers, we looked for other product packing companies to pass on our overflow work. We were so excited when we found a company that employs people with disabilities, because we believed it would give their staff the opportunity to be economically active, and to have dignity. When we asked a few questions about their cost structure, we realised they were paying their staff way below the minimum wage. The company had concocted a system where they qualified for government subsidies, as well as earning from market-related pricing, but without passing on the financial benefits to their staff.’ In the end, eyeSlices® didn’t do business with them.

Social justice impacts the individual

Kerryne comments, ‘We are confronted with social justice issues and poverty on such a massive scale in South Africa, that we feel we have to make a difference on a massive scale. It can sometimes feel like we’re trying to fill up an abyss. But whatever efforts we make in engaging redemptively in society, make a difference.’

She smiles, ‘One of our staff members started working for us about 9 years ago. She was completely unskilled, and had missing front teeth. Even though she rose through the ranks of the company she was always self-conscious and stayed in the background. We realised that she could never afford the dentistry, so we paid to have her teeth fixed. It created an astounding turnaround in her life – she became confident and outgoing, and is now one of our factory supervisors.’

Kerryne encourages other Christians in business to keep engaging the issue of social justice. ‘Sometimes we get tired or disappointed, sometimes we fail to help when we had the means to do so. But it’s never too late to try again. God wants to guide you – in the season of your business, with the resources you have, in the changes you need to make, where you need to step out in faith. Don’t look at what other people are doing – focus on your own journey, on what God is saying to you, and walk that out in obedience.’

For more articles like this visit https://ziwani.com/.

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Why partnerships are key to Impact Management Reporting

When people join their efforts to accomplish a shared vision, they can go so much further than if they were to go alone. In Mergon we believe in the power of partnerships to unlock the potential for disproportionate impact. Because God’s design for human flourishing requires the participation of all God’s people, the act of taking hands and ‘going together’ is a crucial strategy that underpins everything we do.

Why partnerships are key to impact management reporting

Over the years we have asked ourselves what it means to stand beside others in our efforts to bring about real change. How do we position ourselves as true partners who bring not just our finances, skills, knowledge and networks, but our very selves to the relationship? Likewise, as our partners offer their expertise and very selves to the relationship, how can we keeping learning from their wisdom and experience? These are questions that shape our partnership journey, whether in the Foundation, investment team, or alongside business leaders with whom we partner in South Africa and across the continent.

Within the social impact sector, where Nation Builder serves, social investors and non-profit organisations (NPOs) recognise partnership as the foundational context within which effective and sustainable social impact takes place in South Africa. The following is taken from Nation Builder’s Impact Management Reporting Guideline, and specifically the learnings acquired in fostering healthy, sustainable partnerships between social investors and implementing organisations.

Impact management reporting is a communication vehicle to capture insights and lessons learnt along the partnership journey. It can serve as a powerful tool to foster trust, credibility and transparency while improving future work and decision making between partners in the social impact sector.

Have a look at the below diagram which unpacks the partnership process, followed by a description of each critical phase:

  1. Internal strategic planning

In this original phase, investors start by defining their purpose, requirements and impact objectives. What exactly is the problem they want to address and what steps need to be taken to address this problem? What will the solution look like along with the strategies, outcomes, outputs, and activities to see this vision come to life? This will require not only robust research to help guide a responsive strategy – it will require investors to define their ‘why’ which in turn defines their ‘who’ within the context of partnership.

  1. Define and design

Along with the initial planning phase, this early define and design phase is where organisations and businesses determine ‘who they are’ and what they stand for. Like in marriage, the idea that two halves make a whole doesn’t really work. You want partners who have clarity about their identity, coming together to work into an area where there is synergy and alignment. By defining a clear purpose and mandate, both social investors and implementing organisations set the stage for more efficient and targeted sourcing, screening and assessment down the line.

  1. Sourcing, screening and assessment

In this phase investors implement a partner sourcing strategy – either through referral, existing relationships, public disclosure or applications. Communicating your selection criteria clearly and publically is vital during this phase – prospective partners should be able to easily access and understand your conditions for eligibility. For example, depending on the sourcing strategy, this information could be made available on your website, along with application documentation and guidelines. Screening and assessment phases may include multiple stages in order to determine whether this relationship would be a ‘good fit’.

  1. Negotiation and formalisation process

It’s important that both parties bring their concerns, questions and expectations to the table in this formalising phase of the partnership. Both sides must feel comfortable to consider, negotiate and clarify their needs, so that they can confidently agree to all terms and conditions and how they will be practically implemented. It’s recommended to compile an ‘expectation checklist’ (see the Guideline’s example), so that courageous conversations can be had in the effort to lay strong relational foundations.

  1. Implementation, progress tracking and reporting

Having parameters and expectations clearly defined and funding allocations confirmed, this is the stage where partners ‘get to work’ – implementing the vision and seeing it come to life. Monitoring and tracking (data collection, analysis, insight development and reporting) happens continually, which in a healthy trust-based relationship allows for honest assessment and adaptive learning along the way. This phase will typically end with a close-out or summative assessment report to reflect the overall results achieved across the life of the partnership and its implementation. The final Impact Report will play a critical part in informing decisions during the partnership review and evaluation.

  1. Partnership, review and evaluation

This phase gives both parties an opportunity to reflect on how they have experienced the partnership to date. Were the goals, objectives and targets met, for example? If not, then why not, and what can we do differently into the future? Are the needs and context still the same, and are activities aligned and mutually beneficial? The answers to these questions will help determine the longevity of this partnership.

Are you interested to know more about impact reporting within the context of funding partnerships? Download your free copy of the Impact Management Reporting Guideline here.

