“A think tank for a week, and a do-tank for the rest of the year”: Ravi Naidoo on Design Indaba

9 February 2016

Since 2014, It’s Nice That has partnered with the world’s largest design conference, Design Indaba, that brings together thousands of delegates and fantastic line-up of speakers each year in Cape Town. To kick off our 2016 partnership we interview founder Ravi Naidoo about the inspiration and ambition behind the endeavour.

What were your aims when you first set up Design Indaba?

The big idea that the future of Africa is actually based on ideas and reimagining what Africa could be. We had the alternative idea that the constituency whose opinion was not being canvassed was actually the creative community, and in and amongst the economists and politicians, and the whole retinue of advisors to our new democracy, we thought that the creative class – the innovators – weren’t exactly being brought to the table. So we wanted to create this platform where we ask them to share their own stories of creation and innovation. We hoped that it would spark a whole new generation of Africans to follow their dreams, to be inspired to come up with their own ideas to suit this very unique context in which we live.

How do you keep the agenda fresh, engaging and relevant to current issues?

I think the agenda is defined by the creative community and the zeitgeist. All we are doing is heralding the best work we’ve seen in recent times from all around the world. But we have a particular way of doing it – one is that it’s a massive mash-up. We look at creativity of every stripe, we look across every age group, we look across the world – so there’s a lot of new content that’s shared at Design Indaba. You have to be quite numb not to be moved by the soaring intellect and ideas of the cast every year, because they represent the best in the world right now.

Design Festivals are a common fixture around the world, with many cities hosting a week-long festival each year. How do you differentiate Design Indaba?

Design Indaba has a sense of purpose and mission that has always been beyond the event. So the event is only one manifestation of the full Design Indaba program, and because of our activist orientations, it has always been about how we give affect to the ideas that are shared there – towards doing real work in between. So, a think tank for a week, and a do-tank for the rest of the year. And as you do know, the biggest differentiation is that I don’t know of a festival in the world that has built a terrace of houses in a squatter camp. Design Indaba has.

Who are the emerging talents in Africa that we should be keeping an eye out for this year? What sets them apart?

I’m particularly intrigued by a band of young architects whom we have speaking at Design Indaba this year, and who spurned the idea of building villas for the rich, who entirely focus their practise on public spaces. Whether it’s in the grungy, emerging parts of downtown Johannesburg, or Kigali, through to re-imagining the urban framework, and the road network of Harare. These are these new-age architects from Africa, who have given themselves a wider mandate, and who have gone beyond just receiving commissions, and who are actually putting themselves in harm’s way just to find out how they can actually effect change for the public and the people at large.

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About the Author

Owen Pritchard

Owen joined It’s Nice That as Editor in November of 2015 leading and overseeing all editorial content across online, print and the events programme, before leaving in early 2018.

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