This article is one in an AFKInsider series that follows some of the young African leaders chosen to participate in U.S. President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The initiative is a U.S. effort to invest resources in the next generation of African leaders and entrepreneurs. Each year since 2014, 500 young Africans have been chosen to visit the U.S. and receive mentoring at top U.S. universities. Here’s the story of one of them.
Engineering, teaching and service jobs are the most popular jobs in South Africa, so trying to make it as an arts entrepreneur isn’t easy.
That didn’t stop Kolisile Theo Ndindwa from growing a successful dance business.
His entrepreneurial success helped him land a spot in U.S. President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
Ndindwa is the founder and executive director of iKapa Dance Theatre, a performance group and dance troupe; Arts Township International, an organization that promotes the arts and artists; and OnPointe Dance Ndindwa, a studio where dancers study and train.
In 2014 Ndindwa was selected to be part of the YALI program and traveled to the U.S., attending classes at Tulane University.
Ndindwa was born and grew up in Gugulethu township outside Cape Town. For six years he studied and worked in dance in the U.K. He returned to South Africa in 2005 and launched his company soon after with his wife, Tanya.
Ndindwa told AFKInsider how he used his YALI experience to stand out in the South African arts community.
TNJ: How did hear about YALI and why did you want to participate?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: I heard about YALI via the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town. I participated in 2014 for my personal and professional development but mostly was intrigued by the possibility of a network with hundreds of other African leaders who are civic and business leaders.
AFKInsider: What did you get from the experience at the Tulane University?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: I got new perspective and an understanding of external factors that affect business and the general environment that influences our business and everyday life.
AFKInsider: Did your education from YALI transfer to the realities of running your business in South Africa?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: My learning at (Tulane) university reinforced the importance of working not only on a local or continental level but on a global scale. Our newly launched annual projects such as the international dance festival showcased the global operation of our work.
AFKInsider: Was there anything unique for you in the YALI experience?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: The unique mix of Africans from different countries and learning about each other’s country and work.
AFKInsider: How and why did you start your company, iKapa Dance Theatre?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: In 2007, we started offering free training to young people because we recognized the abundance of untapped talent due to the of lack of resources, opportunities and knowledge. (We wanted to create) artistic works that are socially relevant and inspiring to people and society.
AFKInsider: How did you fund your business startup?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: We created income from the selling artistic services and applying for grants from funding agencies and government, donations from individuals, foundations, and private sectors.
AFKInsider: Did you face any obstacles being a young entrepreneur in the arts in your country?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: Yes, I did. Going on your own direction is challenging because the general expectation is that we must always be working for a big and established arts organization but for decades many of these institutions have not really transformed or reinvented themselves and have little or no space for growth beyond what the organization has been doing. The classics are the core of the artistic offerings and there is not much space for new talents, works, voices, and stories.
AFKInsider: Why the arts?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: I always loved interacting, sharing and exchanging with people always looking from a socially relevant angle. Having grown up in the historically disadvantaged community of Gugulethu and being afforded a successful career through dance.
AFKInsider: How does your company work?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: My company has a full-time arts training program and school, creates professional productions and collaborations and produces the annual Cape Town International Dance Festival whilst developing infrastructure for the arts in communities.
AFKInsider: Please explain what Theo & iKapa Dance Theatre does.
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: One of the key roles is directing the programs and setting up key business and artistic partnerships of iKapa Dance Theatre.
AFKInsider: Have you been able to use some of the skills you learned with YALI?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: Yes, to use the network skills developed further at YALI to attract new partners from different art forms, sectors and countries.
AFKInsider; Would you recommend YALI to other African entrepreneurs?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: Yes, I would. There are not many opportunities that open one’s network and opportunities to colleagues in different countries in the continent as YALI does.
AFKInsider: Do you feel YALI should continue?
Kolisile Theo Ndindwa: YALI should continue as it is creating the next generation of African leaders who are connected and understand their environment and who now have (due to YALI) a huge support base across the continent.
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