Amongst other case stories included, you’ll learn about the Mergon Foundation’s strong relational approach to ministry partnerships, which lays the foundation for authentic relationships and sustainable social impact.

Want to know more about Nation Builder and how we inspire and equip South Africa’s business community to lead in effective social impact? Visit https://proudnationbuilder.co.za/.

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Growing your organisational health

Mergon Foundation’s Operations Manager, Werner Momberg, speaks to us on the critical role that strategy plays in nurturing healthy organisations and teams. In this overview of an Elevate podcast, takes us through some of the thinking that has shaped our understanding of organisational health and the tools we’re currently developing at Mergon to promote it. With extensive experience in international missions and leadership, Werner brings an expertise to the table as well as a clear perspective on what’s needed to assess and strengthen the health of your organisation.

Growing your organisational health

The energy of impact

God is most glorified when leaders and leadership teams point the energy of their people outwards, towards that which God has called them to do. If an organisation isn’t fully healthy, or if a leader is ill equipped for the task, the energy is conversely drawn inward and prevents the organisation from achieving its intended impact on the ground. 

How do we ensure that we’re using our energy most effectively and releasing it towards the mission?  

 Werner says we focus on developing our organisation’s strategy – one that captures both the granular and bird’s eye view perspective of our organisational health.

To gain this kind of comprehensive perspective, however, doesn’t happen accidentally. It steadily unfolds, as the organisation and leader mature with time. Particularly when an organisation is just starting out, the leader may bring to the table nothing other than passion and commitment to the calling. With time, the organisation can grow, along with the complexities of stewarding that growth. As a result it starts to function like a machine or vehicle that needs constant service and maintenance. Without knowing, the leader’s focus shifts; their primary energy is given to keeping the vehicle moving forward rather than assessing its pulse and scope of impact. 

Organisations are like jet engines

So how do we anticipate mission creep and ensure our leadership can grow in pace with our organisations? William Meehan and Kim Jonker’s book, The Engine of Impact, offers us some clues. 

In the book the authors identify seven components of strategic leadership that they believe are essential to nurturing high impact organisations: mission, strategy, impact evaluation, insight and courage, organisation and talent, funding, and board governance.  Together, these components form an ‘engine of impact’—a system that leaders must build, tune, and fuel if they hope to make a real difference in the world. 

Werner draws from the jet analogy to highlight some aspects of these essential components. ‘The airflow into the engine is essentially its life,’ he explains. An organisation’s mission is much the same. It generates meaning and vision, which mobilises life. Strategy is what comes out on the other side of the engine – compressed, like oxygen, and transferred into energy that fuels the mission forward.

Jets are obviously required to insert the fuel into the engine. This ‘fuel’ refers to your financial inflow, talent (your human resources or your team) and board of governance. Thrust indicators offer a dashboard to monitor your engine’s status – much like the tools and resources we use for impact evaluation. Lastly, turbines can be likened to the leader and teams who, through courageous leadership and vision setting, ensure the organisation is continually ‘thrust’ into its mission with measurable and growing impact.

How perception plays a role

Adding to this rich analogy, Werner suggests yet one vital component is still unaccounted for: seeing the organisation’s health through the lens of perception*. You can have all the parts of your engine firing, he argues, but if the perception of the team is negative or unhealthy, the organisation will struggle to have meaningful, sustained impact.

Perception has the ability to touch every aspect of your organisation – and yet it can often go undetected. Take money, for example. Werner says, if there is a perception that the organisation does not have enough funding to do the work, the team cannot naturally nurture a culture of innovation. They will feel demotivated to think outside the box or experiment with new ideas, because they will have adopted a scarcity mentality that squelches courage and creativity.

How then can we acknowledge and measure the critical role that perception plays in organisational health?

Introducing the OSP

The Mergon Foundation has developed an organisational self-perception (OSP) scan which identifies 11 dimensions of organisational health. Over time, Werner and the Foundation team have been working through the OSP scan with a number of different ministry leaders to help them determine and evaluate the health of their organisations. 

Leaders need not feel they have to be proficient in all 11 dimensions. Few leaders are excelling in every area of their organisation, Werner reminds us. The most important thing is to be willing to learn and grow and engage with your teams on these various aspects of organisational health. 

‘The most important responsibility of a leader is to lead people,’ Werner concludes , ‘and to see them do well and release energy towards the mission. To achieve that, it’s not about giving tasks but working alongside others to help them make a positive contribution towards a calling.’ The OSP is a practical and valuable tool to help you do just that.

To learn more about organisational health and how your organisation can benefit from the OSP, listen to the full podcast here.

The Elevate Leadership podcast series is also available on all other major podcasting platforms such as Apple, Google, Overcast and YouTube.

* Read more about the the role of perception in organisational health here: ‘Understanding and evaluating perception: the key to unlocking organisational health

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The role of generational purpose in building a prosperous Africa

In this interview summary, Ziwani’s Sibs Sibanda speaks to Nelson Ashitiva about the concept of a God-given multigenerational purpose and the unique role this current generation can play in Africa’s transformation. He addresses the continent’s economic crisis as the number one challenge facing the current generation and inspires us to believe that ‘we can also change our story, our fortunes – and learn from those who have gone before us.’ 

This article is one of many you’ll find in Ziwani’s Knowledge Hub – a growing collection of excellent, Biblically aligned resources that are co-created and contextualised to Africa’s unique contexts. Browse our site, www.ziwani.com, to access these resources and engage with other business leaders by joining an X-Change community. 

The Role Of Generational Purpose In Building A Prosperous Africa

“My business journey is as a result of the generational blessing that was passed on to me by my parents, and to them by their parents,” Nelson Ashitiva states by way of introduction.

