Embrace work as a calling

business and justice

A Mergon initiative, Ziwani is a platform for business leaders to share inspiring stories and innovative local resources while equipping one another for Kingdom impact. Their latest series, Business & Justice, highlights the redemptive role that business can play in bringing about social justiceThrough podcasts and accompanying articles as well as a downloadable guide, this practical series explores how businesses can drive economic growth whilst seeing Africa’s people grow and flourish. 

This article is an overview of the first episode in which Ziwani’s Sibs Sibanda speaks to Sammy Rabolele, co-founder of the Beyond The Eyes Network. Beyond The Eyes helps organisations tell their stories to stakeholders and broader communities  in a way that inspires faith and changes relationships for the better. Below are extracts of this interview and rich conversation on the powerful role of storytelling in promoting justice in Africa, and an invitation to listen to the full podcast.

The marketplace as full-time ministry

Many Christians struggle to see the relevance of their daily work to the kingdom of God – sometimes even thinking they should quit and go into ‘full-time ministry’ if they really want to ‘serve the kingdom’. Sammy’s journey, however, has been the opposite – he worked as a missionary on campus before going into media and entertainment.

‘So you started in ministry and then went into business?’ Sibs enquires. ‘To some this might seem like going from a noble calling to just a regular job – how did you process this move in a theological sense? In what ways do you see yourself as still serving God in and through your work?’

‘Actually, working in so-called full-time ministry on a university campus gave me a clear view of what it means to have a marketplace calling,’ Sammy explains. ‘Most of our efforts were focused on preparing young believers for their careers. The frontlines were in the hearts and minds of these students – who had to figure out what it means to love God and love people in and through their Monday-to-Friday work life.’

Sammy quotes John 17:15–18, stating that Jesus’ prayer still applies to every believer: ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it… As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.’’

Seeking out the stories that inspire hope

Motivated by this conviction and a love for storytelling, Sammy co-founded Beyond the Eyes Network – an independent media network showcasing compelling and positive on-demand content. ‘Through my work, we have the freedom to intentionally tell the stories that reveal a divine Creator at work in the world’. These are stories of artists and entrepreneurs, creatives and athletes, who have overcome great odds and forged new paths of opportunity and ingenuity in their local sectors and communities. ‘The goal of our platform is to inspire people to look for beauty beyond their immediate circumstances, and find courage and purpose for the future,’ says Sammy.

He continues, ‘We are always on the lookout for entrepreneurs who are doing well, for people who are doing amazing things in their communities, and whose stories deserve to be told. These don’t need to be overtly evangelical – they can simply be wholesome stories of courage and hope. We love producing stories that show how the actions of one person can have a big impact. For example, a teacher who sacrificially turns around the lives of learners at a school. In every human story, we can find evidence of the divine in the mundane.’

He insists that they don’t, however, ‘sanitise’ stories to fit a superficially religious narrative. ‘Life is messy, and we want to tell real stories in an authentic way. Many stories in the Bible are difficult to tell, for example David committing adultery and murder, and then having to flee from his own son. We might cringe, but God doesn’t sanitise it.’

And although Sammy is passionate about media and the creative opportunities it affords, he affirms that we are all uniquely positioned to develop some aspect of creation for God’s glory, and for the flourishing of society. Says Sammy, ‘Regardless of the industry we’re in, all believers can have a deep-rooted conviction that their work is an act of worship, and that it is for the common good – then we can all live out Paul’s encouragement to do whatever we do for the sake of Jesus, while giving thanks to the Father (Col. 3:17).’

The powerful role of storytelling to promote justice

Pondering the benefits of positive storytelling, Sibs goes on to ask, ‘To what extent do you think the local film industry has engaged with issues of injustice?’ He explains, ‘I am not referring to documentaries about under-privileged communities that expose the problem or allocate blame. I’m referring to narratives that would actually stir those who watch it, to think about what redemption might look like. We need stories that not only make people aware of the problems, but spark their imagination to get involved,’ he states.

Sammy agrees, ‘The truth is that we have a long way to go, but that is exactly where we need to focus our storytelling resources. In South Africa, we mainly consume American content that champions their narratives. Other regions, like India, create a lot of content that deliberately engage issues facing their society, for example, the perceived shift in roles played by men and women in family life. Why don’t we tell more of our own stories? I’m a Tswana, and our word for neighbour is moahisane, which means ‘a fellow builder’. Simply by virtue of my language, I understand that my neighbour isn’t simply the person living next to me – we are fellow builders of our community. This is such a rich worldview that could really bless others.’

