BY Ariane de Bonvoisin 5 MINUTE READ

Naidoo’s company, Interactive Africa, was the creative agency behind the country’s winning bid for the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup. Over and above this, he directed or founded the following projects: the African Connection Rally (a continent-wide road show to promote telecommunications investment); the First African in Space Project (with Mark Shuttleworth’s foundation); the Cape IT Initiative (CiTi); and, perhaps most enduringly, the Design Indaba.

Intriguingly, he is a scientist by training, having studied physiology at the University of Cape Town. As a global guru in design, Naidoo suggests that such eclecticism is an asset. “I have always been an advocate for people being hybrids. I really think that knowledge is like energy: It can never be destroyed; it just transforms from one form to another. And really, I would have to tell anybody that you should have no remorse for anything that you study, because it will all be relevant at some stage or another.”

It is this spirit that has marked the Design Indaba as Africa’s premier festival of creativity. “Design Indaba is about ‘more is more’. We want to give you more inspiration; we want to give you more immersive experiences; we want to give you more examples. And I think that’s particularly important,” he says.

Since 1995, the Indaba has become an important fixture on the global creative landscape. At the heart of it is the sense of optimism and spirit of pioneering engendered by the dawn of democracy in 1994. The slogan of the festival underpins this ethos: “A better world through creativity”. This ambience of mission gives the event its educational sense.

The design entrepreneurialism that fuels the festival has led to its constant evolution. As Ravi explains: “We do believe that business models are perishable, and we do believe that we must constantly seek relevance and that we must constantly morph and change. So I believe in the kind of plasticity of what we do at Design Indaba. We feel more like sculptors with a piece of clay than we do as builders building a fat edifice. So it’s a completely different mechanism to how we approach Design Indaba.”

This means the event has never sunk into a kind of PowerPoint malaise. In fact, last year, world-renowned South African artist William Kentridge made a presentation that morphed into an opera. These kinds of presentations have seen the festival move to the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town for 2016, in order to allow for a broader canvas for the myriad design showcases. “And so we want to make this a kind of a Cirque du Soleil for the intellect; we really want to make it a beautiful, goose-bumpy experience, and we’ve asked all of our speakers to really push the stall out. Some of them are interacting around kinetic sculptures, some of their presentations morph into a concert, and yet others are doing the presentation in the form of a play,” says Naidoo, excitedly.

This constant widening of the concept means Design Indaba is no longer simply a conference or festival; it is a kind of collegial, broad-based movement for creatives. There is a film festival, the Emerging Creatives Programme, the Your Street Challenge, Africa.Now., as well as the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa endeavour.

“I think Emerging Creatives is one of our projects that we’re most proud of. Any designer of any consequence under the age of 35 in this country has been debuted in this programme since 2005,” says Naidoo. “We are giving it more attention than ever, and our attitude toward Emerging Creatives is not just about the exhibition—it’s about a through-the-year kind of commitment through seminars and workshops and facilitating scholarships. So the idea of the Emerging Creatives is way more than an exhibition; it’s really an institutional commitment from Design Indaba to be able to utilise all our limits to create a launch pad for young creatives.”

He is also intent on marketing African creativity to the world via the Africa.Now. Project. “Africa.Now. is going to be an absolute focal point of our work. We really want to be the pre-eminent platform in Africa for the African creative, and we’re working extremely hard on that. And we’re talking with a massive international publisher right now to produce the definitive coffee-table book on where African design is right now; we’re doing a flagship Africa.Now. exhibition right now in Amsterdam, and planning an even bigger one in 18 months’ time at another location. So, essentially, Africa.Now. has morphed into way beyond the three-day spectacle that was the Expo, to actually be a through-the-year commitment.”

One of Naidoo’s passions is taking the aesthetics of design to the streets. Two initiatives that do this well are the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa (MBOISA) and the Your Street Challenge.

“I think MBOISA is such an interesting thing, because it’s such a populous thing we do… We want to talk to the creative class, and we want to talk to all [economic] classes with a more egalitarian attitude, to infect as many people with the virus of creativity and what good design can do. And we ask a simple question of people in the public eye: simply, what to them is the most beautiful object in the country? It’s a provocative question; it’s one we ask with a glimmer in the eye and a little bit of a wink, because part of the test is to see what people consider to be beautiful.”