“Although my mom and dad were not business people, there were certain aspects of our household that had a business component. My mom was a teacher, and a farmer on the side. She planted cabbages and maize, and supplemented the family income by keeping cows and selling the milk to hospitals and schools. My father was the principal of a school, and very focused on the role that good leadership can play in transforming a school, and a community. So, from my mother’s business acumen, and my father’s leadership traits – I received a blessing.”

Building with the next generation in mind

He strongly believes that there is an urgent need in Africa to establish transgenerational businesses. Quoting Proverbs 13:22, he says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” This doesn’t mean that our children have to work in the family business, but we do need to teach them how to embrace a business culture, so that they can progress beyond us. We need to set up our children, and their children, for success.”

Nelson is passionate about the concept of a God-given generational purpose – that each generation has its own contribution to make, while being connected to a bigger narrative.

He explains, “When you consider God’s relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as with Joseph – you realise that they each had a different role to play. The same when you consider David and Solomon. David wanted to build the temple, but God said to him, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood… Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him’” (1 Chron. 28:3, 6). To ensure that the temple would be “exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all lands,” David still gathered all the required materials and made preparations for it on behalf of his son (1 Chron. 22:5).

Overlaying this generational purpose onto the African context, Nelson points out that “our grandparents played their role in advancing the continent by gaining independence from colonial rule. The result is that our generation doesn’t have to deal with the question of whether or not we are fully-fledged citizens living in a sovereign state – we are enjoying the benefits of their sacrifice.” He continues, “The struggle of our parents’ generation was to gain wider access to better education, and to transform the political environment from despotism to democracy.”

Fulfilling our generational purpose 

Now the important question is, Nelson says, “In Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Morocco – what will our generation be known for? How will we advance the continent? Our grandfathers dreamed of a free Africa, our fathers dreamed of respect for human rights, what is our dream?”

For Nelson, the number one challenge the current generation needs to overcome is Africa’s economic crisis.

He laments, “We lost our ‘best brains’ through slavery, then we lost our ‘best brains’ through despotic rulership – we cannot continue to lose our ‘best brains’ through the lack of economic opportunity.” There is an urgency in his voice. “We have to fulfil our God-given purpose as David did, ‘…for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died’” (Acts 13:36).

“Every generation needs leaders. Africa has natural resources and intellectual property that we can harness – we have something to bring to the table. We can sit together and plan a growth trajectory, similar to what China and the Asian Tigers have done. We have to reimagine Africa as an economically empowered continent,” he asserts.

Since the 1980s, “China has undergone a structural transformation from a rural agricultural country to a more urbanised and service-oriented economy. The wealth of the Chinese population as measured by annual per capita income, has increased more than a hundredfold in both rural and urban areas” (GED). The four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) have achieved high levels of economic growth since the 1960s. “We can also change our story, our fortunes – especially since we can learn from those who have gone before us,” Nelson comments.

Living the faith we preach

Such a transgenerational vision is powerful, and sacrificial – in contrast to modern individualism. Often, we live our own small stories, without reference to a larger story. For many Africans adversity is a daily reality, and adversity can have two outcomes: It can bring us closer together, or it can isolate us from one another. It can show us the value of community, or it can increase our selfishness. When we hear news of African migrants drowning in their attempts to cross over into Europe, do our hearts bleed, or do we simply shrug and carry on with our own lives? Do we care that our neighbours have a roof over their heads, good food on the table, access to quality education and healthcare?

It is important to realise though, that this is not a call to a social gospel, to ‘make this world a better place’. This is what it actually means to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mat. 22:39). Nelson reminds us, “When Jesus spoke to the lady at the well (John 4), he spoke to her first about natural water, before he spoke about eternal water. We demonstrate that we love our neighbours when we empower them to have dignity. It creates the opportunity for a credible gospel to be preached – that we’re not just saying ‘God loves you,’ but we’re demonstrating it in word and deed.”

For example, Nelson is active in the law, structured finance and energy sectors. He states, “As a lawyer, part of my responsibility is to promote economic justice. I want to create a more equitable economic reality, because access to wealth enables families to create a better future. Incidentally, they also make better political decisions, because they’re not simply voting for the person who gave them a handout. And people who are economically empowered are less susceptible to abuse.”

“As an advisor in the energy sector, I keep in mind the major role that affordable and efficient energy plays in stimulating economic growth. But I also consider its environmental impact, for the sake of future generations,” he continues. “As an advisor to corporate companies, I keep in mind ethics and sound business principles.” As a trustee of the Hesabika (meaning ‘stand up and be counted’), he has joined fellow Christian professionals in various industries who are working together to transform Kenya into a more prosperous nation.

Nelson offers this encouragement, “Remember that we are not the first generation to deal with disruption. The current technological disruption doesn’t compare to the cultural disruption that our grandparents had to navigate. We have been taught the foundations of the faith since childhood, and have many advantages they didn’t have. So, believe in the potential of our continent – we can transform Africa into a prosperous place for all.”

This is about how we as Christians engage redemptively in and through our work – to demonstrate the wisdom and glory of God in every sphere of life, and in so doing bring about human flourishing, from generation to generation.

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Building healthy donor relationships

As a leader of an NGO or ministry, why is it always so hard to ask for money? In this Elevate episode we hear from David Denmark, executive director of the Maclellan Foundation, as he gets to the heart of this question by exploring the complexities of financial giving, from both a beneficiary and donor perspective.

Building healthy donor relationships

Giving is a belief issue

When we talk about giving, we often use statements like ‘God owns it all’ – and that’s a true statement, but most of the time when we make that statement, we think about assets. 

Says David, ‘We always think about “stuff”, but the reality of scripture is that what Jesus actually purchased on the cross, was you and me, and our souls. That’s why Jesus has the audacity and the authority to say, ‘what you need to do is love God with your heart, mind, soul, and strength’… that’s pretty comprehensive. He didn’t even mention our assets.’ 

