Disruption: resetting the now and gearing up for the next


Focusing on the theme of ‘Light in the Tunnel’, Nation Builder’s 7th Annual In Good Company conference brought together business leaders, social innovation experts and impact investment thinkers.

Within the lineup of thought-provoking speakers was CEO of The Strategists, Abdullah Verachia. In his talk entitled ‘Disruption: Resetting the now and gearing up for the next’, Abdullah gave his perspective on how to identify opportunities and capitalise on innovation in the midst of deep disruption.   

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused disruption across the world. ‘This new canvas is very different to the one we were accustomed to, so we need a new combination of colours to be able to paint on this canvas, as well as a new set of skills as painters,’ said Abdullah Verachia at the 7th Annual In Good Company Conference.

He explained that the canvas symbolises the external environment, in other words that which is happening politically, economically, socially, digitally and environmentally; while the colours symbolise the choices we make. ‘We have moved into a disruptive, digital world, underpinned by rapid shifts in every facet of society, and our choices will determine how we will emerge,’ he explained.

Three ways of thinking

His view is that amid the global, rapid adoption of digitisation and automation, organisations need to embrace three ways of thinking: First, iterative thinking, which refers to doing the same things better; secondly, innovative thinking, which refers to doing new things; and thirdly, disruptive thinking, which refers to doing new things which make the old things obsolete. By way of illustration, Abdullah highlighted disruptive trends in two sectors: commercial property and health care.

The commercial property sector has experienced disruptions which will have a long term impact:

1. The adoption of remote and hybrid working conditions necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic has caused organisations to downsize their office space, leading to a vast oversupply in this market. The reduced demand for office and/or manufacturing space has been exacerbated by the high number of business closures.

2. The investment potential of properties in the tourism industry has changed significantly. Tourism itself has been restricted due to various lockdowns, and the need for regular business travel has declined due to the increased acceptance of virtual meetings. This has had a negative effect on hotels, conference centres and leisure spaces, especially in urban centres.

3. There has been a tremendous growth in digital retail, and fewer and fewer people still opt for utilising physical retail spaces.

The changing nature of the health care sector can be seen in three major trends:

1. The first is the rise of ‘wellness’. Governments, health care professionals and the public are realising that they need to emphasise proactive, preventative health care, rather than rely on reactive health care.

2. The second is the growing importance of analytics as an enabler for making decisions. For example, the pandemic has proved the value of geolocation mapping and identifying big data trends. The key, however, is the ability to translate analytics into insights, and to then implement decisions based on the insights.

3. The third is the push towards universal health care. The current situation where 83% of South Africans are reliant on an overburdened public health care system is unsustainable, and there is a growing need for providing more equitable access to health care services.

In context of the above, how should we respond as organisations?

Four ways of expressing organisational culture

Abdullah argued that we should apply the three types of thinking to our organisational culture. He referenced the Denison Culture Model, which states that organisational culture is expressed in four ways:

1. Mission – Do we know where we’re going?
2. Consistency – Does our system align with our mission, and create leverage to get us there?
3. Involvement – Are our people aligned and engaged?
4. Adaptability – Are we listening to the marketplace, and do we have the ability to proactively adapt?

Looking at these four elements of culture through the three lenses of iterative, innovative and disruptive thinking, can reveal opportunities to take advantage of new trends and developments in any sector.

‘Strategy is as much about what we are going to do, as about what we are going to stop doing. Organisations don’t have unlimited resources. We need to ask the hard questions, and make the tough decisions,’ he said. ‘We focus so much on generating returns on assets and capital, but we don’t consider generating a return on time, which is our most valuable currency. We need to start thinking about where we spend our time, versus where we aspire to spend our time. And then we need to decide what we are going to start doing, do differently, or stop doing completely, in order to get us there,’ concluded Abdullah.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Data-driven decision-making drives greater social impact


By Keri-Leigh Paschal

Traditionally, non-profit organisations (NPOs) have measured their performance in terms of how many rands they raised, how many they spent, and how many people they helped along the way. Today however, South Africa’s NPOs are having to change the way they measure the impact of their work to secure their futures – and those of the people who depend on them.

Measuring social impact is critical for a number of reasons, not least of which is the need to secure continued funding at a time when donors are cutting back on their spending, and social needs have escalated. Good measurement also identifies initiatives that are not performing at their best, so the necessary changes can be made to ensure that every rand has the biggest impact possible.

