The power of a network to flip a country on its head
This past week has been tough. Sitting with a R40 000 bill over our heads [alongside the more manageable R12000 to fix our car] for driving into a BMW is not to be found on the list of ‘Ten Ways to De-Stress your life’.
But, we are surrounded by people who know and love us and there is no way conceivable to us that tbV [the beautiful Val] and i are going to find ourselves having to sell our car or live under a bridge any time soon. Our community won’t let that happen. This is a huge mark of being privileged. And while it may be more class than colour, because of the history of our country that class pendulum still swings a lot more to the one side of the colour line.
A great deal of that is related to hard work and good life choices. Because of the nature of the spaces i have inhabited [particularly churches] and the ways i have chosen to spend my time [youth ministry, speaking, writing, camps] i have been able to build up an incredible group of friends and wider acquaintances who i firmly believe i could call on if it comes to that moment of ‘R40000 now or we take your things!’
But a lot more of it is where i was born and what opportunities i had and how i was able to find myself in spaces that allowed me to pursue writing and speaking and camps and so on. If you look around the country then being a leader in a church and a white person seem to have a lot in common, for example.
The Net Works
i hold on to my popular mantra that ‘this too shall pass’ – in the meantime i have lawyer meetings and i reach out to people who have been suggested by friends and we wait on the return call from Outsurance [theirs, because i was not insured which is another whole long conversation we will have soon] but a lot of this has had tbV and myself thinking a lot about Generosity.
For those who don’t know, Val runs [in her spare time, not for a salary] a non-profit called Common Change South Africa which looks to help groups of friends or colleagues to combine their resources and wisdom and help out those who they love who are in need.
This is the Common Change South Africa hope:
Inspire South Africa
We desire to nurture a culture of generosity, sharing, and collaborative decision-making in South Africa.
Expand Collaborative Giving
We seek to support those who believe that giving together and in deeper relationship with each other will multiply our giving and expand our impact and longevity.
We seek to move resources more directly to people who need them, with as few degrees of separation as possible and to eliminate personal economic isolation through a commitment to restitutive and proactive giving.
Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu
A person is a person through persons. Or as i like to think of it, ‘i am a person through people’. This goes alongside that beautiful African proverb of ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ which all flies very much in the face of the individualism most of us grew up with.
But that is really the heart of a Common Change group. Sign up to a group with people you know and trust. Decide on a monthly commitment to the group fund [this can be a fixed R50 or R500 from each member, or it can be a more fluid 10% of monthly income] and set up an EFT.
One of the big mindsets of Common Change is approaching needs not from a place of scarcity which is too often the case [Someone has a need – let’s pass around the hat!] but from a place of abundance [We have this much money – what can we do with it?]
Then you wait until someone in the group knows someone who has a need. This is key to how Common Change generally works and one of my favourite parts about it. There is always a one degree of separation between the person with the need and someone in the group. There is always relationship and so the commitment is to give through relationship and not simply throw money at a need. There is a commitment to walk alongside the person with the need so that much more can be met than simply a cash dollar requirement.
That’s it. There is also the hope that when a need comes up and you have eight to twelve people thinking about it, that you might come up with more creative ways than just throwing money at it. The wisdom of the group. But also the networks that your group represents. So someone knows a mechanic who can do the job much cheaper, someone has a bunk bed in their garage that is not being used, someone has a friend who has two of the needed textbooks and so on.
A commitment to generosity. And a commitment to meeting needs through relationship.
One of the groups i am part of has taken it a step further which really seems to work well for us. We meet for a meal and conversation every six weeks or so. To check in with everyone. To have some of the conversations live [there is a web page, an app and a whatsapp group we have for when we are not together]. To grow in community. Our group is fairly diverse [for those of you looking for ways to break out of your whiteness spaces] and we have become friends with each other and with each other’s friends.
Dip your foot in?
If the idea is sounding kinda great, but you’re not quite sure you could convince your friends to get involved then you might need to host a Generosity Dinner. This is like a once off experience of being in a Common Change group and a great way to potentially kickstart a group itself.
The basic premise involves inviting a group of friends you think might be interested and asking them to bring a donation to the meal [this can be anything they choose to but one percent of their monthly salary is a good start] and, if they have, the story of someone they know who has a need.
You host a meal and so once everyone arrives you know that you have, for example, R2500 in the pot. After the meal you break up into smaller groups [12 is a nice meal size if you can host that many cos then three groups of four or four groups of three] and share the needs/stories you brought and then you go back into the wider group and anyone can share one of the stories they heard.
The idea is that by the end of the evening each need should be helped in some way [some with ideas or networks or access to supplies and one or more by the actual money you have]. This experience generally gives people a different lens to think about generosity and giving and charity and justice and there is space to speak about those things a little more as well. You can end the evening by asking if anyone would be keen to be part of a group that does the same kind of thing on a regular basis.
We have witnessed a whole lot of needs being met in the past two or more years and each one comes with a story. Often when you are living right on the edge of your finances and something drops out of nowhere it can be a group of friends saying, “Hey, we would love to help with this!” that keep you afloat.
Even if you decide to experiment with it for six months and see how it goes. We know people who did just that and fifteen years later are still going strong.
Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.