Meanwhile, the Your Street Challenge allows contestants to submit plans to design improvements to their neighbourhood and win funding to implement these designs.

Many of these programmes form part of the Do Tank stable of creative programmes for the common good. All in all, the “more is more” ethic is almost blindingly dazzling as it posits a way of creating that is seemingly limitless in its possibility.

Naidoo explains that his strategy for the holding company, Interactive Africa, is a document that consists of one word. “The word is ‘stretch’, and the stretch is to say to South Africa, to Africa: Have big, hairy, audacious goals; go for things that are really going to happen and have a multiplier effect. From a standing start, we now host the world’s biggest design conference—which is quite amazing, to think it takes place in Africa.”

This concept of stretching and reaching beyond the status quo is the chief ingredient of Design Indaba’s success, according to Naidoo. “I think that the most important aspect of Design Indaba is that it broke the mould of most of the creative events that tend to be very self-serving, only talking to the creative community. I think what Design Indaba has done quite well is to grow bridges between academia, the design practitioner, the creative commissioner, the commissioners and business and corporates, and even government—so when you come to any one of our events, it’s very well represented with a kind of cross section who can take advantage of design. And I think that is very important, because we believe design is such a vital tool: It’s relevant to all sectors of the economy and it’s not just something for the hipsters, it’s not something that resides in Woodstock. It’s something as relevant to Gugulethu and Khayelitsha as it is to Fresnaye. It’s a force in the economy, and we should really utilise it as part of the toolkit to face down the challenges of the 21st century.”

What he is proposing is almost a new kind of Marshall Plan for post-apartheid South Africa, with an unleashing of creativity and collaborative design as a vital weapon in reasserting a shared public commitment to the common good.

The continuous spinning out of new ideas; the evolution of a conference into a kind of communal movement; and the pursuit of “a better world through creativity” all combine to make Ravi Naidoo and Design Indaba true players in the quiet pioneering of an excitingly new postmodern South African economy.


Inside the Entrepreneur

BY Ariane de Bonvoisin 4 MINUTE READ

For nearly 10 years, I had been working in the corporate world in New York City for three giant media companies. With every career move I made, I became a little less happy, made a little more money but felt a lot more trapped in a life I didn’t want—until I found myself, at the age of 28, running Time Warner’s almost R6-billion venture capital fund. It then dawned on me that I had climbed a high ladder, but that it was either the wrong ladder or leaning up against the wrong wall.

So, what was I supposed to do? Leave it all behind—all the hard work, the prestige, the pay cheque? To go do what? Start an idea? But what idea? What would people think? How would I make money? I was a corporate girl, not an entrepreneur!

And that’s when fear arrived. And it brought along most of its friends: doubt, impatience, anger, disapproval…

What are the common fears confronting an entrepreneur?


This usually encompasses money at its core. From where is your next pay cheque going to come, and how are you going to be able to provide not only for yourself but often a family as well?


Yes, the entrepreneurial life is the opposite of comfort, routine and knowing what to expect day to day. Yet, that can be very exciting.


Shame and humiliation of not succeeding in whatever your next endeavour is can create such fear, that many of us don’t even start or give something a try. Great entrepreneurs, though, are not hijacked by what people think or might say. They are human and still prone to the fear of failure, but they are able to take action.


The mind is an expert at preventing budding entrepreneurs from accessing their inspiration. It finds countless ways to stop you, putting even more fear in the way. Watch the mind, but go beyond it to the creative part in you.


Scarcity of mind is not a quality of good entrepreneurs. On the contrary, they see more of everything: more ways to make money, more good people to hire and with whom to work, more investors to put in money, more people wanting to use what they are offering… Abundance is their word.


This is at the root of so much of our behaviour. The mind will dictate all the reasons you don’t have what it takes. You’re not alone here. Sometimes this belief never goes away, but you can still march ahead proudly.

