Dillion S. Phiri – Social sculptor shaping African youth - Photography by  - Brian Molepo
Photography by Brian Molepo

Dillion S. Phiri – Social sculptor shaping African youth

I met up with Dillion S. Phiri, co-founder of Creative Nestlings to chat about the beginnings, evolution and future of Creative Nestlings.

Five years ago Jonathan Anzuluni and Dillion were living the nine-to-five life, working for Shell and Cape Town Tourism respectively. “We knew we wanted to do more with our lives,” explains Dillion, “Jonathan was a photographer on the side. I was at the time really into popular culture. Particularly street culture, graffiti, public art.” In attending exhibitions around Cape Town they noticed that there were very few black people in attendance or showing their work. Seeing this as an opportunity, they started documenting what was going on around Cape Town. This was where the journey for Creative Nestlings began.

In telling me the story around the name, Dillion began gesturing enthusiastically with his hands as if that day at the coffee shop was replaying in his mind.”I started thinking, we are focusing on the creative culture, creativity is our main thing here. So that’s the first word.” Dillion explained that ‘nestlings’ makes reference to their desire to invest directly into the work of young people. “And nestlings [refers to] a young bird basically. A young bird in a nest about to fly…it stuck. Creative Nestlings.”

Dillion’s wife, Lunga, came into the picture soon after that. Having met at a fashion show, and with the parting of Jonathan, Lunga became part of the Creative Nestlings picture during its transition to focusing on the active development of young people. “Creativity is open. Creativity is the act of creation. And for us we take responsibility for that,” explained Dillion. Sprouting from this, the core of their work has become about developing the entrepreneurial mindset of young African people and helping them transform their ideas into scalable, stable businesses or projects, using creativity as a tool. Their staple #ConversationOnCreativity talks in Cape Town provided the space for raw, honest conversations between young people as well as providing a plug into the frustrations that young people were having at the time. “Number one is access to space, access to transport, access to funding, resources, equipment. That’s what young people were saying when we started off. So we said let’s start doing that.”. Creative Nestlings has been part of the building of multiple spaces, particularly for people of colour, as well as building  spaces in Cape Town and Johannesburg, namely The Nest SPACE and the J&B Hive.

The J&B Hive encapsulates and exemplifies the work and mind shift that Creative Nestlings is trying to nurture among young African people. The space in Braamfontein was birthed from a partnership between Creative Nestlings, J&B Scotch Whisky, Blacknation Media and Independent United. The J&B Hive has created a new framework for investing in young people. “The Hive is a catalyst for young people to fund them in the right way because no one is doing the right way right now. We believe that we are cracking the formula of how to support young people better.”. It provides young people with the space to do what they want while providing a sense of community, sharing and support.

Dillion’s approach for Creative Nestlings is an extension of his own belief in the power of collaborative journeys, having conversations with a variety of people and the importance of sharing knowledge, as well as the desire to have a continent that looks for inspiration from within. He expressed that his main challenge has been getting young African people to move beyond the point of just complaining to working collaboratively. “That’s why we created our network [called Young African Creative Network formerly THE NEST] …An opportunity for young people to invest in themselves, collaboratively.”.Anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 can become a member of the Young African Creative Network which offers access to Creative Nestlings partnership spaces, projects and clients, as well as the necessary support each member requires to grow their own projects.

In the spirit of collaboration and sharing, in 2017 Creative Nestlings will emphasize creative education, starting with the revamp of their website. With Africa as both a reference point and the audience, the website will become a site of learning, with classes geared towards peer-to-peer mentorship. They will also be launching their first conference called Young African Creative Conference at the J&B Hive, a conference for and by African youth, whihc will be held on the 4th of February 2017. Creative Nestlings also created its own awards [the Nestlings Awards] to celebrate and give recognition to the amazing work being done by young people on the continent. Each project they initiate or become partner to is a point on their journey that can be connected to previous and future points, slowly revealing the dream for Creative Nestlings. “The dream is, [to] either create our own space or a partner space in every country [on the continent],” Dillion explained.

Dillion has expressed that when he turns 30 he will retire himself from the daily running of Creative Nestlings to ensure that it is always run by young people for young people. But for now, Dillion is very clear about the work of Creative Nestlings. “Our job is to plant seeds in every city we go to. We are not supposed to be permanent anywhere. Plant seeds and be a catalyst for the creative culture, creative community, creative industry and creative economy in Africa.”

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