Nestlings take on the challenges of Africa
Local project recognises the potential of burgeoning young creativity.
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.”
Dillion Phiri is the key figure behind the Creative Nestlings initiative.