Let me ask you: What about the fear of never giving your idea or side project a real chance? What about the fear of not showing yourself—and even your children—that it’s possible, and even important, to do what you love? What about the fear of being bored, not learning, not growing as a person, not contributing, and simply being tied to someone else’s rules and clock? And the fear of not having more time to spend with your family and kids as they grow up, or never being able to travel and explore the world?

Don’t be afraid of squeezing the best out of life, of finding out what you’re made of; taking the path less travelled, trusting that things will work out in the end, that there is always a way, and that being an entrepreneur is a fun, crazy and wild ride.

Some of the biggest fears show up even before you make the decision to change your life. Once that’s done, the fear always subsides. A feeling of courage often takes its place, or a deeper belief in yourself, as you know what it takes for you to follow through.

And my own story? Well, it took me two years of facing my fears before I found the courage to make a change, to find my inner resolve and my faith in life; to allow my identity to shift away from the certainty of a permanent job in the financial/business world to the inspirational/personal development sector. And, most importantly, I realised I was fed up of being in a career I no longer loved and of hearing my inner voice tell me each morning: “You’re in the wrong job!”

So I trusted that voice more than all the fears. I resigned, travelled a bit to change my perspective and, in the last few years, launched two websites, wrote four books, started doing keynote speeches and, most recently, released a new app: Mindful365—living a conscious life, one day at a time. I was not a writer when I started, had never built a website let alone raised money; I hated public speaking and had a fear of apps and technology in general. But now I’m more myself and a hell of a lot happier day to day.

Yes, fear does come along: when you’re writing the business plan, pitching investors, launching a website for the first time, figuring how to meet payroll etc. But fear isn’t in the driver’s seat anymore; a bigger part of you is. A part that knows, in the end, there is nothing to fear other than missing out on the chance to change your life.

Listen to that inner voice. What is it telling you? Is now the time? What do you love? What idea keeps coming back to you? What choices would you make if you weren’t afraid? Why do you want to be an entrepreneur?

To quote the late Nelson Mandela, “I learnt that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”


1. Identify what inside you is stronger and more courageous than your fear, and why you want to become an entrepreneur. This is your personal fuel to which you can keep coming back.

2. Always breathe more consciously when the fearful thoughts arrive. When the breath is calm, the mind is also much calmer. Learn to meditate—it’s the secret sauce.

3. Whatever you end up working on, remind yourself that you are helping others. When everything isn’t only about you, things often work out easier. The ego and its fears are a little less in control.

4. It’s always a good idea to stop, take a break, change your state, and come back to what you are working on. Fear doesn’t like being interrupted, so take a timeout when you need to.

South Africans on top of the world

BY Ariane de Bonvoisin 8 MINUTE READ

Despite a highly complicated history, a relatively small economy and years of global isolation, South Africa has never really failed to provide the world of celebrity with its own bright talents.

There is talent aplenty in this country to compete internationally, as well as offer art distinguished by a South African edge.

In March, it was announced that South African comedian Trevor Noah would be taking the helm of the immensely popular and influential The Daily Show, a late-night talk and satirical news show that provides running commentary on American politics; an astounding feat for a comedian hailing originally from humble Soweto. Noah takes the chair from Jon Stewart, an actor/comedian/film director who has become part of the American landscape when it comes to both comedy and political debate.

The intriguing aspect of the appointment is that Noah, a foreign comedian, will—by default—become a much-observed American political commentator, albeit in the guise of comedic entertainment. One can’t but help think the show’s producers, besides having in mind his unquestioned comic talents, would also have felt that Noah, in his personal history as a South African, presents himself as a kind of canvas for discussion of the big issues facing the body politic globally.

In his first appearance as one of Stewart’s ‘correspondents’, Noah wryly observed, in the wake of a series of high-profile police shootings, “I never thought I’d be more afraid of police in America than in South Africa… It kind of makes me a little nostalgic for the old days back home.”But that does not mean Noah will be playing off his heritage for cheap laughs. In his first appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, he noted that he hates being introduced as a comedian from Africa: “They make it sound like a guy in leopard skin’s going to come running on the stage.”

Noah, who moved to the United States in 2011, has always had an international flavour to his style, likely consequent to his ability to speak six different languages, as well as his propensity to tour the world.

