I have worked in the Bay Area for most of my professional career. I have seen the burst of the first tech bubble, the return of making and the innovative approach of entrepreneurs. I love the kinetic energy that comes from the people in Silicon Valley.
They amaze me, they inspire me and they motivate me to be better, learn more and push myself.
Working at the Autodesk Pier 9 workshop, I know I am lucky. I am surrounded by some of the most talented people. They are humble, they are brilliant and they are creative. It's a place that I know I will look back on and remember as something special. I know it is the start of something bigger and I am a very small part of it.
Before we took off to South Africa, I wanted to connect as many dots as possible. Who could we meet with, who could we connect with. I wanted to leave exhausted knowing that I did all I could do in the classroom and the community. My colleagues made introductions or we met people once we arrived in Stellenbosch.
Since we arrived in Kayamandi and Stellenbosch, I have been feeling that same kinetic energy. It is here. It is happening. It is on the verge. People are making, tinkering and doing interesting things. Over the last two weeks we have been here, I have encountered the same type of people.
Once word got out that our team was in town additional invitations came in. One was to join a local meet-up with LaunchPad and Eduvate. From the moment we set foot into the LaunchPad space, it felt like being in Pier 9. One local attendee said, "Welcome to StellenCon Valley."
In that split second, all these people that I had met, watched and listened too came together in one phrase. That special moment I talked about in Pier 9 was happening here in Stellenbosch and Kayamandi. So let's highlight some of the organizations and people leading this change:
Hannes van Zyl & The Greater Stellenbosch Development Trust: Hannes is one of the most dedicated community connectors and organizers we met on our trip. We first met him on the walking tour through Kayamandi. He is a soft spoken and deeply passionate man that is part of the leaders of the GSDT. He sees the change through education and was one of the leading champions to bring us to Makupula. The GSDT aims to bridge material and cultural divides in Stellenbosch. It unites partner organisations such as VisionAfrika, SOS, SEED, AmaZink and the InZink amphitheatre. These organisations manage educational programmes (VisionAfrika) small business initiatives (SEED) and programmes to strengthen exciting community organisations, including programmes that enable business leaders to volunteer time for community organisations within a structured programme (SOS).
Kayamandi Creative District: Hosted by the community of Kayamandi, the KCD aims to show case local artistic talent and encourage job creation through the development of the township. Job creation is an essential part of uplifting communities in South Africa. KCD offers community members the unique opportunity to generate income through their own creativity and the creativity of their community.Ordinary homes are transformed into galleries and home owners welcome you to meet them and their families and experience their community as they do. Gallery homes also give single stay home mothers or older members of the community a chance to earn an income. The KCD was started by the people of the township who express themselves through making.
Matthew Kruger: I will never under estimate a tour guide again. On our only day off during this trip we were lucky enough to meet Matthew, our local tour guide, who showed us around Fish Hook. He is one of the most creative people I have ever met. Matthew is part of the team that hosts the local Slow Market, he works with the Distill Foundation to advance innovation and education in the region. But he is not stopping there, he is leading the foundation of bringing TEDX events to the region. When I asked him why he leads tour groups on the weekend, he smiled and said, "Because I like connecting and learning from people."
Launch Lab & Stellenbosch University: This might be the international version of what is happening at MIT. The core values are learning, sharing, always pushing own limits and mutual respect. The LaunchLab is a mixed-use business incubator based at Stellenbosch University that supports technology and innovation businesses in Big Data, Cleantech, Agriculture and Education. LaunchLab is establishing a network of tertiary education institution campus-based business incubators in Africa to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that accelerates entrepreneurs to a new level. Although the main LaunchLab facility is based on Stellenbosch University campus, the LaunchLab programmes are open to all entrepreneurs in the Western Cape and beyond and are actively running on other partner campuses. Make sure to keep an eye on the start-ups there!
Vision Afrika: Vision Afrika was established in 2004 by Deane Hill, Ben and Unathi Loos as a way of supporting the youth of Kayamandi to dream big and achieve their potential. The educational projects of Vision AfriKa and the GSDT complemented one another. The GSDT focused on younger children, from pre-school onwards. Vision AfriKa initially focused on high-school youth from grade 8 to 12. As resources and skills for a comprehensive programme of child and youth development are scarce, both organisations started working together as partners in 2010. This eventually resulted in Vision AfriKa taking over the GSDT programmes in 2014. Vision K hoped to support youth to rise above the effects of prevalent socio-economic problems such as poverty, substance abuse, lack of role models, and poor education through motivation and personal development. In this way, the youth take ownership of their dreams and believe that they can overcome poverty and work towards a successful future.
I know that there are more people out there in this area making a difference but I can't wait to see where these people and organizations go. I also can't wait to say I knew them when!