David is of the opinion that giving is a belief issue more than it is a duty or obedience issue. We often think that we have to be good, obedient tithers but giving is way more than that. ‘Whether I give or don’t give is determined by what I believe about my sonship, and the amount that I give is determined by what I believe about my future inheritance,’ he says.

God owns everything about us, so when we think about what we give back to Him and it stops with tithing and assets, we miss the point that we are under His Lordship. If we believe that we are under His Lordship, then we want to give because it’s all His, and we are all His. Regarding what we believe about our future inheritance, if we truly believe that this world is not our home and we’re just passing through, then we’re free to use our money to just be comfortable enough for the relative duration of our stay and we’re free to give the rest away.

Giving is a stewardship issue

On the institutional side, David believes giving is about stewardship. ‘From a Foundation perspective, there are actually two levels of stewardship: the Foundation knows it’s all God’s money and so it needs to be a good steward of it. Then as the human operator of the Foundation or the programme officers working in the Foundation, we have a stewardship responsibility to our stakeholders, which is the board of directors.’

The fact that there is a stewardship responsibility in terms of money on the funder’s side, and a stewardship responsibility in terms of the calling on the ministry’s side, presents an interesting challenge. From the philanthropy side of the transaction, it really is about business and stewardship. On the ministry side it is very often personal, because God gave them the call and it’s their heart and their passion. ‘All that is legitimate and awesome, but it does set up a little bit of a challenge that we have to negotiate together. It’s a very personal thing, interacting with a very business thing,’ explains David.

Why is it so hard to ask for funding? 

Most ministry leaders note that they feel asking for funding shouldn’t be so hard, yet it is often the hardest part of their job. What makes it so hard is the collision of personal and business in a context of a radical perceived power imbalance. It’s almost impossible for a ministry founder to not feel personal about the work and it’s impossible for a hired professional to operate the Foundation and for it not to be about work and business. In the end, both parties need to work on making it less personal and more personal, depending on what side you’re coming from. 

‘If the funder is really clear that this is the Lord’s money and the ministry leader is really clear that this is the Lord’s calling and ministry, then we can talk about things a little bit more objectively,’ says David.

That way, if the ministry gets a yes they don’t become prideful and think it’s all about them, it’s about the work. If they get a no, they don’t get devastated because it’s not about them, it’s about the work and it’s just not in line with where the Lord has called the funder at that specific time. 

A begging mentality imputes God-like power on the giver

David notes that one of the saddest things he has seen time and time again is the all too typical dysfunction that exists when you mix money and ministry which, he says, is because of this collision of personal and business. There’s a lot of other dynamics at play as well and he believes half of the problem is the ministry leaders and half the problem is the funding entity. 

‘Far too often, the ministry leader arrives with their hat in their hand, almost with a begging mentality and they impute onto the giver far too much power. They imply to the giver that they have all the money, so they must have all the answers. Well, the givers are all just fallen, broken men and women just like everyone else,’ explains David. 

There’s a part of this that appeals to our broken nature where we love to be godlike. When a ministry leader makes a statement, like ‘if you don’t fund this project, we can’t go baptise those people’, they impute God-like power on the giver (‘If I give, people go to heaven. If I don’t give, people do not go to heaven’). 

On the funder side, we need to keep our hearts in check and this dynamic of giving needs to be sanctified. If not, the only logical conclusion is either cynicism or arrogance because then we start thinking we do have all the answers because we have all the money. 

‘I always remind myself and my team about the story of Joshua. Just imagine if Joshua came into Maclellan looking for funding. He has a strategy to take the city of Jericho for the Lord by marching around the city seven times, blowing horns, beating pots and screaming. How long would it take me to say ‘get of here…’? 

But that was the Holy Spirit’s strategy. So I think that in the heart of the funder we have to leave room for the mystery of God, or we will become cynics every time,’ says David.

Asking donors to join the mission

Oftentimes donors feel like ATM machines. What if ministry leaders approached potential donors as whole persons who may be called to join the mission, rather than solely as funders upon whose resources we depend? One of the things that we might not realise about those who are managing funding on behalf of the Kingdom of God is that they carry a deep passion for the mission of expanding God’s Kingdom – probably not too differently to a leader that approaches them for funding. It’s deeply honouring for funders to be invited in and to be treated as partners on that. They might have a different function, but they are really integrally connected into the mission. 

Ministry leaders as Kingdom brokers

David advises ministry leaders to pull the funder into a relationship instead of just a transaction and to rather come as brokers, not beggars. If we think about a stock broker who’s selling stock to an investor, he’s not apologetic when he calls to say you need to buy this stock because it will round out your portfolio and it’s a really good investment. If you don’t buy it he’s not offended, he just calls the next person. 

‘Ministry leaders are actually brokers – Kingdom brokers – and the stock they’re selling is the name of their ministry. It’s really a brokerage perspective and mindset, not a begging mindset. It’s all about diversifying the giver’s portfolio and engaging the giver in a sector they may not be involved in,’ David concludes. 

To learn more about building healthy donor relationships, listen to the full podcast here.

The Elevate Leadership podcast series is also available on all other major podcasting platforms such as Apple, Google, Overcast and YouTube.

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Stewarding wealth

The following article was written by Neil Hart, Executive Head of the Mergon Foundation, and published as a guest blog for the African Philanthropy Forum. 

Stewarding wealth

In a world where celebrity appears to be the highest calling, where everyone wants to be a leader or an owner, management is often seen as a second-rate calling. For so many years I felt the same way, focusing my attention on the things that are prized by the world. Stewardship, however, the critically important role that Jesus outlines in several of his teachings (see Luke 12 and Luke 19) is unfamiliar, even unpopular language in today’s world, closer to the idea of management than leadership.

