White paper first published by the Christian Economic Forum in 2022.
As Executive Head of Mergon Integrate, Keri-leigh manages two initiatives within the company (Nation Builder and Ziwani) which deal with the intersection of redemptive business and impact specifically in Africa. Keri-leigh is busy completing a Master’s in Business Administration and was awarded the Accenture Rising Star Award in 2020 for her contributions to the public and private sectors.
Just a few months into my journey at Mergon, we founded an ambitious initiative called Nation Builder, with the vision to fundamentally shift social investment in South Africa. We wanted to shift the standard pattern of non-strategic charity to one of redemptive investments in society. The social investment industry operated in silos with a very underdeveloped knowledge of social development. Yet large amounts of capital were being invested into social initiatives due to Affirmative Action codes of conduct that mandated this investment from businesses in South Africa.
We realised that this huge pool of resources could be stewarded responsibly to significantly improve many lives in South Africa, and this fuelled our small team of two to take on this Goliath challenge.
Early on in the journey, Pieter Faure, CEO of Mergon, walked into our office and recounted the story of David and Goliath. He emphasised that a simple shepherd boy dared to use the skills he had gained tending sheep to slay a giant and, in so doing, determine the trajectory of the whole nation of Israel. This recount of 1 Samuel 17 gave two unlikely people, myself and my colleague, the courage to trust God’s plans and provision in facing this Goliath. This stepping out in ‘David-like faith’ has become a theme in my journey as new ‘Goliath-challenges’ present themselves at Mergon.
The Story of David
David, a young shepherd, courageously offered to fight the giant Philistine, who had been disgracing the Israelite army for over 40 days.The king accepted his offer and gave him his tunic, armour, and a sword to equip him for the encounter. David tried the armour on, realised that he was not accustomed to or comfortable in it, and gracefully declined the protection that every soldier would have demanded. David instead believed that, “The Lord that rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of the Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:37).
Taking on this challenge was a great risk to David’s life – he was a youth who was not trained as a soldier and was now without physical protection. It was also a great risk for the future of the nation of Israel, which would become subject to the Philistines if Goliath defeated David.
This well-known story that I had first heard in children’s church has inspired many leadership lessons that I will unpack from the three different perspectives – from that of a David, a King (Saul), and a Giant to be slain. These lessons continue to shape my view on dealing with and leading through the many Goliath challenges we face.
The David perspective
He didn’t fit the mould
David was not a trained soldier. He was physically much smaller than Goliath and still a youth. At face value, David was the worst person to send into battle against Goliath and bet the nation’s future on.
But David had previously been faithful to the work that Saul had needed (playing the harp) and now had faith that the battle was the Lord’s – that the Lord would bring the victory. At a time when the soldiers, who were trained for battle, had succumbed to their fear, David simply walked in the assurance of his faith, confident of victory.
A key lesson is that it was David’s faithfulness (and faith-filled-ness) that qualified him, rather than his qualifications, training, and competence. Competence can and should be acquired through a faithful commitment to a calling, but taking on a Goliath challenge starts with a heart attitude of faithfulness.
Most of us can attest to these David-like moments, as I can, where training, stature, and experience are no match for Goliath. It is in those moments where we can find assurance in the knowledge that God chose to use us not because we were the most skilled or qualified but because we were faithful to overcome regardless of the challenges set before us.
He didn’t succumb to the expectations of others
Once David had convinced Saul that Goliath would be no match for him, Saul equipped him as best he knew how – with his robe, armour, and swords. Grateful for the gesture, David tried on the protective gear and realised that the armour would inhibit his chances of defeating Goliath.
David’s courage at this moment fascinates me. Not only is he unskilled in the eyes of everyone around him, but he also declines the protection offered to him by the king, that no other soldier would refuse. David didn’t seem concerned that Saul might deny him the chance to fight Goliath if he didn’t wear the armour or be angered by him not taking up the offer.
The lessons I take from this are that my actions should reflect my complete trust and reliance on God as I prepare to face Goliath and that I should not let fear and the expectation of others alter them.
The judgment of others didn’t change his course
A young shepherd with no armour, sword, or experience going out to face a giant that would determine the future of each soldier, their families, and Israel’s future must have seemed unthinkable. I imagine the soldiers would have mocked and insulted him out of fear and anger that their lives rested in his unskilled hands. His brother told him that he had no place on the battlefield, and the king had said he was too young to face as experienced a soldier as Goliath.
Goliath adds insult to injury when he mocks the Israelites for sending such an insulting opponent to the fight. Yet despite the lack of confidence in his ability from everyone around him, David didn’t second guess himself or go back and fetch the armour. Instead, he stood firm in his conviction that God would protect him and had skilled him as a shepherd to defeat Goliath.
These are probably the most challenging moments of leadership for me – when those closest to you, or who are more experienced than you, are not confident in your ability to defeat Goliath.This tests my faith in God’s provision and protection, the bedrock of my conviction and courage.
All glory is given to God
David was such an unlikely victor that his triumph could only be attributed to God, who had prepared him and given him the courage and strategy to stand against the giant and defeat him. A highly-skilled soldier with superior armour and protection may have beaten Goliath if he dared to stand against him, but much of the glory would have gone to his skill rather than God’s divine plan.
That is always the cherry on the top of David moments (surprise at defeating Goliath) where there is no doubt that God was the orchestrator of the victory.
