Ifa Lethu: Interview with Dr Ramdhani

Ifa Lethu

Interview with Dr Ramdhani  – Chief Executive Officer of Ifa Lethu

(10 February 2015)

What does Ifa Lethu do?

Ifa Lethu is a not-for-profit organisation, based in Pretoria, but  has a national footprint.   It manages South Africa’s largest heritage repatriation and creative entrepreneurial development  effort.

The Foundation is currently engaged in the development and economic growth of the creative sectors in the country (visual arts, craft, fashion, sculpture and fossilised heritage. This allows Ifa Lethu to align its work to the Green Economy, Millennium Goals and national priorities such as the National Development Plan and Mzanzi’s Golden Economy-all devoted to employment creation and poverty alleviation. Through its work over the last three years, the Foundation has successfully trained and assisted 2300 young practitioners in the relevant areas, resulting in successful businesses and trade being developed, tourism being generated (through the National Business Incubator Programme) and employment being created in the rural areas of South Africa.

Why have you come to Clarens?

Despite all the socio economic challenges facing the district, the area has huge potential for tourism development because of its scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage.It is an artists haven with many well known artists either living in or frequenting the village, with many art galleries scattered around the village square and the town.  This project aims to address the Free State’s most pressing social challenges of unemployment and poverty through innovative solutions in the area of art and craft. Through the use of social
entrepreneurial principals of organising, creating and managing, these participants would achieve social change and economic sustainability. We aim to train and develop 60 young, new entrants, to enable them to participate in the growing creative industry and to develop creative enterprises, resulting in sustainable job creation and a potential spin-off of 400 new jobs in 5 years.

What effect do you believe your work will have on the tourism industry?  

From our research on the heritage and craft sector in Clarens, we have found that there is a very limited knowledge and understanding of market demand and trends in the tourist industry. This inevitably results in many products having unacceptably low physical and service standards, or lacking in appeal to the more discerning tourism sectors; Poverty and urbanisation intensify the threat of losing cultural practice and being cut off from traditional and natural resources; In most rural areas, a considerable pool of traditional knowledge systems and practice can still be found but is mainly concentrated in the older (dying) sector of the population, not the youth;

Low levels of business management skills and an inability to access funding for capital and operational expenses. People living in the villages have little knowledge about and experience with tourism and designer industries. Most of them are unfamiliar with the nature of market demand and the needs, expectations and trends within general and niche market sectors. Poverty, overpopulation and lack of skills and experience, lead to environmental degradation due to over utilisation of the area’s natural resources.

Hence these will be addressed through the training programme and other aspects of the project.  The establishment of the Creative Hands Incubators, the creation of innovative products benchmarked against global and national market demands, the exposure of participants to Ifa Lethu’s global network of retailers and partners  and the opening of the retail outlet will all impact on the tourism industry aggressively.

What does the training comprise of?

It is a comprehensive five phased programme focusing on the following:

Product development for the Export Market
Business Development and Entrepreneurship
Business Incubators and Mentorship
Distribution Models
Retail Outlet Management and Implementation

What do you hope to achieve in Clarens?

A retail outlet will be opened in Clarens in the Free State. It will be developed to facilitate the selling of the range of products created during the training, and could also act as a market for products created by Ifa Lethu nationally.  The Free State group will establish a cooperative which will then take over the management of the shop and sustainability thereof.  This will allow the established cooperative to benchmark the product specifications to various related markets, to help them adapt their existing product and develop ranges of products with specific relation to their heritage and culture.  This phase will consist of the development and set up of the shop.  It will also give the participants a platform to develop skills in marketing and retailing their range of products. Employment will be created, community sustainability will be ensured, communities will be brought into the First Economy in South Africa and businesses will be incubated.

To learn more about Ifa Lethu visit their website:  http://www.ifalethu.org.za/