Sammy concludes, ‘So although justice is a very difficult topic to engage, it is at the very heart of God. Without sanitising the stories, we need to present a picture of what justice could look like, and offer hope for the future.’ This is the opportunity, and the challenge, that storytelling affords.

Click here to listen to the episode.

To learn more about the Business & Justice series, and to download the Guide, click here.

Laying a strong foundation

Over the years, we have received many requests from people wanting to learn more about Mergon and the values that make us who we are. To bring expression to our story, we have created the Mergon Journey podcast – a 10 episode series that delves into our history and faith journey as investment entrepreneurs, including some of the challenges we have faced and valuable lessons we have learned along the way.

In this episode of the Mergon podcast series, CEO and host, Pieter Faure, joins COO Gauché Radley and Mergon director, Almero Strauss. Together, they take a trip down memory lane and discuss Mergon’s early days, including their experiences working with the company’s founder, Francois van Niekerk. Through storytelling and candid reflection, they share on some of the values that were ingrained in Mergon’s organisational culture from the beginning and how they still steer the company today.

Mergon’s founding story

Pieter kicked off the conversation by taking us back to Mergon’s founding story in 1980. Francois van Niekerk was a 40-year-old senior manager in a large South African corporation, with a well-established career. Increasingly disillusioned with the corporate politics, Francois decided to leave the company and start his own technology business. After nine months, cashflow was drying up and the business was on the brink of collapse. It was during this time, under a Jacaranda tree, that Francois prayed to God for a breakthrough and promised to give 30% of his business to the Kingdom if rescued. Despite that 30% of a bankrupt business is not worth much, God answered his prayer, and a door was opened.

Gauché reflected on the significance of this event: ‘We have all experienced that kind of desperation at times – when there’s nowhere else to go but to God. I think God honoured Francois’ vulnerability. Francois soon realised that it was not about the promise he made to God, but the fact that he surrendered all that he had to Him. It’s that kind of ‘posture of surrender’ that laid the foundation for all that we stand for at Mergon.’

Taking ourselves out of the centre

By 2008, Mergon had grown considerably in both scale and impact, and Francois and the board of trustees made the decision to appoint a new generation of leaders to take the helm and steer Mergon towards its next phase of growth and influence. With Pieter as the newly appointed CEO, Almero also joined the team.

Almero recalls, ‘I came from a consulting background, working with large global companies. In this environment it was all about your abilities and achievements – people were often boasting about what they had done and how they contributed to the success of the company. Then I walked into Mergon. Despite achieving above-market returns, nobody wanted to boast about Mergon’s success. Francois attributed it all to God’s unmerited grace, not our own efforts. It was such a completely different way of seeing business and your role in it.’ 

Stewarding God’s resources

Almero added to this idea, recognising that Francois’ ‘revelation of who the true Owner is’ allowed him to view the business from a unique perspective. ‘From the beginning he saw himself as a steward, to manage that which God had entrusted to him. It took me a long time to get my head around this idea,’ said Almero, ‘and to eventually get my heart around it. It was a complete mindshift for me. I came to understand that we were not ‘giving money away’ at Mergon – this money was never ours in the first place. We were rather asking ‘God, how do you want to deploy these resources that are yours and meant to be used for your Kingdom?’

This notion of stewardship has been the golden thread to pull through Mergon’s history over the past four decades. It has shaped how we make decisions, where we invest, and why we view partnerships as a priority in God’s Kingdom. Almero added that a stewardship mindset has also enabled us to hold realities in tension over the years. ‘You can keep a high standard of excellence but make space for others to learn and make mistakes,’ he explained. ‘You can be uncompromising on certain principles and yet open to be challenged in your thinking.’

Letting others lead

Stewardship also extends to the influence and power that tend to go hand in hand with managing capital. Pieter explained how Francois was intentional about laying this power down and ‘creating an environment where we all could engage on an equal footing – in spite of Francois’ evident seniority and experience at that time’.