The Bible offers several inspiring illustrations of the meaning of stewardship: in 1 Peter 4:10 a steward is presented as one who is put in charge of the multiple possessions and property of another – one who is highly trustworthy. In the ancient world, this position was not only a great responsibility but a high honour in society. But when it comes to our finances, are we really leaders or stewards?

Those who have much wealth will at some point in time wrestle with the ownership of that wealth. Does it exist for my personal comfort and satisfaction, or is there a greater purpose for all that I have? Am I a steward of what has been entrusted to me, or can I do with this whatever I wish? Psalm 24: 1 teaches us that: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” In essence, God is the Owner of all things and we, His children, are called to care for that which is already His. We have the highest honour of being good stewards of all that is entrusted to us, whether it be children, households, talents, possessions, or wealth.

Any philanthropist or foundation that manages wealth must battle the issue of ownership. It is, in my opinion, the number one stumbling block to the healthy giving of wealth.

Philanthropy then is the management of wealth from the perspective of the steward, not the owner. But what are the principles and paradigms that we keep in mind when we steward wealth for greater purposes than ourselves? Beyond the principle I have outlined above, there are 3 additional paradigms that are of critical importance to good stewardship in philanthropy:

Earth’s resources

Let us begin at the beginning: stewarding our calling as Christians intersects with how we steward the planet’s resources. In Genesis 1, God gives us our original mandate: to co-labour creation with him, to steward the planet, and to use the resources to create heaven’s culture on earth. Genesis 1 and 2 use much stewardship language: being fruitful, filling the good earth, and using its resources to cultivate all that the Creator has entrusted to us. God wants us to use resources wisely. Genesis also uses many languages relating to rulership and reigning. Stewardship has a high calling of reigning over things in a benevolent manner where we create a culture of care and flourishing. Christians can sometimes be the worst of stewards of the earth, believing falsely that heaven is our ultimate home and that there is little need to take care of the earth. Nothing could be further from the truth. How we steward the resources of the earth determines how we are entrusted with the more that comes through our hands. God loves his creation and if it is important to him then it must be important to us.

Power

Philanthropy can do much harm when it is not stewarded in the correct spirit. Money brings with it the double-edged sword of power. When ego is not in check then power is wildly at play. Through pride ‘we devolve from a desire to be great to a desire to be thought of as great; from a desire to serve the weak to a desire to be served by the weak; from a desire to save the world to a desire to have it’ (John Mark Comer, Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human).

Where does this wrestle come from? Galatians 5:17 tells us “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you are not to do whatever you want.” Basically, my soul desires things that are opposed to what the Spirit of God desires for me. Philanthropists must first yield their power to the will of God, working in humility with an attitude that asks ‘how can this money serve those best who need it most?’

At Mergon we have to constantly keep ourselves in check in this area. We distribute several millions every year and walk on the tightrope of power and humility. One of the things we aim to do is distribute finances in a servant-hearted manner. To measure this, we do a survey every year, asking our beneficiaries questions relating to how well we have served them. We present these findings without edit to our Board to keep us accountable.

Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24. This is especially true for those stewards of wealth. The power we carry must be crucified by the cross of Jesus along with everything else.

Legacy

Several years ago, there was a survey done with people over 90 years of age. They were asked one question: if you had your life to live over again, what would you do differently? There were 3 common answers which I find very significant and meaningful to this topic. They were: 1. To love more, 2. To reflect more, and 3. To leave a legacy.

Our only true legacy as those that steward wealth is not how much was given and to how many people, or how many people knew about us. Legacy is only ever about God’s enduring Kingdom. It is, as the disciple John put it, fruit that remains into eternity. Pledge something greater than yourself, greater than your wealth. Something beyond yourself and your own abilities. What can you and your business resources create that is far greater than you? What will outlive you and reverberate into eternal realms? It is simply this: the growing Kingdom of God. As Dallas Willard often said, “The Kingdom of God is the best news on how to live on planet earth”. We have a unique part to play in it. Let us play it well.

We have tried our best at Mergon for over four decades. As we steward our entrusted resources for the sake of His kingdom, God has continually exceeded our expectations – multiplying our resources, relationships, and gratitude, for greater Kingdom impact. Knowing we are the stewards, not the owners, has been the golden thread in the tapestry of our story.

By Neil Hart


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Raising up and releasing leaders

Have you ever wondered about the best ways to empower and release the leaders around you? In this Elevate podcast we hear from Eddie Waxer, founder of the International Sports Movement, about raising and releasing leaders. Eddie is a master at getting leaders and organisations around the world to partner on global evangelism through sports. He has been a friend to top tennis players, soccer players, cricketers, American football players, and many more. Yet, Eddie has always had an approach of being in the background and giving away honour, credits and authority. He epitomises servant leadership and demonstrates how one can raise up and release leaders that will go further than the leaders who empowered them. 

Raising up and releasing leaders

Leading from the back

Leaders who desire to create a movement that advances the gospel need to make a decision: do they want to prioritise themselves, or do they want to prioritise the mission? If it is the mission, then they have to function in a different manner. It requires leaving vast amounts of space ‘at the top’ for those who are leading the movement on the ground. 

Eddie recalls how, over the last 20 years at gatherings, he would always sit at the back. He never introduced the conference speakers, nor was his name in any of the conference material. ‘For nearly 15 years, most of the people had no idea what I looked like, what the colour of my skin was, or how old I was,’ says Eddie. ‘I intentionally tried to make sure that there was nothing between me and anyone else.’ For Eddie, good leadership is about empowering others to go beyond where you have gone. 

