Keri-Leigh Paschal is the Executive Director and co-founder of Nation Builder, an initiative within the Mergon Group. Apart from her social development work, she’s a keen runner and hockey player. Mergon is an entrepreneurial private investment group that exists to impact lives and equip others to do the same. The group consists of Mergon Invest, the Mergon Foundation and Nation Builder. They have offices in the Western Cape and Gauteng and engage regularly with business and NPO partners across the country.
Many of us have seen or heard of the groundbreaking work currently being done by Nation Builder in the developmental space. We were eager to find out more about the programme and about Keri-Leigh, the person.
Tell us about Nation Builder.
‘We launched Nation Builder in 2012 after identifying a need for collective learning in the social impact space – our aim being to inspire and equip businesses to lead through positive social impact projects. There is so much valuable knowledge-sharing that happens when people come together who are passionate about leveraging their businesses for good. Nation Builder is positioned in that space – between businesses and NPOs – to help facilitate mutual peer-learning for the greatest possible collective impact.
‘Nation Builder offers resources, tools and a community to help ensure that social investment is as effective as possible.’
Where were and when were you born?
‘21 March 1983 in Pretoria, on Human Rights Day, which is very appropriate because human rights is a big personal passion.’
‘I have a BSc in Biochemistry, I’m a qualified teacher, and completed the the Senior Management Development Programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. After completing my post-graduate studies in Biochemistry – specializing in HIV – at the University of Pretoria I moved to London and joined a start-up business in a marketing and development capacity. After returning to South Africa, I joined a multi-national biochemical company to fulfil a similar role in marketing and development. I also initiated and lead a national drive to raise awareness of autism in South Africa. This ignited a passion to utilise marketing and business to raise social awareness and investment. I joined the Mergon team in 2011 and co-founded Nation Builder in 2012.’
What do you do at Nation Builder?
‘I’m Executive Director and co-founder of Nation Builder. A day in the life of … me … involves quite a few meetings with team members, our group and partners.
‘It’s all about building relationships, collating thought-leadership from our peer-learning community and connecting with business leaders to discuss how their business can make a difference. We spend a lot of time learning from one another, and collectively engage with the industry to share our knowledge.’
How do you spend your spare time?
‘My husband Brandon and I love to travel, are very active and enjoy the outdoor sporting opportunities that the Winelands have to offer. Running on the mountains, enjoying the wine farms, socializing with friends and doing DIY – that’s more or less how I spend my non-working time.’
Are you on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social platforms?
‘Yes, all of them! As Nation Builder, we have various social media platforms that we use strategically as part of our communication strategy, and I also personally connect with industry, thought-leaders, colleagues, friends and family through LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.’
What would you tell someone just entering this sector –
share the highs and the lows.
‘There are many complexities to navigate, and you need to be curious to try and understand as many different views as possible, to be able to engage with empathy and insight. The industry can sometimes feel territorial, but real social impact requires us to put aside our “brands” to work together for real change to happen.
‘Also, it’s important to be able to speak the “language” of both the social and the business aspects of this industry. To contextualise conversations according to people’s different frames of reference is a very important skill. It builds bridges.
‘Highs have been seeing how even major corporate competitors can work together on social impact projects when the will is there. We’ve seen collaboration achieve much more than companies working alone can achieve.’
When founding Nation Builder, what was the driving
factor? Do you check against your original plans, and if so, how are you doing?
‘Our plan was to work collectively with others to influence the social impact landscape. And that is still our goal. We’ve found ways to do it. In launching our Collabs in 2018 – and now also with our national steering committee and our focus on NPO best business practice – we’re starting to see the first fruits of a collective approach to social development. We are positioned between NPOs and businesses. This is a unique space that enables us to facilitate learning across sectors.’
Why would a client seeking to make a social impact choose
Nation Builder to help them do so?
‘Thankfully, we are not consultants, so no one needs to choose. We are a collaborative, peer-learning community that anyone can connect with, either online or through our “Business and NPO Collabs” and “Business X-Change” programmes. Our resources are free, and our community exists to serve the industry.’
Detail the services you offer.
‘What has become clear is that social upliftment efforts are most effective when businesses, communities, civil society and government work together.
‘Nation Builder is a platform that aims to bring all these role-players together for greater impact. We offer one another resources, tools and a community to help ensure that social investment is as effective as possible. Through the Nation Builder Social Investment Benchmarking Tool, Nation Builder wants to help businesses understand the effectiveness of their CSI strategies, and improve their social investment efforts year-on-year.
‘Nation Builder businesses are resourced with fresh perspectives, practical tools and expert advice to maximise their CSI impact. The online community is intended to offer shared learnings, best practice tips, case studies, animated videos and resources developed by CSI experts, academics, practitioners, NPOs and consultancies as a means to get a fuller perspective of industry best practice.’
If you could change one thing in the field of CSI what
would it be and why?
‘I would love to see senior levels of business leaders –both listed and non-listed companies – see the strategic advantage of having social impact programmes as part of an essential, strategic business imperative.’
What appealed to you most when you first entered this
‘That you can be part of making a positive impact in the lives of many and can be a part of shaping the country’s narrative, to address societal issues through doing business with purpose.’
We’ve heard about your In Good Company conference.
Tell us more.
‘This year, the theme for our fifth annual In Good Company conference is “The Art of Business”. It is an art to connect social impact with business strategy and our speakers will be facilitating conversations around that.
‘In mastering the art of business, leaders need a deep sense of awareness and understanding of how their business is uniquely positioned to make a difference in the lives of its staff, its various stakeholders, broader society, and the nation.
‘The conference takes place on 15 August in Pretoria. We’re encouraging all who have an
interest in the confluence of business and doing good to be part of this day. Discover how you can embrace a sense of evolutionary purpose in your business! Recognize and create opportunities to build bridges, equip and empower people to grow and succeed, and ultimately make an indelible mark on our great nation and lead it into a flourishing future. What could be a better goal for business than that?’
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time – both
personally and in business?
‘Hmm … personally, I would love to continue having a voice on different platforms that will influence mindset shifts.
‘I’d love to see Nation Builder becoming a movement within our country, where people see business as a force for good, bringing social impact into the center of business practice.’
Now for the lighter stuff! Favourite colour, restaurant and home town?
‘Teal, Basic Bistro, Stellenbosch!’
What gives Keri satisfaction both in life and in
business? (Be honest.)
‘Conquering a challenge that was “out of my league” and marveling at how everything is possible with God.’
’When you retire and look back, what do you want family, friends and industry to say about you?
‘She lived her life to the full, driven by a love for people and a reliance on God.’