He grew up in South Africa as the son of a black mother and a Swiss father, whose union was considered illegal under the apartheid regime. Noah recounts that his mother was briefly imprisoned as a result. He would take the material of his upbringing and transfigure it into comedy in specials such as the now classic, That’s Racist.

With Noah’s willingness to make light of serious issues, it was perhaps no surprise that the announcement of his taking the chair of The Daily Show was met with some serious controversy, with critics sifting through old tweets to find apparently anti-Semitic and misogynist material. Noah, besides being defended by Jewish leaders, would defend himself on Twitter, stating: “To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.”

Comedy Central, the cable channel responsible for the show, issued its own statement: “Like many comedians, Trevor Noah pushes boundaries; he is provocative and spares no one, himself included… To judge him or his comedy based on a handful of jokes is unfair. Trevor is a talented comedian with a bright future at Comedy Central.”

Perhaps what makes Noah’s future so bright is a distinctly South African ability to take prosaic ugliness, the real issues of everyday life, and allow his audience to see it in a poetic way: as something ironic, tragic and thus deeply and humanly comic. In this way, he is, somehow, able to use a kind of acid humour to discuss the likes of Boko Haram, continued racism, all in a way that provokes debate within laughter. Such a formula has launched him to the forefront of US media.

South African actors are slowly becoming a staple of big Hollywood fare, even while our directors demonstrate their unique visions from behind the camera.

But Noah is just the latest in a long line of South Africans who have captured the world’s limelight.

Intriguingly, that other big South African Hollywood celebrity, Charlize Theron, shares something in common with Noah: both have seen the ugliness of domestic violence up close. Theron’s mother shot her father in self-defence, while Noah’s mother was herself shot by an ex-husband. Whether this points to the statistics of household abuse, or the virtue of both Theron and Noah in transcending tough circumstances, it perhaps also hints at the South African desire to overcome.

A million ways to succeed in the West In 2013, Vulture/New York Magazine named Charlize Theron the 68th Most Valuable Star in Hollywood: “We’re just happy that Theron can stay on the list in a year when she didn’t come out with anything… [A]ny actress who’s got that kind of skill, beauty and ferocity ought to have a permanent place in Hollywood.”

As history recounts, Theron would go on to win an Oscar for portraying, in all her darkness and complexity, Aileen Wuornos: a real-life serial killer in America who, following a childhood marred by trauma and abuse, goes on a killing spree of men, after defending herself against rape as a prostitute. Renowned film reviewer Roger Ebert named Monster the best film of its year, and wrote: “What Charlize Theron achieves in Patty Jenkins’ Monster isn’t a performance but an embodiment… it is one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema.”

Theron has since added social activism to her cinematic career, launching the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project to stem the ongoing HIV/Aids pandemic in Africa. CTAOP awards grants to community organisations on the ground for the purposes of preventing HIV transmission.

In addition to this, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, named Theron a UN Messenger of Peace in 2008, reading in his citation: “You have consistently dedicated yourself to improving the lives of women and children in South Africa…”

Theron is not, however, the country’s only Oscar winner.

When Gavin Hood won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Tsotsi, the film adaptation of a novel by South African theatre giant Athol Fugard, he went one better than Darrell Roodt’s nomination for his film, Yesterday. Hood has since gone on to direct some massive blockbusters in Hollywood, notably Wolverine, Rendition and Ender’s Game—featuring stars such as Hugh Jackman, Reese Witherspoon and Harrison Ford.

For a South African audience who grew up with Hood as the protagonist in the rugby drama, The Game, on TV1 (as it was then known), his subsequent rise is nothing short of meteoric.Hood, who was at pains to describe Tsotsi not as a black film but as a universal coming-of-age story, believes South African cinema is on an upward curve as it matures as a nation. “What is truly exciting is that South Africans are at last beginning to feel that they can tell all kinds of stories. Which is exactly the point of a liberal democracy.”

Hood himself studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he came across a case that would inspire him to write the screenplay for the acclaimed, A Reasonable Man. After his television work, and winning an American award for his script, he would go on to bring his script to life—leading him next to Tsotsi, and then to Hollywood lights.