The King perspective
He was either desperate or deeply discerning
Saul must have been ecstatic to hear that someone was interested in fighting Goliath – especially after 40 days of watching his soldiers flee from the battle lines when Goliath spoke. His heart must have sunk when a youthful, unskilled (yet confident) shepherd walked in to talk about Goliath. Saul’s first comment was that David was too young to fight a skilled warrior like Goliath. After some convincing, however, he gave his blessing to a very unconventional candidate to carry the nation’s future with him onto the battlefield.
‘Sauls’ are just as important as ‘Davids’ in business. If Saul didn’t give his blessing to David, he would not have been able to step onto the battlefield to fight Goliath. I have found that there are times when I’m called to be David and other times Saul. These Saul moments are hard! Trusting the unexpected candidate to face Goliaths that could result in considerable destruction seems almost irresponsible. Yet God calls us to trust in His plans, protection, and provision above our logic and reason.
He trusted David’s approach
Saul, who was esteemed for his knowledge in battle (he was known as the warrior-king!) offered David the best protection and equipment he could. When David declined these items, Saul didn’t insist David use the armour he knew to provide protection but trusted that David would have the skill to defeat Goliath differently. If Saul had insisted on his way, Goliath might have defeated David, with the weight of the armour inhibiting David’s use of the slingshot and leaving him to fight with the sword that he was not accustomed to using.
In these ‘Saul moments,’ we need to trust not only in God’s unlikely choice of warrior but also in the distinctive skills he has given them and the unique methods he has revealed to them, instead of trusting in the tried-and-tested methods we are used to relying on for the victory.
The Giant perspective
Reshaping an industry
Every entrepreneur, pioneer, and leader has had multiple David moments throughout their careers. Our journey at Mergon has been no different. It has been a constellation of David moments, starting at our founding story all the way to present-day challenges where we have acted counter-culturally, backed the unconventional candidate to take on giants, and seen many a Saul give their blessing to a David.
Founding Nation Builder was the first of many David moments for me at Mergon, where a Biochemist and a Political Sciences major were trusted with a Goliath-sized vision for our nation.
Ten years later, and with very unconventional strategies around collaboration, almost 60% of the total amount of social investment spending by businesses in South Africa is affiliated with Nation Builder. The sector has fewer silos, and the industry has become increasingly professionalised. In no way can we attribute all of this to the work of Nation Builder, but we can say that we have walked a journey with more than half of the businesses that are investing significantly in the social fabric of South Africa.
Reshaping a continent
Our latest Goliath-sized vision is for Ziwani. It is a community of business leaders who partner to live out their Kingdom callings in the marketplace within the unique contexts in Africa, to shape the marketplace and transform society through biblically-aligned business practices.
This is a giant-sized mission because Africa is diverse and complex. With its incredible natural wealth, it should be flourishing and have a huge influence at the global table. Yet Africans have been side-lined, dismissed, and told that their cultures are inferior (acculturated) through centuries of slavery and colonialism. Systems were formed that were extractive and supported a few at the cost of the many (mostly indigenous people) developing entrenched practices that continue to be perpetuated today.
Africa is a continent of young nations, with most only gaining independence in the last 60 years. This means that less than one generation has had the opportunity to address these destructive systems, while fighting their own giants of identity. This identity has been ignored for centuries, and many have been led to believe they have no value to add to the modern world.
Only God can restore an identity that has been diminished for generations, give His people the courage to believe that He could use Africans to solve African problems, and give divine insight on how to deconstruct the destructive systems and practices that are so deeply entrenched in the cultural psyche.
There is an awakening happening on our continent, a belief that God is calling His children in Africa to rise up and steward our continent’s resources faithfully, honouring His creation and His people – where poverty, inequality, and corruption no longer hold His people, but truth, justice, and love empower a flourishing people. We believe that Ziwani has a unique part to play in supporting those who are reshaping our African continent. He has called us, alongside many others, to rediscover our African voice and identity. The revelations of His Kingdom, found in our specific contexts, will bless many.
One year into this journey, we are still coming to grips with the enormity of the task at hand. We are challenged to re-think many of our preconceived paradigms and approaches. We are learning that leading through good questions is often more important than bringing good ideas, that the journey together is in many ways more important than solutions, and that true restoration lies not only in God restoring us as broken people but also in the restoration of broken systems and patterns of thinking.
We are deeply aware that Ziwani’s vision cannot be achieved by any one team of people. It requires many Davids to be unconventional candidates – faithful, fully reliant on God, and comfortable to walk in their own armour rather than that of someone else. It also requires warrior-king Sauls to back unconventional candidates, to give wise counsel, and to trust that God has anointed them for their task.
The story of David and Goliath is an invitation to leaders not to allow ourselves to focus on the size of the challenges we face but rather on the might of God. To be like Saul and allow ourselves to be open to the unconventional ways of doing things when it becomes apparent that God is at work. And to be like David and make room for our successes to give all the glory to God and none to our good pedigree or name.
Towards the end of David’s life, he became clouded by the results he had achieved through his army and leadership. He forgot who ultimately achieved these victories – God. This is in stark contrast to the youthful David. It could be argued that as a young shepherd, he had no great expectations on him and nothing to lose, which made it easier to be faithful and courageous. This challenges us not to let the expectations that mount over time overshadow our faith in God’s ultimate provision, protection, and plan. God’s grace is infinitely more enabling than all our good efforts and experience combined. He will be faithful to complete what He has started.