Generosity That Builds Bridges, Not Walls

This post is adapted from a talk Pieter Faure presented at Nation Builsder’s In Good Company 2019 conference on 15 August 2019.

Pieter Faure, the CEO of the Mergon Group told how he was sitting beside a campfire with friends discussing the state of the nation. Their gloomy debate on the slow growth of the economy, unemployment and the high levels of inequality that exist cheered as they suggested ways to make a difference. A friend asked if the money Mergon had given over the years had made any difference. Faure thought of mentioning the R1-billion invested in start-up businesses over the past decade; the many ministries around the country which impact the lives of over a million people; never mind the impact of the many Nation Builder partners who also impact thousands of lives countrywide. Instead, he invited his friend to visit one of the ministries and to meet people whose lives have been uplifted through Mergon’s support and assistance and then to judge for himself.

The saying, ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change’ came to mind. Maybe it is time to change the way we look at South Africa; to look at the detail rather than the macro-picture. Instead of impersonal figures and statistics, see the interest and beauty of details and individuals. The bigger picture is disheartening as the little we, as individuals, can do seems so insignificant in the face of the great need facing us. Yet if we get up close we will see what a massive difference our small amount of generosity can mean in one person’s life.

“Mergon has been learning about zooming up close as they journey with many non-profit organisations. Our story may touch the hearts of those hearing or reading this message and make them aware that they, too, are uniquely placed to build bridges of generosity — either through interaction with an NPO, through business or as an individual.”

How we give is as important as what we give. There is a power gap between the giver and the recipient which may cause walls to rise between them. This often causes a lack of true understanding, resulting in the giver imposing his idea of what is needed on the recipient.

A true, equal partnership is necessary; a joining of hands; a closer communication to discover what the real need may be, instead of thinking we have all the answers. Dignity and respect are of paramount importance. The partnership contains all the successes, failures and vulnerabilities of both parties and both must trust the other to fully relate to each other. This trust will encourage creative thinking to effectively address the problems and needs of the receiving partner.

Mergon became aware of the need for leadership couples to be able to rest and be restored.They needed somewhere they could talk about the challenges and constraints they face constantly. We created a breakaway called BREATHE. We have received many letters of thanks, but one comes to mind: a leader realised during the breakaway that he and his wife had experienced challenging times but he had coped by cutting himself off from the emotions; building walls to keep out the feelings. BREATHE helped him remove the walls and be able to experience vulnerability and generosity again. This impacted on their relationship and leadership which, in turn, uplifted their ministry and the many lives they touched.

Nation Builder hosted conversation sessions where a ministry or non-profit leaders would bring a problem to the table. Invited business leaders would discuss the problem with them and suggest solutions or offer assistance in solving the problem. Nation Builder merely provided the space and issued the invitations, but the ministry or non-profit leader would receive ideas and new perspectives about the problem, and business people acquired a whole new insight into the problems facing these leaders. Sometimes they did not have the answer but knew of someone who could help. Thus, networking brought more solutions.

By giving of our time rather than merely financial resources, by sitting around a table and offering expertise, we have a far greater impact. Generosity is not solely about one’s financial capacity. Time, effort and skill-sharing are just as valuable. “For me, this epitomises why Nation Builder was created; so that people with different skill-sets, experiences and networks can work together for greater impact,” Faure explained.

“As we walk this journey with our partners in the Foundation, Investment Team or Nation Builder, we invest ourselves in relationships. We become involved in the journey from our partners’ perspective. We pray for them, encourage them, share their disappointment and champion their cause. We become involved. The overwhelming reality people are faced with, like broken lives and unfulfilled expectations, may be messy and uncomfortable, but it opens one’s eyes to life’s realities.”

The kind of generosity needed to bring change in our country is not just resources or finances, but people who open their hearts to stand alongside someone else; take on their problems. It is only when we are brave enough to venture into uncomfortable spaces and give of ourselves that we shift from apathy to empathy, self-preservation to caring and generosity, hopelessness to courage, that we will be able to bring about change.

There are always risks when building bridges of partnership. We must be courageous but constrained; learn to manage conflicting tensions; develop a relational partnership yet still expect accountability; get fully involved while maintaining a healthy independence. These are possible when bridges of mutual trust, respect and transparency exist. There is a far greater risk in not getting involved. Jesus was never afraid of risk in a relationship and always connected with people, mainly outcasts and lower tiers of society. Yet one of His greatest miracles, the feeding of the 5 000, was brought about through His concern for the people who followed Him.

 Mergon’s journey has shown that the ability to connect, equip others and build relationships are key to our mandate and potential to be catalysts for extraordinary change. “Our nation is known for its resilience, which is why so many world-class initiatives and programmes have come out of this nation as we try to figure out how to turn things around,” Faure asserted.

“As we leave today we may be inspired and have acquired some new tools to action. But unless we believe that we can make a difference and build hope for the future of South Africa, we will never take the necessary steps to be a part of it. When you create a work of art you need to get your hands splashed with paint. Art doesn’t happen if you stand on the sideline issuing instructions. It is in coming close that we discover the Art of Business, the Art of Generosity and maybe even the Art of Meaningful Living for us,” Faure concluded.

Pieter Faure has been heading up the Mergon Group for more than a decade. He is a qualified CA, has a Law degree and worked at PwC for 7 years before joining the Mergon Group.  Under Pieter’s leadership, Mergon has developed an internationally diversified investment group with a portfolio of businesses that deliver sustainable, growing distributions for its 70% shareholder, the Mergon Foundation.

Pieter was also instrumental in establishing Nation Builder to support and equip businesses nationally to increase their social investment impact.