Gauché reiterated this idea, recalling his earliest memory on the job: ‘I remember walking into Mergon’s offices and seeing a framed Financial Mail article with Francois and Atterbury CEO, Louis van der Watt, on the wall. The title of the article was ‘Dare to Share’ – which I think encapsulates the heart of our founder and organisational culture still today.’

He explained, ‘Francois always made room for people in the business. When we started in 2008, we were a young team – but we received so much space to learn, risk and grow. This has repeatedly been the case in all the companies that Mergon has built up over the years -from Atterbury to Infotech to Pieter becoming CEO at Mergon at the age of thirty. Francois modeled a leadership that didn’t hold onto the power that comes with being an entrepreneur – he got out of the way to let others step in and lead.’

Embracing an entrepreneurial spirit

It took a certain level of courage to let go of the reins and entrust others with Mergon’s future. But courage, Pieter said, has always been integral to Mergon’s DNA, as reflected in the entrepreneurial culture Francois and the team have continually put into the foundation of Mergon.

It was this courage that motivated the leadership and board in 2008 to take the significant balance sheet they had built up and forego the path of capital preservation. Instead, they chose to embrace a truly entrepreneurial spirit, focussing on growing the portfolio and building businesses.

Almero reflected on the significance of this decision. He shared, ‘I don’t think we realised the consequences of that decision. It presented us with an opportunity to be truly entrepreneurial – the same opportunity we challenge ourselves to have today.’  He continued, ‘That decision opened up so many opportunities for Mergon to remain active in the business world and have a credible voice in the marketplace, walking with entrepreneurs – sharing our lives and living out our values alongside them.

So much of what was instilled in Mergon over 40 years ago, still lives on in the organisation today. Principles of prayer, generosity, partnership and excellence in stewardship. ‘I’m incredibly thankful to know that this story is multigenerational,’ concluded Pieter. ‘Key principles that shaped Francois’ legacy, still shape Mergon today.’

To learn more about the early years of Our Mergon Journey, listen to the full podcast here.

The Magnificent Exit – a look at leadership transitions

At some point or another, every leader goes through a leadership transition: a handoff from one senior leader to an upcoming leader or team. This is a critical moment for any organisation, which can either erode momentum or catapult an organisation into its next season of growth.

In his new book, The Magnificent Exit: Mastering the Art of Leadership Transitions, Mergon Foundation’s Neil Hart delves into the traits of exceptional leadership and successful leadership transitions, looking to Jesus, the master leader, as the ultimate example.

Having time studying Jesus’ methods and techniques for raising up leaders, and drawing from the collective wisdom of diverse leaders, he brings us seven insights into what he believes to be ‘Christ’s pattern for us to follow’. Here is an overview of the chapter entitled ‘How to raise leaders’.

Belong

‘Jesus called his disciples to a connected lifestyle,’ writes Neil. ‘He asked them to belong before he asked them to believe. “Follow me” wasn’t a statement of faith as much as it was a statement of family. Jesus’ first step in developing his leaders was cultivating belonging.’

He notes that although character is critical in leadership selection, there are many characteristics that do not tend to emerge in the normal settings of our modern-day working life. ‘For example, you may never see how someone treats their spouse or children. You may never know how they live out their faith or what they delight in when they’re running free. Prioritising quality time outside of a work setting is therefore essential to know and grow leaders.’ He encourages leaders to ask themselves, what characteristics do I look for in new leaders? What would have me trust someone implicitly?

Envision

‘Nobody follows you through the darkness unless they believe that light will eventually break through,’ writes Neil. ‘The first step to raising a leader is not to give them your vision but to fill them with a vision to which their heart can respond. If you’re trying to convince people to serve your vision, then your vision is either too small or doesn’t need another person to serve it. If your vision plays an important part in the coming of the kingdom, then others will already be prepared for it. When you cast that vision, you should see people’s eyes sparkle as they recognise that this is why they were born. This is the first step in raising a leader,’ says Neil, ‘and Jesus demonstrated it.’

Affirm

Jesus showed us that encouragement, above all, yields the best results. But, Neil notes, there’s a stark difference between flattery and encouragement: ‘Flattery is excessive or insincere praise that will most likely be used to further someone’s own interest. Encouragement, on the other hand, is not always easy. It requires us to cultivate an eye for seeing what God has placed in people and then calling that to the surface, repeatedly and tenderly.’