It can of course seem tricky, to create a movement on such a large scale. How does a leader structure their day-to-day priorities in order to be accessible to everybody? The reality is that if you are raising up gifted men and women – individuals who are actually more gifted than you – as your leadership mantle will shift to their shoulders over time. People will start seeking their perspective too, because you’ve empowered them to be credible people in their particular sphere of influence. 

It’s all about humility

Humility is much more important than skill when identifying potential leaders, Eddie explains. If a leader isn’t humble, ultimately, when you face a crisis you’ll see division and conflict. You have to have a humble leader whose ego isn’t going to determine how they make decisions. Once humility has been identified, one can look at skill. 

Eddie recalls how he would often spend three years or so observing specific persons. He would notice how they respond when asked to, for example,to go get water for everybody, or to move the chairs and set up the room for the meeting. If they had a negative attitude, showing that they thought such a task was below them,  he would take note. 

‘I realised that that person probably wasn’t the right person to empower. It’s the little things that were important in that identification process. Once it was confirmed that a person had the humility to go along with their remarkable gifts and skills, then began the real empowering process,’ says Eddie.

Such an empowering process takes time because when you’re leading or serving a movement, relationships are hugely vital. Unlike in a corporate context, you don’t just fire and replace the person when a relationship turns sour. ‘In a movement, you have to see each other as an equal, you have to work together and have humble respect for each other for each other’s gifts and talents. That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time on humility,’ says Eddie. 

Why is humility the key ingredient? 

When you’re sitting around the table with 10 or 12 gifted individuals, they’re most likely going to have strong opinions. However intimidating this may sound, you want people with really strong opinions around your table, but at the same time you want them to be humble. 

You need people who can say ‘You’re right, I’m wrong’ – and if you have gifted people who can say ‘I’m wrong’, then you can go a very long way. 

‘I believe the growth God has allowed in the International Sports Movement has been on the basis of humility, not skill,’ says Eddie. 

Giving others centre stage

More often we tend to reserve the centre stage for the most gifted or experienced person in the room. In the process, leadership sometimes seems unattainable and reserved for the select few. 

If we are to raise up a movement of leaders, Eddie says we need to adopt a more inclusive approach. Those who teach devotions shouldn’t necessarily be the white-haired senior theologians, but young leaders in their 20s and 30s who are from developing countries. Those who sing needn’t be the most famous singers who carry the tune perfectly, but rather people who have a heart for worship, and are trusted and known within your community. We need to model the message that  everybody can be up front – not necessarily just the most gifted or charismatic person in the room. These corporate moments where everybody has the opportunity to lead have a great impact on what happens locally, as young leaders return home with greater confidence and vision to serve within their own local communities.   

The importance of trust

Eddie explains that he continually tries to look at the New Testament as a model. ‘I simply can’t imagine the apostles Paul and Peter asking for weekly reports from those that they were mentoring. That is so common these days and it’s a very Western, business way of thinking. I decided that if people were gifted and humble, then I was going to trust them. I was never looking for numbers of how many evangelism appointments someone had or how many Bible studies they led. I’ve always felt that trust is critical,’ says Eddie. 

The emphasis leaders need to keep is discipleship. ‘We often emphasise the wrong things… but emphasising discipleship is what I think the New Testament most models and it’s the reason why the church grew.’

Eddie encourages leaders to be part of the team, not apart from it, where the team brings you recommendations to which you say yes or no. You need to really build the kind of team where you have those people who can do as well as, or better than, you at growing the vision God gave you.

Eddie’s unique view of, and approach to, leadership might be challenging to many leaders. But however challenging, it seems the rewards of leading from the back, keeping humility as a core leadership value, and empowering other leaders to lead in the same way, are clearly evident. 

To learn more about raising up and releasing leaders, listen to the full podcast here.

The Elevate Leadership podcast series is also available on all other major podcasting platforms such as Apple, Google, Overcast and YouTube.

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A season of rebuilding

Dick van der Walt is the Executive Director of the Tala Group. He also serves as the Chairman of Mergon’s Investment Forum and a trustee of the Mergon Foundation. Drawing from a distinguished career in law and the commercial sector, Dick has been instrumental in helping establish Mergon and shape its course, from its earliest years until today.  

A season of rebuilding

Now that the Covid curtain is lifting, leaders are left to navigate a new and unfamiliar terrain of business. For most leaders, it’s a season of rebuilding; for many it’s a time of significant transition that demands a shift in thinking. These are liminal spaces we lead in, where the disorientation of ending one reality and stepping into another requires more than human wisdom alone.

How do we then build sustainable resilience to repeatedly move from disorientation to inspiration?

Scripture is rich in stories of men and women who, in the fog of indecision and uncertainty, found God’s clarifying perspective to navigate their way to sure footing. The book of Zechariah is a good example of that for me.

Here was a nation who had returned from exile and been given an assignment to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. But adversity seemed to await the Israelites’ every move, resources were limited and progress remained slow. Despondency and demotivation kicked in, the mission seemed increasingly unattainable.

Into this context of despair God spoke:

(Zechariah 4:6) ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zurubbabel, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord. (verse 9) ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.’

In Greek the word ‘might’ speaks to, amongst others, financial strength; ‘power’ to individual ability or talent. God is essentially reminding us not to have misplaced confidence in our own ability and resources. The ‘temple’ that God wants to build in us and through our businesses will not be built by human effort alone or accumulated wealth but God working through us, who is ultimately the source of all wisdom and provision.

In these uncertain times, I believe God is encouraging us to lead with a mindset of abundance. It’s a mindset that is often counter-cultural but foundational to the Biblical perspective, rooted in the confidence of God’s all-sufficiency. And I believe this mindset will serve as a compass when building and operating businesses with purpose and hope in these trying and uncertain times.