His next film is titled Eye in the Sky, and will examine the rise of covert drone warfare. “We are all connected electronically, but we’re more disconnected now than ever before. We can pinpoint whom we attack now. When a missile is fired, the crew is asked to go back and inspect the bodies. It’s shocking and troubling, but it’s making us more aware of the consequences of our actions.” The film will star Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman.

Coincidentally, Hood’s high school career at St Stithians College in Johannesburg would briefly overlap with yet another celebrated South African export, Dave Matthews, of the Dave Matthews Band.
Under the table and dreaming In early 1991, vocalist and guitarist Dave Matthews decided to put on tape some songs he had written—and the Dave Matthews Band was born.

After being born and schooled in Joburg, the future indie-rock superstar would leave South Africa to avoid military service (Matthews had been raised a pacifist Quaker), and would settle in New York before moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, where the band would form around his songwriting talents and gradually build a global cult following.

In 2013, he would bring his band ‘home’ for the first time, playing to sell-outs in Cape Town and Joburg, along with frequent collaborator, folk singer Vusi Mahlasela, as well as the legendary Hugh Masekela.

Matthews is a double Grammy winner, whose music frequently displays its South African roots. He recalls that playing music with the men who worked at his uncle’s dairy would be formative in his career.

Perhaps a more recent South African breakout has been the director/actor duo of Neill Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley.

Blomkamp, like Matthews, would emigrate to Canada straight after attending high school at Johannesburg’s Redhill (along with Copley).

From film school in Vancouver, Blomkamp would establish himself as one of television’s leading animators before catching the eye of The Lord of the Rings supremo Peter Jackson, who agreed to produce a film based on a short film previously made by Copley and Blomkamp, titled Alive in Joburg. The film was District 9, an eerily familiar story of aliens living in segregated slums in Johannesburg, and it would go on to be a global smash hit—garnering Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Blomkamp would later direct Matt Damon and Jodie Foster (as well as Copley again) in the high-grossing Elysium; and after something of a misfire with the artificial intelligence film Chappie, he is set to take the helm of James Cameron’s Alien franchise, with Sigourney Weaver due to return to play the iconic Ripley.

He has shown his oeuvre to be one of blending social commentary with science fiction, and creating an interaction between the two. It was this facet of his filmmaking that led him to being named in 2010 as one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.

The citation, written by legendary director Ridley Scott, speaks for itself: “From time to time, there are people in the film industry who appear on the horizon with a unique vision. South African director Neill Blomkamp is one of those rare people… His first feature, the improbable but utterly engaging alien-apartheid allegory District 9, has already brought him more acclaim than most filmmakers will ever achieve… I know that we all look forward to seeing what lies ahead for this game-changing filmmaker.”

This little chappie went to Hollywood Sharlto Copley first met Neill Blomkamp in the mid- 1990s, and they have since become a dynamic and creative filmmaking duo in the US.

Meanwhile, Copley has gone on to star in The A-Team, and opposite Angelina Jolie in the fairy tale adaptation, Maleficent.

Equally now a part of the big-time Hollywood acting game is Fana Mokoena. Born in the Free State’s Kroonstad, he has come to fame playing a Rwandan general in the haunting Hotel Rwanda, as well as a fictional UN secretary-general in the Brad Pitt feature, World War Z. He most recently played Govan Mbeki in Long Walk to Freedom.

After his breakout in the zombie film, World War Z, Mokoena noted: “I don’t want to be typecast… I think there’s a very limited understanding of us as artists on this continent. We are seen as this type, so it would be amazing for me to break that mould.”

In short, South African actors are slowly becoming a staple of big Hollywood fare, even while our directors demonstrate their unique visions from behind the camera. As Hood and Blomkamp so clearly demonstrate, South Africans have stories to tell. And one of our most acclaimed storytellers is Nobel laureate, the novelist JM Coetzee.

Coetzee, a former professor of Literature at the University of Cape Town, has written the masterpieces Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace, subtly pulling apart the strands that make up both the apartheid and post-apartheid zeitgeist.

Indeed, in winning the Man Booker Prize twice (for Disgrace and Life & Times of Michael K), he has offered his vision of a haunted and haunting South Africa to the literary and academic world. This, in turn, has created a reputation for Coetzee of being the most esteemed (yet enigmatic) English author currently alive.