Jesus taught us to appreciate and nurture the power of diversity: ‘Have you thought about how diverse his team was?: Fishermen, a freedom fighter, a tax collector—each bringing an authentic expression of who they were.’ Neil reminds us that Jesus worked with these differences and shaped them to create true leaders who would eventually be martyred for that vision. He adds, ‘They learned who they were through affirmation. They connected hearts because they knew they were seen, really seen.’

Test

‘Scripture is filled with the tests God has provided—never to fail, but to strengthen,’ he writes. ‘Abraham was tested with faithfulness to trust God. This happened through many circumstances: a delayed promise, the offering of Isaac, foreigners, Lot, a beautiful wife, and the spoils of war. Joseph was tested with greatness. This happened through dreams, favouritism, slavery, prison, lustful temptations, and eventually facing his family. The list is long,’ Neil says, ‘but the point is clear: Test those leaders with whom you want to work. Test them repeatedly so that they can be shaped by the hand of God in all these circumstances. This was Jesus’ technique for separating the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’

Correct and commission

Traditional testing methods only offer two outcomes – success or failure. But Neil suggests that Jesus taught a crucial lesson beyond the test: ‘Jesus showed us that failure is not final; it is an active ingredient in our development. If we try and minimise failure, then we fail as leaders to develop people thoroughly,’ he writes. ‘We must commission our potential future leaders with work even if there’s further failure to come. When we commission up-and-coming leaders and allow them to make mistakes, we create perfect opportunities to correct them in a loving way. They will make mistakes, either then or at a later stage when the stakes will probably be much higher and the consequences far worse.’

Release

‘It’s not enough to raise leaders. We must release them,’ he writes. ‘The generosity of senior leaders is seen in how open their hands are with those they raise. Will they direct them only toward their agenda or that of the kingdom?’

Neil recalls the account of Luke 9, where Jesus sent out his commissioned disciples without cloaks or money. Then in Luke 10 he instructed them to take a moneybag and knapsack. The difference in each scenario, he notes, is that they needed to be equipped differently. ‘Of course,’ he writes, ‘the key factor for their equipping is the Holy Spirit (“Wait until you are clothed with power from on high”). Likewise, we must ensure that we don’t release leaders without proper equipping. Whether we minister the infilling of the Holy Spirit or provide finances or teams and so on, we must send them with the very best of whatever they need to succeed.’

Leave

‘When your time comes, how will you leave?’ Neil asks. ‘How will you create enough space for the next generation of leaders to thrive?’ Neil notes that so many leaders struggle to let go in fear that the next leader or leadership team will fail or do things differently.

Jesus, on the other hand, suggests that leaving is essential, and good leaders plan well for their exit:

Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

‘Here, Jesus makes it clear that these rough-hewn humans, these fishermen and zealots and tax collectors, would be able to be all that he called them to be—and now much more because of the Holy Spirit. He knew they would lead out of their authentic and unique personalities like Peter did, imperfect but passionate. Complete leaders plan to leave while they’re still leading. They do it well, and they do it with joy.’

If you would like to read  more about raising up leaders and mastering the art of leadership transitions, order your copy here.

The Magnificent Exit: Mastering the Art of Leadership Transitions is available on christianbooks.com and amazon.com as well as all major Christian bookstores in the United States.

Work-life wholeness: How business leaders tackle the challenge

At any given time, there are so many facets of our lives needing attention that knowing where to invest our energy and time is often easier said than done. This is especially true of business people who are passionate about living out their faith in the marketplace and willing to make personal sacrifices along the way. Most entrepreneurs struggle to strike a healthy balance between working long hoursrunning a household, investing in friends and family, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And yet God has called us to work from a place of rest and flourishing. How do we remain whole-hearted and steward these different facets of our lives well?

This was the topic at hand during Ziwani’s latest ‘At the Lake’ on 2 November. We were joined by a panel of seasoned entrepreneurs including Mergon director, Almero Strauss, Abella Bateyunga (founder, Tanzania Bora Initiative), Jacob Zikusooka (regional director, Transformational Business Network), and Phillipa Geard (founder, RecruitMyMom). Here are some highlights from the conversation.

