Adelaide Cupido is the founder of Yada Network, a network of professionals that cultivate connection through process facilitation, mediation and legal advisory services. They weave webs of connection and possibility, bringing different people and ideas together, making it easy to have hard conversations in a productive way and connect heart to heart, so that something new can emerge.
Looking back on my 3-year journey starting up Yada, and particularly my financial statements, I am tempted to answer, “No” to the question posed in the title. Yet, that would be taking a narrow view. Looking at fruitfulness, and not only finances, I am convinced that finding my identity in Christ does make me a better business leader.
What does it mean to ‘find my identity in Christ’? Since 2015, God has taken me on a journey to show me what it means to be His. I now see more of who I truly am, based on what His word says. I have been set free from slavery to sin because of Christ’s sacrifice. I am fruitful because I am plugged into an eternal, uncreated and perfect source. As a citizen of heaven, I am a beneficiary of God’s pleasure and promises. As an ambassador of heaven, I aspire to point to God and His Kingdom in all that I do. But most importantly, I know that I am loved – and this gives me the courage to live in this beautifully complex world, anchoring my hope in Christ, knowing that He is always with me.
Here are some of my experiences that point to how finding my identity in Christ has enabled me to become a better business leader.
1) I can overcome my inner saboteur with the help of the Spirit
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).
My last employer was an NGO, involved in establishing a social dialogue platform between commercial and emerging farmers, civil society, labour, and government to reimagine the local agricultural economy in five districts of the Western Cape, South Africa. Although I was supported by two strategic advisors, I was the one responsible for performing all the project-related work – which included regularly visiting the different districts, enrolling stakeholders through individual and community meetings, facilitating agreement on the need for a platform, putting together a panel, and ultimately training the panel to be able to host productive dialogue.
It was one of the most meaningful engagements of my life – a time where I felt that God had fully released my gifting. My monthly salary did not, however, enable me to support my family’s needs and I resigned in November 2017, with no financial reserves and no alternative employment.
With 2018 upon us, we needed groceries, not to mention school fees, stationery and uniforms. As I looked at a tin with R800 left, I asked: “What could I do now, without needing anything, to earn an income?” My skills that came to mind were facilitation, mediation and legal advisory services. So, I pulled out flipchart paper and started visually mapping out a possible business plan. My inner saboteur surfaced, badgering me with doubts: “Who did I think was to establish my own business? I was only good enough to be an employee, to earn a salary, to grow someone else’s vision. I don’t have the necessary networks. I don’t have access to money! Where would I even get work from?” My courage waned as the voice raged on, but another voice gently reminded me: “He anoints my head with oil, my cup overflows” (Psa. 23:5). I recited this verse repeatedly until I had finished the business plan.
Thereafter, I took my boys to our communal pool, still overwhelmed at the thought of starting a business. Our parents arrived, unaware of our reality, with a month’s worth of groceries. While speaking to them, I received a call with an urgent request for a week’s work, at my best rate. With this work completed and paid by the end of January 2018, all our needs were met, with some cash flow to generate more work.
Three years later, Yada had been successfully established, serving local and international clients. What’s more, I didn’t need to go look for work – I obtained the work not based on marketing, but on relationships nurtured and developed over time. My inner saboteur is ever-present, but is continually slain by God’s faithfulness. With God’s grace and provision, my cup overflows.
2) I see my work as worship
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (Col. 3:23–24).
My work involves enabling groups of people to have difficult conversations – where there is a great deal of underlying conflict between two or more team members, or there are multiple stakeholders, all with different mandates and competing interests. During these conversations, there are always a few tense moments where we can either reach an impasse, or continue with productive dialogue. I am therefore intentionally and continuously reliant on the Holy Spirit to guide the process, and afterwards, there’s often someone who is curious about how I was able to help them navigate those moments. Their curiosity creates opportunities to speak about my faith in Christ, and about how the power of the Spirit is what makes my work possible!
