Generosity that builds bridges
By Pieter Faure – Mergon Group CEO

Whenever we turn on the news, we are bombarded with the stark realities we are faced with at a macro level in South Africa — stagnant economic growth, rising unemployment and the lack of sustainability in our overall societal construct. 

Amid this almost overwhelming reality, I sometimes get the question: “Mergon spends all this money to bring about change – has it really made any difference?”   It’s a hard question to answer — I could quote some of the statistics of the number of people impacted through the ministries we support, the collective change brought through our Nation Builder community or the jobs created by the various start-ups we’ve funded.  Yet somehow, I usually find myself replying as follows: “Let me invite you to come with me to meet first-hand some individuals whose lives have been changed through any one of our host of partners and you decide if it’s made a difference.”

There is a saying: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  Maybe in order for some of us to rediscover hope and belief, it’s time we change the way we look at our country so that the things we notice about our country change. Perhaps we need to shift our gaze from only seeing the macro, which is clouded in numbers and statistics, and instead zoom in.  A bit like when you use Google earth.  It’s only when you zoom in on Google earth that you can start seeing definition, contrast, beauty… 

When we only think in the macro, we easily become disheartened and convince ourselves that our generosity, the little bit that each of us is able to bring, doesn’t really change anything in the bigger scheme of things — and so we end up standing on the side-lines, criticising, fearful and doubting whether anything will make a difference.  However, when we zoom in to the level of an individual, a real person, and start to engage — we discover that our generosity can truly make a massive difference.   And as we do so, a connection is made, our mutual understanding grows deeper and our hearts open wider, leading to even greater change.

Against this backdrop, I would like to share some of Mergon’s journey in partnering with many non-profit organisations.  I trust that it will stir some creative thinking in each of your hearts around how you may be uniquely positioned to build bridges of generosity, whether through your interaction with non-profit organisations, in and through business or simply as an individual.

    The power of investing through relational partnership: we’ve learnt that as funders, we are investors not only in organisations and initiatives but also in people who live and work in a deeply challenging reality that we often don’t fully grasp.  We ask how we can position ourselves as true partners who don’t give a hand-out, or a hand-up — but rather who take hands as we each bring something of value in order to bring about real change.   This requires us to extend respect, dignity and authenticity and to invite our partners to bring all of who they are to the relationship – their successes, their failures and their vulnerabilities.   This is a big ask, to expect of them to be real and to also step out on that bridge of relationship.  And conversely, for us, to be trustworthy with their realness.  Yet, as we better relate to their challenges, we can truly focus on how to effectively serve them.

    Generosity that builds bridges goes beyond finances: this requires us to bring all our talents, resources and resourcefulness to the relationship.  Initially, our giving was only financial support, but as we’ve grown in our understanding of relational partnership, we’ve realised that we have complementary attributes to bring to the relationship, other than finances.  This could be our relationship network, skills, knowledge or influence.  These are different types of “capital” that often do not have a big financial cost but can add disproportionate value to the leaders and the organisations they lead. We’re sorely mistaken if we think that our ability to be generous is limited to our financial capacity.  When we choose to walk with others, we soon realise that none of us have all the resources or solutions to change lives, communities or our country but as we join forces and each generously contributes all we have in our hand we might well be amazed at the change we can bring. 

    Lastly, a generosity that builds bridges requires us to not only walk alongside and bring what we have in our hand but to also bring ourselves. As we walk this journey with our partners, whether in the foundation, investment team or through Nation Builder, we dare to invest ourselves into the relationships – we pray for our partners, we encourage them, rejoice over their successes and share in their disappointments.  It demands that our hearts be deeply moved, that we should care, reach out and fight on behalf of those who suffer injustice.  This is the type of generosity needed if we are to truly change our nation.   It is only when we are brave enough to venture into uncomfortable places, to give of ourselves that we are shifted from apathy to empathy, from self-preservation to caring generosity, from hopelessness to contagious hopefulness.  It is then that we are changed as we seek to bring about change.

The Mergon journey brought us to the clear realisation that we have so much more than only financial resources to contribute to our partners.  It’s as we bring all of ourselves and all we have in our hearts that God can truly work through us to be agents of extra-ordinary Kingdom impact.

We will not give up on hope! This nation is known for its resilience and therefore we see so many wonderful initiatives and programmes attempting to turn things around, amidst this gloomy picture that confronts us. Our privilege is to become co-creators, rather than mighty instructors, of our destiny.  Our challenge is not only to be generous, but to be generous with ALL that we have and are, to step beyond the boundaries of arms-length giving and to become a compassionate partner in our quest to unlock hope in South Africa.

Unless we truly believe that we can have an impact, that we can make a difference and hold hope for the future of South Africa, we will never take the steps necessary to be part of it.  This does not call for unrealistic optimism or ignoring the macro facts. It does, however, call for having substantiated hope.  But it is only in getting involved that we will see the actual impact and the reasons for hope.

When one creates a work of art, you cannot avoid getting paint pretty much all over yourself.  No painter can paint a masterpiece by standing on the side-line and giving instructions.  And therein lies the value – in the connection, the message, the impact. It’s in the coming close that you discover the art of business, the art of generosity, and maybe, you will unlock the art of meaningful living in the process.

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