Building a Temple  

It’s liberating to know, God is specific in His assignments. We do not have to be all things to all people. There’s an assigned lane for each of our organisations, and only when we stay within these parameters can we expect to enjoy God’s supernatural provision. Having an abundance mindset leads us to be discerning and discretionary around our activities and investments, because we understand we’re merely the stewards of these resources.

Zurubbabel had a specific job to do, and he was obedient to do it.

Likewise, our job is not to create a dominating brand or even to necessarily chase after an ever growing balance sheet. Our job is rather to be faithful to the task that God has specifically assigned to us. This kind of conviction should lead us to pray, earnestly, and to approach our work with great humility, knowing that everything is on heavenly loan. We can measure our success independent of corporate benchmarks or capital gains, but ultimately by how often we hear God’s commendation: ‘well done, good and faithful steward’.

Gaining God’s perspective

Zechariah’s prophecy came at a key time in Israel’s history, when the temple project had been on a two-decade hold. Zerubbabel was encouraged to look beyond his own limited perspective, believe God at His word, and take to the task of building God’s temple. As a result of his obedience, the temple was completed – the same temple that Haggai prophesised ‘would be greater than the former’ because Jesus Himself would worship there.

Although Zerubbabel’s temple wasn’t architecturally as splendid as the former, the Lord’s abiding presence is what gave it significance. In our businesses, we want to forge spaces where Jesus can show up, unhindered. Where the lure of prominence, visibility and brand never overtakes our dedication to be stewards of His provision and servant leaders to a broken world.

For God to show up, it means that we must show up too. Zerubbabel could never have known what he was building or whether he would finish what he set out to do. He simply picked up the trough and began the work. When we cannot see the whole picture, an abundance perspective simply helps us to start with the job that God is calling us to. Similarly in our business endeavours, we cannot predict how today’s actions will impact the future. But if we just keep ‘showing up’ – with joy and integrity, faith and perseverance – who knows how our workmanship will host His presence both now and into the future?

Being the lampstand

To be a ‘temple’, our organisations need to position themselves as ‘people focussed’, creating platforms that foster others’ callings to come to the fore and flourish. Then we can be that lampstand in Zechariah 4, giving light to darkened spaces and evidence of God’s sustaining hope.

In our modern context the encouragement and wisdom found in Zechariah 4 reminds me of the love of the Father, whose desire is to meet us in our unique context of a broken world and be our source of hope and provision. It is the backdrop of God’s desire to continue the rebuilding of His temple in us, and work alongside with us, to create places rich in mercy and redemption.

May God grant us all the grace to learn how to live ‘not by might not by power but by My Spirit’ – and may we be faithful stewards of business that, through His abiding presence, can change a broken world

 

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Mertech Marine: a circular economy solution

One of the guiding investment principles within our diverse investment portfolio is to develop the capacity of our businesses to forge long-lasting, positive change and become a vehicle for good. Mergon investee company, Mertech Marine, is one such example. Their innovative model of submarine cable recovery and recycling is offering some unique and interesting solutions for environmental sustainability. In today’s world of ever-increasing demands on our planet’s pressing resources, Mertech Marine is playing its part in the circular economy.

Mertech Marine: a circular economy solution

When we think of the internet, our thoughts tend to ascend upward, to images of cyberspace and satellites. But the reality is, the cloud is under the sea. Across our oceans’ seabed lie a planetary system of undersea cables – an interconnected web of over 1 million kilometres worth of fibre optic pipelines facilitating our global connectivity. Each cable, as thick as a garden hose, carries hundreds of terabits of information per second. These cables comprise a state-of-the-art technological design that sits kilometres deep, relatively undeterred by weather and connecting our continents at the speed of light.

But the system has its vulnerabilities to disruption. Cables break, whether it be from external aggression caused by human activity such as fishing or general abrasion over time. Not only do cables suffer wear and tear – they need to be laid at a breakneck pace to meet the global appetite of our 21st century digital world.

‘To meet the demand for high-speed connectivity, every year thousands of kilometers of brand-new cables are being laid, often crossing existing cables and cable routes. This congestion of cables in some areas increases the risk of a break due to abrasion of one cable on top of another,’ says Alwyn du Plessis, CEO of Mertech Marine. Although these cables occupy a minute amount of space on the vast ocean floor and have been shown to be benign in terms of environmental impact, you can imagine that if you extrapolate that over the next 50-100 years, there will be a lot of cable down there. Taking a holistic view and considering a wide range of factors in each instance such as environmental, sustainability, economical and cable security, clearing up as much of these cables as possible makes a lot of sense.’

Since 2004 Mertech Marine been at the forefront of innovating the recovery and recycling of out-of-service telecommunications cables. Using their own marine fleet, the company has recovered and recycled in excess of 75,000 km of out-of-service cable at their land-based processing facility in South Africa, which comprises 30,000 sqm, the only one of its kind in the world.

Today Mertech Marine is recognised to be a pioneer and world leader in turnkey solutions in submarine cable recovery and recycling, particularly in shore-end projects where cables crisscross and converge as they approach landfall. Mertech Marine is uniquely positioned to safely remove these redundant cables with greater efficiency and affordability by combining these often expensive shallow water projects with deep-sea recovery operations.  

Mertech Marine is also playing its part in the circular economy. 

There’s an incredible opportunity to make a meaningful, large-scale contribution to the green economy here,’ says Alwyn. ‘Although these cables are no longer operable, they should never be seen as waste. They’re packed with raw materials that can be repurposed and circulated back into the economy.’

He explains: ‘Consider the carbon footprint companies leave by conventional mining of virgin plastics, copper and steel, and then manufacturing these materials into marketable commodities. Now consider how much lighter the carbon load could be if these materials could be ‘recovered from the sea’ and regenerated as new, value-add products on the market.’