There are also many difficult conversations across the business value chain, where we need to negotiate rates and levels of service – and discussions do get heated. If it were up to me, I would lose my cool and damage the relationships, but it helps to ask myself: “How do I do this, as for the Lord?”
3) I am intentional about fair value exchange in every business activity
Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure – pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return (Luke 6:38).
Partnering with other consulting firms, I have had to pay up to 30% of fees earned as a sub-consultant. Some consultant firms would also bill out my time at significantly lower rates than theirs, despite me being required to deliver the same levels of service.
Although I participate in an earthly economic system, my business values are set on biblical standards. I understand that in God’s Kingdom, there is a kingdom commonwealth principle – which means that the King is committed to seeing that all his citizens have equal access to wealth and resources. No one’s wealth is built on the oppression of another (unlike our worldly economic systems). A core value of Yada is that wealth is built on fair practices. This means that we do not levy fees on network partners when work is shared with them, or negotiate rates or service levels that will undermine their ability to access and create wealth.
We believe that our ability to respond to a client’s needs is strengthened when we operate in diverse, multi-disciplinary teams. Yada is plugged into an eternal and limitless source (God), therefore we operate from a place of abundance, and can act with fairness along our business value chain.
4) I integrate rhythms of rest in our way of working
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’ (Isa. 30:15).
For most of my life, the concept of ‘rest’ has not been modelled by caregivers, church communities, or leaders in my professional life. It was always about doing more, generating more work, attending more networking events, completing more degrees to become more marketable, pushing to achieve unreasonable targets. More time away from family and the things that refresh the soul. Less time for breaks, for rest, for sleep. Less time to commune with God. By 2016, after 11 years as a professional, I was burnt out. I was paid exceptionally well, but could feel the demands of work causing me to slip further away from God, further away from wholeness in life.
Since then, God has taken me on a journey of seeing His way of working and reminding me that even He took time to rest. I was also curious to see if my work rhythm could align more with the natural seasons. At a practical level, it meant that from spring to winter would be highly productive times, but that during winter, there would be more time for rest, reflection and restoration.
Despite God teaching me how to create more balance through rest, starting up Yada in 2018 required me to take on the ‘grind culture’ – or so I thought. There was nothing new about what I was offering, so what would set Yada apart was the way it delivered its services. This meant that I would take on unpaid or underpaid work to build Yada’s profile, would deliver more than was expected, and would collaborate broadly. I would work long hours and would always be available for new projects. By the last quarter of 2019, I found myself engaged in a process every week, away from home for up to 10 days a month, and sometimes facilitating on weekends. I had little time for my family, as I had to spend weekends debriefing and preparing for the next process. By March 2020, I was exhausted, but had work lined up for the rest of the year. Enter COVID-19 – the ultimate rest intervention.
Initially, it was overwhelming to understand that Yada’s productivity had cycles that were more attuned to seasons. During the first two years of operation, I had not caught on that God enabled a seasonal way of operating, and became anxious about income. Even though work slowed in the winter months, I would not use this time to rest and reflect, but would become obsessed with generating work. It was only in our third year that the lesson landed. And as the pandemic hit, I realised I could fully rest in God, because He had already prepared me for slower workflows and cash flows, ensuring that I remain fully dependent on Him as my provider. This meant that despite the economic crisis, I did not experience overwhelming fear or anxiety, but was anchored in the security of knowing that God is in control.
Embracing periods of rest has become a critical part of the Yada way. During these times, I can think about the work done, access learnings, ensure that I bring those insights into future work, and let go of practices that no longer serve Yada. It slows me down, ensuring that I am ‘response-able’ rather than reactive. I now enjoy looking at my calendar and seeing it a little empty – it creates space for God to show up, as the ultimate provider – He is the source of all my work. He directs the ebbs and flows of the river that is Yada, at His will and pleasure. When I am rested, I think better, make better decisions, I am present for myself, my family, partners and clients and this leads to all-round quality experiences.
These are some of the ways that finding my in Christ identity has shaped my journey as a business leader, and enabled me to approach my work as worship, pointing back to God.