Coetzee, along with Noah, Theron, Hood et al, demonstrate what all South Africans already know: There is talent aplenty in this country to compete internationally, as well as offer art distinguished by a South African edge. These forerunners have all bashed down the door; it is now simply a matter of who wants to follow.


Work = life = work

BY Ariane de Bonvoisin 6 MINUTE READ

There’s a new type of company nipping at the heels of the nine-to-five, top-to- bottom structure that has dominated the scene for centuries. It’s called the lifestyle business.

This model is designed to suit the schedules, personal needs and lifestyles of its employees; while it may seem counterproductive to many doyens of the suit-and-tie, corner-office business world, more and more companies—large and small—are seeing huge value in offering their workers such flexibility.

Richard Branson is a good example of a lifestyle employer. Some even call him the poster boy for this particular business model. But we don’t have to look all the way across the Atlantic to find examples of lifestyle businesses in action; there are companies much closer to home which are seeing the benefits.

Different strokes “Some people work best in an office, some in a coffee shop. You may even work best while sitting at home in your underwear,” believes CN&CO’s Carel Nolte.

Carel Nolte, “chief señor” at CN&CO (a Johannesburg-based people and brand consultancy that launched earlier this year), set up the company with a certain structure—or ‘unstructure’, if you prefer—to suit and serve the lifestyles of the people who work there.

For Nolte, lifestyle businesses should be all about people. “In fact, all businesses are about people,” he stresses. “Most companies say that people are their most important asset. That said, it’s important to recognise that people lead different lifestyles and work at their best under different circumstances. Some people are early birds, some are night owls. Some like to work nine to five, while others are more comfortable putting in an 18-hour day. Some people work best in an office, some in a coffee shop. You may even work best while sitting at home in your underwear. Businesses need to adapt their models to best serve their people—and, in return, they will get the best from their people.”

Working and being productive doesn’t necessarily mean sitting at a desk or at a computer. “Reading, talking, travelling and thinking can also contribute to your work,” says Nolte. “It’s vital for lifestyle employers and businesses to create time and space for that. People add value at a particular time in a particular context. Context changes—a person’s and a company’s—and when it does, you move on. You mustn’t be in things for the short term, but you must realise that companies are (and should be) living entities that change and grow. So what they need from workers also changes, and that’s a good thing.”

Venetia LePine-Williams, co-founder of Le Vino Vita, says one of the reasons she left the corporate life behind was because she felt that, as an employee, she was working a lifestyle as opposed to living one.

She and her business partner Etienne Heymans intentionally don’t have an office, as they’ve always felt this would tie them into a space they’d naturally feel duty-bound to fill and work in. “We work from coffee shops, home, trendy bars and restaurants that support and love entrepreneurs,” LePine-Williams explains. “We’ve found that operating out of this space allows us to grow our network, list our products with friends and owners of these establishments, and also to create a space and culture that allows open sharing of ideas and information.”

The eight-hour workday has been firmly in place since the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Most companies in the global north have subsequently adopted that model. Americans currently work an average of 8.7 hours a day. But things are starting to change, as we see with emerging lifestyle business models.

In 2012, Brath, a Swedish company specialising in search-engine optimisation, introduced a six-hour workday. Since then, many other companies in Sweden have followed suit. But why did Brath make this move? Simply: for its employees. The company’s CEO believes that “once you get used to having time for the family, picking up the kids at day care, training for a race or simply just cooking good food at home, you don’t want to lose that again. That we have shorter days is not the main reason people stay with us; they are the symptom of the reason. The reason is that we actually care about our employees—we care enough to prioritise their time with the family, cooking, or doing something else they love doing.”

Which takes us back to Nolte’s point: building a business model around people.

Many other entrepreneurs are opting for a lifestyle business model to better serve their time when it comes to their family. Christo Crafford, founder of Martha’s Mojo, which operates 5-Star Street Chef and Amexicano food trucks, is a committed husband and doting dad to two young boys. “My family was a big catalyst in the decision to create a more flexible work schedule,” he says. “I am able to participate actively in my boys’ schooling, sports and other activities, while maintaining optimal business operations.”

