Nestlings take on the chal­lenges of Africa

Lo­cal pro­ject recog­nises the po­ten­tial of bur­geon­ing young cre­ativ­ity.

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de­sign­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers, graphic de­sign­ers, lec­tur­ers, blog­gers, writ­ers, mu­si­cians, TV and ra­dio hosts, en­trepreneurs, fash­ion de­sign­ers, thinkers and de­vel­op­ers. All are African – un­com­pli­cat­edly non-racial – and all un­der 35.

This is a re­flec­tion of a body of con­ti­nen­tal ex­per­tise, co- founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive, 27-year-old Dil­lion Sipho Phiri said this week, which was largely un­heeded, un­der-ex­ploited and burst­ing with en­ergy.

Recog­nis­ing the over­looked po­ten­tial of bur­geon­ing young African cre­ativ­ity was what prompted the Zim­bab­wean-born IT stu­dent to cre­ate a plat­form for like-minded “cre­atives”, and, by a cir­cuitous route, Cre­ative Nestlings was born.

Phiri was born in Kwekwe, and grew up in the min­ing town of Bin­dura. When he was in his early teens, how­ever, his mom Prim­rose de­cided it was time to make a new life in South Africa. She went ahead and the plan was the chil­dren – Dil­lion and his younger brother, Nkosi­lathi ( to­day a master’s de­gree stu­dent at UCT) – would fol­low. There fol­lowed three years of school­ing in Pha­l­aborwa, where he ma­tric­u­lated. His mom was, by that time, liv­ing in Cape Town, work­ing as a do­mes­tic. He had wanted to do film and me­dia stud­ies at UCT but “didn’t qual­ify” and ended up do­ing an IT de­gree through a cor­re­spon­dence col­lege.

At the time, a friend taught him how to print T-shirts and he be­gan flex­ing his cre­ative mus­cles, even­tu­ally get­ting into web de­sign “and a bit of graphic de­sign here and there”.

He was work­ing as a waiter at an Ital­ian restau­rant chain in Clare­mont, where a fel­low waiter, “from Congo/Rwanda”, was pho­tog­ra­pher Jonathan Anzu­luni, who would later be a co-founder of Cre­ative Nestlings.

Phiri said he was lucky enough not to have to leap at the first job that came his way as his mom – work­ing as a do­mes­tic in Bish­op­scourt, and earn­ing “more than most peo­ple who work in of­fices” –“urged me to find what I re­ally wanted to do”.

If he wasn’t en­tirely sure at that point, an IT-re­lated job at the time of the World Cup in 2010 gave him the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the ex­pand­ing range of on­line net­works and fever- Facebook page, ini­tially, with the idea of nur­tur­ing young tal­ent – nestlings, in the id­iom they chose, birds who would fly.

“We started shar­ing links around the world… pho­to­graphs, art­work and peo­ple started grav­i­tat­ing to us, which even­tu­ally led to events and talks, giv­ing young artists an av­enue to get out there be­yond the world of the tra­di­tional gallery.”

Through Anzu­luni, he met the woman who would be­come his wife, fash­ion fundi Noku­lunga Mateta, who played an in­flu­en­tial role in per­suad­ing Phiri to take the Cre­ative Nestlings Facebook page a step fur­ther in be­com­ing a com­pany and a web­site in its right.

Their col­lab­o­ra­tion has firmed up the Cre­ative Nestlings propo­si­tion. There are two parts to it: a com­pany that func­tions – or earns its keep – as a re­search-and-de­vel­op­ment hub, ad­vis­ing cor­po­rates, in­sti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ment agen­cies on strate­gies for young peo­ple that go be­yond the stereo­type of list­less town­ship youth; and a global col­lab­o­ra­tive net­work for young Africans within the con­ti­nent and the di­as­pora.

Any­one – African, in a strictly non- racial sense, be­tween 18 and 35 – can join the net­work for a R750-a-year fee and have ac­cess to The Nest space, or The Hive in Jo­han­nes­burg and the steadily grow­ing vir­tual net­work across the con­ti­nent and the world.

So far there are 150 mem­bers, “high cal­i­bre young peo­ple who would not have been able to talk to each other be­fore be­cause no net­work ex­isted”. Pro­vid­ing the op­por­tu­nity for frank ex­changes is the ob­jec­tive of Cre­ative Nestlings’ “Con­ver­sa­tions on cre­ativ­ity” di­a­logues, at which artists and oth­ers share their ex­pe­ri­ences.

The 15th in the se­ries takes place next Sat­ur­day; Phiri and Lunga will dis­cuss their ex­pe­ri­ence and other guest speak­ers will be artist AthiPa­tra Ruga, who com­bines per­for­mance, video, tex­tiles and print­mak­ing and US pho­tog­ra­pher Anika Mor­ris.

These were open-ended con­ver­sa­tions be­tween au­di­ence, guest and host, Phiri said and of­ten fo­cused on ba­sic prac­ti­cal is­sues with which young cre­atives needed to grap­ple, re­flected in ques­tions such as “What’s your bank bal­ance right now?” or “How did you get into that mag­a­zine?”

“They are gritty con­ver­sa­tions you are not usu­ally able to have.

“We want to be at the fore­front of what’s hap­pen­ing and be­come ac­tive cit­i­zens of the con­ti­nent, mak­ing the con­ti­nent what we want it to be. There are mil­lions of young peo­ple out there and we want them to be in­volved.”

The “rules” are de­mand­ing: no fund­ing, no char­ity. “Fund­ing is tempt­ing, but, there’s al­ways an agenda and we want to re­tain our in­de­pen­dence. It’s tough, I won’t lie. I’m broke, but I firmly be­lieve we must stay in­de­pen­dent.”

The “re­search and de­vel­op­ment” side of the com­pany fo­cuses on pro­vid­ing brands or in­sti­tu­tions with cred­i­ble in­sights into “where young peo­ple are at”.

“Gov­ern­ments want to make young peo­ple’s lives eas­ier, yet they don’t talk to young peo­ple 24/7 – we do.”

A cur­rent pro­ject, near­ing com­ple­tion, has been com­mis­sioned by the SA Bureau of Stan­dards’ de­sign unit.

A key find­ing, Phiri said, was that “one of the big­gest chal­lenges among young peo­ple is find­ing the courage to be seen pub­licly do­ing cre­ative things. There is the in­ter­net, but that’s mostly a fa­cade – and a big part of our am­bi­tion is to give young peo­ple more courage. They come up with amaz­ing ideas about chal­lenges around the con­ti­nent, but of­ten no one is lis­ten­ing.”

michael.mor­ris@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: IAN LANDS­BERG

Dil­lion Phiri is the key fig­ure be­hind the Cre­ative Nestlings ini­tia­tive.

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