Measuring and evaluating actual social impact

But how do NPOs assess something like social change? What metrics does one use to measure and evaluate actual social impact, especially where every organisation’s work and outcomes are different? It’s a major challenge, but it’s one that the entire sector is having to confront as they look to not only make a greater impact, but to demonstrate that impact in a way that donors can be assured that their resources are having a meaningful effect.

If we define social impact as the effect that your actions have on people, communities and broader society, measuring that impact starts with having a clear understanding of what you, as a funder or NPO, want to achieve. What are the outcomes that you want to see? What kind of inputs are needed to achieve that goal? This type of clear thought process is critical to ensuring that every investment is not only secured, but then goes as far as possible.

Many NPOs fall into the trap of trying to be everything to everybody. In the process, they spread themselves too fine and their impact is diluted or lost. By having a laser focus on who you are and what you should be, you will know what you need to measure. And that doesn’t mean measuring the number of meals given out: the real impact comes through demonstrating whether the recipients have gained weight, are healthier, and have better cognitive abilities, for example.

Data that matters: introducing OVCmeasure

To do this, it’s important to produce data that matters, and that includes the voices of the people who are impacted. This data must be actionable by the NPOs doing the work, and provide insights and guidance for the funders who support that work.

A great example of this is OVCmeasure, a measuring and evaluation application developed for orphaned and vulnerable children care organisations. OVCmeasure talks specifically about moving beyond counting the number of children it serves, to quantifying the change it is effecting in their lives.

OVCmeasure measures the well-being of beneficiaries, based on the Child Status Index (CSI) used by UNICEF. The data gathered, through questionnaires and notes, is then aggregated and interpreted to support decision making, specifically in terms of resource allocation, programmes and interventions.

OVCmeasure’s CEO, Meyer Conradie, describes social impact measurement as ‘a marriage between science and real life, using hard science and the hearts of employees together to ensure a true and lasting impact’. That’s the perfect description of social impact measurement – and it’s one that we’d certainly like to see adopted more broadly across the NPO sector.

Right now, we’re facing a watershed moment for the social impact sector. Our challenge is to use impact measurement as a transformative opportunity, both for the sector and the millions of South Africans who depend on it. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Nation Builder’s Impact Management Reporting Guideline launched


Nation Builder recently launched a standardised Impact Management Reporting Guideline for South Africa’s social impact sector in a bid to help non-profit organisations (NPOs) and social investors align better and measure the impact of their efforts and investments more effectively.

The Guideline is the result of an 18-month collaboration between roughly 100 social investors and NPOs in the Nation Builder community to create a shared solution that meets the requirements of all parties.

The Guideline is freely available to view and download from the Nation Builder website here and we are delighted to offer you the opportunity to view the launch presentations in the video below.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Partnering for measured impact


By Keri-Leigh Paschal

Due to the COVID-19 and economic reality there is a marked decrease in both private sector and government funding to address the social ills in our nation. This at a time when social needs have increased dramatically.

According to a recent survey by Nation Builder, 72% of non-profit organisations (NPOs) said demand for their services had increased while their funding had decreased. This means both social investors and implementing organisations, or NPOs, are urgently having to re-prioritise the effective deployment of resources for the greatest possible long-term, sustainable social impact.

Often, there’s a tendency to want to tackle everything alone. But the magnitude of our social problems is such that no one organisation, or even the government, can do this on their own. We need to partner to ensure amplified social development.

The silver lining that we’ve seen emerging from the pandemic is that there’s been a lot more collaboration in the NPO space, with organisations finding innovative ways to reduce costs, duplication and effort, and have a greater impact on their communities.

Measuring social impact

A first step in trying to better understand impact is to report in a way that makes it easier to see where viable collaborations present themselves. Right now, the trend in the social investment space is towards more effectively measuring the social impact of business endeavours and social investment efforts.

To support this, more than 95 NPOs and businesses from the Nation Builder community have been working to establish a standardised reporting guideline for impact management reporting. This guideline, to be launched in March 2021, will set a solid foundation for alignment on reporting approaches in the sector.

Nation Builder will also launch an impact management reporting masterclass series in May 2021. These masterclasses will take participants on a deep dive into the various aspects of impact reporting.

Ultimately, the aim with these complimentary resources is that they will assist in ensuring that every investment of time or resources helps achieve effective and sustainable change in the lives of fellow South Africans.

Email [email protected] if you’d like to join the Impact Measurement conversation.