Through significant investment of its shareholders and years of research and development, Mertech Marine’s unique process of recovery and dismantling these out of services cables, has proven to avoid greenhouse gas emissions when compared to mining virgin material from ore. Their Port Elizabeth facility is ISO14001:2015 accredited and a fundamental part of their mission is to find environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions towards recycling these cables. ‘We not only supply quality components to the copper, polyethylene, steel and aluminium industries all over Africa – we do it in an environmentally sustainable way,’ says Alwyn.

Mertech Marine has found their anchor in world class innovation and sustainable design. It’s a model that Alwyn sees as ‘part of our responsibility as businesses in today’s changing world’.

‘We have to move from linear to circular thinking in our businesses, finding innovative ways to generate value from the resources we already have. The sooner we can make the shift to a circular economy in our businesses, the greater advantage we’ll have in the long run.’

Mertech Marine is an investee company of Mergon. To read more about Mertech Marine visit https://mertechmarine.co.za.

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When worldviews collide – and how the Gospel reconciles

Everybody has a worldview – we may just not know it. Our worldview shapes how we do things and what we value most in this world. But what happens when differing worldviews collide? How can the gospel help us navigate these differences and build bridges of understanding across cultural and spiritual divides?

This was the topic on discussion on Thursday 10 March during Ziwani’s first online ‘At the Lake’ discussion entitled Where worldviews clash in the business environment – and how the Gospel reconciles.

Led by a panel of 4 seasoned entrepreneurs and leaders, the conversation facilitated a range of rich perspectives rooted in biblical understanding and lived experience across sectors and African cultures. Here’s a bird’s eye view of some ‘big ideas’ to big questions that host Rori Tshabalala asked on the day.

When worldviews collide - and how the Gospel reconciles

What would you define as a worldview and how is it different to culture or philosophy or even religion – or are all these just synonyms of one another?

‘’In her book Total Truth,’ said Dr Tongoi, ‘Nancy Pearsey said that every culture has a cultural story of ultimate origins (where do we come from?), the fall (what’s wrong with our world?) and redemption (how do we fix it?) Your answers to those questions inform your culture and largely, your worldview. Everybody has a worldview, but not everybody’s aware they have a worldview. You’re only aware of it when you go into a different culture and it’s challenged.’

‘Is the business environment an appropriate place for people to bring their worldviews into?’

‘We carry our worldviews everywhere we go’, said Adelaide Cupido, ‘whether we speak about it or not. The key is in humanising the workplace, so that people can come as ‘their whole selves’. We’re more often expected to come with our heads to work and park our hearts at the door. This separation is artificial and will inevitably trap creativity and impact performance. When we isolate the head from the heart we don’t connect with God or our creativity.
The challenge, she said, was to create a ‘safe and brave space’ for robust dialogue, where different viewpoints can be expressed without fear of judgment. Irreconcilable conflict arises, Adelaide pointed out, when we don’t prioritise these discussions and allocate time and space to hear one another’s stories and perspectives. Silence is more dangerous than disagreement – ‘when we don’t talk about our differences, we create the fertile ground for conflict to take place,’ she added.

‘Is it necessarily a bad thing for worldviews to clash in the marketplace?’

‘Clashing is not necessarily wrong,’ replied Dr Tongoi. ‘Group think is in fact worse because it creates redundancy. Our purpose as Christians in the marketplace is not to avoid clashes but to find a common language where we can discuss our differences.’ Through scripture, God gives us a universal moral framework that connects our humanity across cultures and provides that common language we seek.

Take bribery as an example, Dr Tongoi continued. In the African worldview this commonplace practice is regarded as not only acceptable but honouring – the ultimate act of sacrifice. Within the biblical worldview, however, bribery implies a fundamental lack of trust in God as your ultimate source and provider. ‘But when we unpack the Proverbs that speak of there being ‘one road that leads to life, and the other to death and foolishness’…then the conversation becomes easy. If we pay this bribe, what will be the consequences of our actions? Will this act lead to life, growth and flourishing – or will it lead to death and diminishing? Does it add life, or is it just a quick fix solution? 

The answer to this question is more often the latter: a quick fix solution with diminishing returns. Because God hardwired us for hope and flourishing, he added, most people will forego the bribe and choose the way of trust– not necessarily because they have subscribed to your faith, but because they see the reasoning in your biblical worldview. In this way, your faith has built a bridge of understanding towards a more redemptive, life-giving societal solution.

In the business environment what needs to change for us to live out our Christian based worldview in a manner that is inspirational and not coercive?

In John’s gospel Jesus incarnated His words – before He preached something, He demonstrated it, Dr Tongoi noted. He raised Lazarus and said that ‘I’m the resurrection’, He fed the 5000 and said, ‘I’m the bread of life’, He gave the woman at the well water and said, ‘I am the living water.’ ‘We have turned that order around – we start preaching before doing,’ he said. ‘But we are called in the marketplace to live out the message firstly, and explain it as people watch our lives.’

Rodger Schmidt added to this idea – noting that inspirational leadership is not automatic but requires a willingness to unlearn and remain humble. ‘I often tell people, I came to Africa to save Africa, but God sent me to Africa to save. When I came from America to Mozambique over 20 years ago, I came with power and all the answers. I was not quick to hear and slow to speak, I was not slow to anger. I realised over the years how much I had to learn from those around me.I’ve come to appreciate the reciprocity of knowledge in our diversity of cultures and worldviews. I’m grateful for my African family and for what they have taught me, and for how they continue to hold me accountable for truth.’

To watch the event in full, click here. 

To stay informed on future ‘At the Lake’ events, follow ziwani_community on Instagram or visit www.ziwani.com.

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