Knowing your season

‘There’s a difference between seeking a work-life balance and seeking wholeness’, Phillipa said. ‘In fact’, she added, ‘I don’t actually believe there’s such a thing as a work-life balance. Balance implies equilibrium at all times. For any one of us who are parents or who hold down multiple roles, it’s almost impossible to keep each one of those elements in perfect balance. I am rather a big proponent of work-life integration. God has given us multiple talents, and these talents can integrate into a beautiful picture of who we are created to be if we don’t strive for perfect balance.’

Jacob reflected on this idea: ‘It’s important that we think of our lives in terms of seasons. In every season of life, we need to be intentional around the question, ‘God, what are you calling me to do or become at this point in time? Where will I have the most impact?’ There are seasons when you need to focus on family, and seasons when your career can take more centre stage. Knowing where to focus will help you step back from other areas. It may feel like God’s pruning at the time, but it will lead to growth and greater clarity around your calling.’ 

Almero noted that pruning has benefits beyond our own personal growth. ‘It’s not just good for the tree being pruned,’ he explained, ‘it’s good for the trees around it. When you cut back, you create more space and sun for other surrounding trees. We always put the emphasis on growing, but what if God wants to make something ‘smaller’ in our lives so that other people can step into those spaces?’

Setting healthy boundaries

It’s a privilege to be passionate about what you do, especially when there’s a great sense of purpose and calling involved. There’s no deeper reward than seeing others grow and flourish – whether through parenting, mentoring, or building successful businesses aligned to biblical principles. Like any good thing, however, our uptake can become our downfall if we lack healthy rhythms and rest to safeguard our lives.

Boundaries are necessary, Abella reiterated. ‘Even compassion – a gift from God – can start to harm you over time if it’s in excess. You quickly move from joy to resentment when you have compassion fatigue. Investing in meaningful relationships will help you create healthy boundaries – friends who can hold you accountable and keep you from burnout.’

Rest and exercise are important, along with a powerful word called ‘no’, the panelists agreed, which guards us from having a saviour mentality and thinking we can be everything to everyone. Almero also recommended using the ’80-20 principle’ to make good decisions that can architect a sustainable lifestyle. He explained, ‘This idea suggests that 20% of the things you do are going to make 80% of the difference – the other 80% is going to make only 20% of a difference. Rather than trying to get everything done, focus on the 20% that will make the most difference in your day.’

Establishing trust

Having established the importance of pursuing work-life wholeness in our own lives, Almero asked the question: ‘So how do our businesses facilitate this kind of ‘wholeness’ for our employees?’

First and foremost, Abella explained, it’s about cultivating a culture that celebrates creativity and nurtures personal growth. ‘We need to be effective and productive, but there should be some ‘play’ involved, and license to ‘tamper’ with ideas to build new, meaningful projects. In our company, we encourage entrepreneurship – meaning that if you have a vision or idea that fits within the vision, bring it in. Let’s see how we can support you in turning that idea into a product or service. In this way, we welcome failure – we make a point of celebrating it – because it’s how we learn.’

Jacob added to this point: ‘One of my biggest revelations is realising that I don’t have to be everything in my job. In certain areas there are other people who are much better than I am. You need to find people who are complementary in their skills and personalities and team up with them. Micromanaging erodes trust. On the other hand, when you release control and trust the team, it’s amazing to see the diversity of ideas and richness of the experience that everyone brings to the table.’

Embracing flexibility

But of course, the organisation’s culture is only as strong as the systems that uphold it. As the founder of RecruitMyMom, a recruitment agency that focuses on women in the workplace, Phillipa shared on the importance of building flexibility into your HR systems and KPIs. ‘We measure on output – something that I think is a key insight for any business owner today,’ she explained. ‘My staff work from home and they know what they’re being measured on. If they need to go and watch a soccer match or their child needs to go to a doctor, that’s okay because they know that they can build it in around their work schedule.’

‘The days of being a stay-at-home mom are fast disappearing’, she said. ‘Providing flexible work hours can help ease the burden and nurture a work-life integration.’

In closing, Phillipa reminded us that systems alone cannot create wholeness – at the end of the day it’s only God who can make us whole. ‘If we want to become more like Him, that responsibility – and privilege – resides with us.’

To watch the full event, click here.

Visit www.ziwani.com to learn more about past At the Lake events.