Keri-Leigh Paschal is the executive trustee and co-founder of the Nation Builder Trust, a Mergon  initiative. Keri joined the Mergon Group in 2011 and the Nation Builder Trust was officially launched in 2012. Nation Builder inspires and equips the business community in South Africa to lead social change.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

In pursuit of dignity: A challenge to change-makers

By Keri-Leigh Paschal

Learning how to navigate cultural and socio-economic differences has become a way of life for South Africans. It’s something that we have had to figure out by trial and error, often through raw and vulnerable conversations. We have often gotten it wrong, and unfortunately, still do sometimes. Divisive social norms, real and perceived biases, stereotypes and just plain ignorance have left many people feeling silenced, undervalued, hurt, or fearful.

The depth of dignity

There is still a large socio-economic divide and as people with resources, influence, and education, many of us feel a responsibility to address the needs that we see around us. With the best intentions, we use all of who we are and our life context (often in consultation with other well-educated and resourced individuals) to find solutions that we can execute on to solve the needs we see. We should also consider, however, whether the way we solve problems is truly dignifying to all concerned.

Having worked for 10 years in the intersection between business and social development, I have seen that there is an indisputable joy that one experiences in the act of generosity. It is often said that the giver is just as, if not more, blessed than the receiver. In this Kingdom truth, we sometimes miss a crucial element of generosity – the building up or restoring dignity.

I have seen many acts of generosity that come from a genuine desire to problem-solve, widen the divide that it was supposed to close. I increasingly find myself asking: did that act of generosity show, in word and deed, that the people supported have value? Did these same people have actual influence over the solution to their problem, or were solutions handed to them with an expectation of gratitude?

Do we as Christians know how to restore and build dignity? Or do we, more often than we are aware of, deny dignity through our acts of generosity and problem solving?

Dignity is a wonderful word that we often use, but what does it actually mean? It comes from a Latin word dignitas, which means worthiness, which in turn means to be of value. We can, therefore, summate that dignity is the bestowing of value on oneself and others. Genesis 27 says, ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’

If we are all created in God’s image, we all have inherent value and the same value as one another – image bearers of God. Why then do we have such inequality and injustice in our world?

The fall

The fall, in Genesis 3, skewed this understanding of great value, and mankind formed its own constructs of value, assigning greater and lesser value to people based on man-made paradigms. Value became a commodity that is gained through money, resources, power and education.

This view of value has shaped societies, worldviews and world politics since the fall, and as children of our time, we have not escaped its impact.

Gold in unexpected places

By consulting and understanding the perspective of all role players in a project, we can unlock a depth of understanding of the problem and community dynamics that would not have been otherwise possible. When a community’s internal assets and understanding are paired with supplementary skills and technology of well-resourced people, far greater and more sustainable solutions can be achieved.

This is where the real gold is found…the gold that shines from the inside out. When people have played a pivotal role in collaborating alongside the ‘most valuable people’ (according to the  skewed perspective of society) to solve their own community or family problems, dignity is restored. This is the secret to true joy in generosity.

What would it look like if we all consulted the people ‘less valuable’ (again, according to the skewed perspective of the world) to truly understand their actual and not an assumed need? What would it look like to brainstorm solutions together with people who have lower formal education levels and a scarcity of resources, yet hold an abundance of community connection and resourcefulness?

The world is catching on

Reading the Harvard Business Review or any other business publication, it is clear that the rest of the world has started to catch on to the fact that valuing a diversity of thought and experience in a room is key to finding superior solutions to client needs, social and environmental challenges and even in-house business challenges.

The challenge I put to myself and other people of worldly power is to truly value the people around you through your words and actions. At work, at home, in your neighbourhood and towns and even foreign nations we send aid to. I believe that we should never stop being curious and teachable, seeing every encounter as a learning opportunity.

I have experienced that undeniable joy that comes from valuing people enough to seek their input and contribution in big and small matters.

May we as Christian business leaders, claim back the essence of unity and collaboration as a Christ-centred people and show the world the beauty inherent in every person when people are treated and valued as true image-bearers of Christ. In unity God commands a blessing and advances His Kingdom. May we be a part of advancing His Kingdom here on earth.

‘Many who cared deeply about the poor didn’t think about how the systems, structures, and cultures of our industries might actually be contributing to the fractures in our culture.’ Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor

Keri-Leigh Paschal is the executive trustee and co-founder of the Nation Builder Trust, a Mergon Group initiative. Keri joined the Mergon Group in 2011 and the Nation Builder Trust was officially launched in 2012. Nation Builder inspires and equips the business community in South Africa to lead social change.

This article was first published by the Christian Economic Forum.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.