Jolene Roelofse, founder and director of Mum & Baby Affair, is a “momtrepreneur” who, after returning to the corporate world following four months of maternity leave, realised she’d miss out on all of her son’s key milestones. “They grow up so fast, and I felt it was important to be present as much as possible,” she says. “The most important thing for me is that I’m in charge of my time. So if the nanny can’t make it on a particular day, I can easily shuffle things around.”

Crafford notes that everyone wants and appreciates flexibility and work/life balance. “Life happens,” he says. “Your kids get sick, your parents get sick, emergencies pop up all the time; employees shouldn’t have to choose between their employer and their family—the two should happily co-exist.”

Nolte echoes Crafford’s sentiments. “Work equals life equals work; they’re not separate. So picking up the kids, doing exercise, having sex, reading, travelling, playing sport, shopping, going to the doctor and everything in between are all part of the same thing. When people are unstressed and having fun because they feel a link between their values and their place of work’s values, magic happens.”

It’s widely known that Branson’s personal staff can take leave from their jobs when they like, without seeking permission, as long as the timing of their break won’t have a detrimental impact on the business.

Closer to home, CN&CO has a similar approach, while at the same time complying with South Africa’s labour laws, of course. No one in the CN&CO team is required to sit working in the office, clocking hours; they’re free to fire up their laptop while sipping cocktails on the beach, if that’s what tickles their fancy. In fact, employees are encouraged to take time off to travel as much as they can and as much as they want, without having to worry about having enough leave days. “All we ask is that they’re 100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date on their projects, and that their absence won’t have a negative impact on the business,” says Nolte. “Why should an employee’s curiosity and desire to explore the world be hampered by something as banal as insufficient leave?”

The lifestyle employer realises how important and valuable it is to be exposed to different countries, different cultures and different ideas that come with exploring the world. “This not only has tremendous value for the individual’s personal growth but also for the various teams and brands they work with,” explains Nolte. “Travelling provides a fresh perspective and, more often than not, inspires people with new ideas and ways of doing things. And technology allows us to work from any corner of the globe, which means we can easily tap into our networks from wherever we are.”

Setting up and maintaining a healthy lifestyle business requires a major mindset change for traditional managers, and a massive culture change for big corporates. But in time, businesses that can’t make the change won’t attract the best talent.

Life happens Christo Crafford, founder of Martha’s Mojo, says that when emergencies crop up, employees shouldn’t have to choose between their employer and their family.

It’s all well and good providing employees with a working model that provides them with the freedom and flexibility to be able to come and go as they please, but in order to get the lifestyle employer model right, it’s vital to have the right team on board. “Team members must be mature and responsible enough to warrant the flexibility and responsibility,” says Crafford. “Workers who need constant direction and supervision, and who take advantage of the flexibility, will not last. The rest of the team, and the company, will suffer as a result.”

He points out that while his company is very much a lifestyle business that affords him the flexibility and luxury of planning each day, people in general are under a misconception regarding just how much hard work, time, risk and variable income it entails.

Nolte adds that lifestyle employers should be very clear with themselves and others on the outputs required—and then everyone should just get on with it.

“Micro-managing is for the birds,” he says. “Why keep a dog and bark yourself? If you trust people and empower them, they normally rise to the challenge, delivering great results. Treat people with respect and they will deliver. Expect more and you get more. Give more and you will get more.”

He advocates lifestyle employees holding on “lightly, not tightly” when it comes to employees. “If you try to control people, apart from it being patronising, you don’t get the best from them. All you need to do is support, guide, challenge and influence your team and you’ll get amazing results. Holding on tightly takes more time and effort, and is extremely draining on everyone concerned—not to mention inefficient and generally unsuccessful in the long run.”

With the high level of unemployment in South Africa, the lifestyle business model may be just what we need to encourage more people to head into the business space and start up a small company. It could encourage entrepreneurs to take more risks in getting something off the ground if they don’t have to compromise on their lifestyles.

When employers and employees find a way to integrate work and life seamlessly and effectively, exciting things are bound to happen—starting with a happy team and a healthy bottom line.