LGP Stories

Personal Stories from DLGP

Leverage the privilege

Written by: on June 23, 2018

In all his whiteness, the Afrikaner grandson of the architect of apartheid stood before us.  Lamenting. A Black Christ was pierced through and bleeding on the cross.  “That man,” Wilhelm Verwoerd exclaimed with his thick Afrikaans accent.  Curiously, he pointed with his middle finger at the soldier who stood mocking the Christ-figure, and continued, “That man is my grandfather.”  The artist had painted the likeness of his grandfather onto the Roman soldier’s face; one gaze, and this revolutionary art said it all.  Wilhelm’s grandfather was Hendrik, at once both a despised figure and yet his father’s father.

Our LGP8 cohort heard from Wilhelm as he described how studying in the UK and meeting Black South Africans as peers and equals during the turbulent eighties was what convinced him to abandon the apartheid ideology.  As he embraced equality of races, he described the pain of being sidelined by his own family.  Where once others were pariahs to him, he now was a pariah within his family circle.

How can one live with this disturbing and painful legacy?  How does one live with this heritage?  I believe, like Hendrik, we must leverage the privilege.

Rather than relativize this legacy or bury it in the past, Hendrik embraces it today. It becomes a platform for greater advocacy, learning and listening.  By acknowledging his privilege, and leveraging it for the benefit of others, he shows the pathway to effective ministry in our world.  His actions leave room for others.  He chooses silence to let others speak.

But who among us is privileged?  Chris Lowney, author of Heroic Leadership, proposes that self-awareness is critical to finding one’s leadership voice.  As we dive deep into our own stories and identities, we begin to recognize our own privilege and how we are often blind to its existence. We often don’t comprehend how our privilege disempowers others.  Race, gender, sexuality, economic power, travel and experiences, and yes, education.  In each of these I have a privileged position.

I’ve been confronted by my privilege ever since seeing that image and hearing Wilhelm speak in Cape Town.  In my role as a broker for family philanthropy, I daily balance on a thin line that offers tremendous privilege if I wanted to take it.  It’s easy and convenient to lean into the privilege selfishly. I find it takes concerted effort to let go of that opportunity and deploy it for others.  In fact, it takes intentionality and wisdom to learn how to rearrange my place in the world to give up the space I fill.

I’m convinced that Christian philanthropy must by virtue of the gospel look different than traditional philanthropy.  Traditional philanthropy utilizes the giving of funds as an investment into personal brand marketing.  It’s simple money laundering.  In contrast, Christian philanthropy must become a platform for self-sacrificial service, as we advocate, listen and learn from those with whom we are on mission together.  Finances can become a tool to give voice and give power to the marginalized.  Yet even the way I do my work must be thoughtfully conceived to empower others.  Money talks loudly, and frequently, too frequently, it sets the agenda and drives action.

My developing dissertation topic will explore the challenges of generational transitions in faith-based family philanthropy.  How will wealthy millennials act as they assume leadership of philanthropic foundations which steward their family’s wealth?  Rather than feeding a sense of entitlement, millennials will be invited on a journey toward leveraging the privilege for others.

This cohort of next-gen inheritors will be invited to embrace the legacy of their Christian parents and grandparents.  If the family is healthy, there will be empowerment as philanthropy is used as a tool for jointly sharing in the joy of giving, and millennials will be included and given responsibility early. New expressions of Christian ministry will rely on these funds.  But in famous and wealthy families there is often a hidden legacy of pain and dysfunction, and significant challenges emerge as the new generation emerges into leadership.  I pray, as Wilhelm discovered, that even these painful legacies can be redeemed for good.

This presentation reviews the multiple faces of privilege we encountered during the Cape Town Advance in 2018.







About the Author

Mark Petersen

Mark Petersen is the CEO of Stronger Philanthropy, a Canadian firm specializing in maximizing family philanthropy. He leads a diverse group of visionary individuals, foundations and organizations to collaborate in leveraging wealth for charitable impact.

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