5 Principles for Achieving a Multi-generational Impact

In this summary interview, author and CEO of Bizconnect Africa, Nissi Ekpott, speaks with Ziwani’s Sibs Sibanda about the role that businesses can play in transforming societies. Believing that sharing knowledge and skills is one of the best ways to achieve multi-generational impact, he shares 5 principles that provide practical encouragement and timely reminders of the call to bring social justice in and through business.

 Politics and governments have their roles to play in transforming society, but business can impact people and communities every day, for generations to come. Bringing ‘social justice’ through business is not about everyone obtaining a PhD degree, or everyone becoming a billionaire – it is about using the tools of the marketplace to enable people to become self-sufficient. Social justice, in this sense, is about empowering people to become who God intended them to be.

Building a more just society should be an integral part of our everyday existence – it shouldn’t be separate from our day-to-day business operations. We are always transacting with others through our business and daily life, and in this we should follow Jesus’ example. He did not wait for a specific time to execute justice – it was woven into multiple opportunities in His day. It is therefore important to ensure that wealth is not being built on one side alone, but also on the side of those who work for you, clean for you, or take you to the airport. As Proverbs 27:23 says, “know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds”.

Your business can shift the trajectory of your industry from historic exploitation to real transformation – because business has the financial muscle, capability, and liberty to choose its own objectives and deliverables. Which means that you can choose to invest in just one person. Imagine if you invested in the ‘apostle Paul’ of your industry, what transformation that one person will have, generations from now.

But this shift can only come when we are intentional and passionate about bringing justice through business. At Bizconnect Africa we do business to create wealth – we are not a non-profit organisation. But we work hard to ensure that as we create wealth, those who transact with us benefit as well. For example, since we are in property development and work in semi-rural communities, our policies stipulate that a certain percentage of people we work with must be from those communities, and that a certain percentage of these people must be trained from scratch.

But having policies do not make it easy in practice. Once, we spent months training 70 young people, and on the day they qualified, they formed a union and demanded an unrealistic wage increase. We lost all of them from our employment in one day. It felt like all our hard work had been flushed down the drain, and was disheartening to say the least.

So this business model has its challenges, but we also reap the rewards. Some of the people we trained are now the best builders in their respective regions, which has enabled our business to be more profitable. Justice and business can go hand-in-hand – they do not have to be held separately. It benefits the local community with skills, training, and employment, all the while making good business sense.

When you decide to become a justice-bringer in and through business, you will face many challenges. These principles have guided and helped us to keep going over the long term:

  1. Do it with the right heart

Don’t try sharing your knowledge or strengthening others to score points or tick a compliance box. Do it because you truly believe that this will transform society.

  1. Do what you are passionate about

Find what you are passionate about and do that, rather than pretending to do what is trending or popular at the time.

  1. Rely on God, and keep trying

Be empowered by His strength because there will come a time when you are misunderstood, discouraged, and deflated. Rather, remember that “it is not by strength that one prevails” (1 Samuel 2:9). If you have been burned – find healing, and try again.

  1. Remember you are a nation builder, for the future

Keep sowing the seed and invest in people deliberately without getting discouraged, even when those that you train take their knowledge elsewhere. Look three generations ahead and act today.

  1. Understand that you cannot score 100%

Everyone has a history. You will not be able to overcome all the historic challenges faced by the communities you work with. Rather take the retail perspective of aiming to translate just 5% of passing foot traffic into sales. Let 5% or 10% be a win for you, and remember that these small gains increase over time, to have greater impact down the line.

To illustrate the above, I’d like to tell a powerful story. When my father was a young man, someone chose to sponsor the education of just three people from his village. Out of thousands in the community, only my father and two others were empowered to study. All three men went on to excel in their own lives, and years later, my father returned to his village to start a school. It was the community’s first school. In the beginning, he may have only achieved a 5% attendance, but those 5% grew up and they sent their own children to school too. Forty years later, there are now three schools in the village and the literacy rate is 100%. You will not find an illiterate person in the community because of the catalytic actions of one person reaching three, and those three going on to reach many more.

Never underestimate what reaching just one person can do!

It is not easy to stretch your thinking to look and dream beyond your own projects or knowledge-sharing trials. It takes time and maturity to start thinking multi-generationally. But this call to carry business and justice together, and to share your knowledge and skills for the benefit of others – is an opportunity to rise to the occasion and leverage your business influence to build a better world for all.

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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