Louise Nkosi Talks …The DBACE Awards 2024

The Deutsche Bank Awards for Creative Entrepreneurs (DBACE) have been helping creative social entrepreneurs turn groundbreaking ideas into reality for over 30 years.

This month, the awards are taking place at the RSCA, produced by MeWe360, a black-led non-profit championing black and Asian leadership in the arts and creative industries.

Led by new CEO Louise Nkosi MeWe360 has propelled numerous businesses by providing essential tools and fostering diversity.

Nkosi is the daughter of anti-apartheid journalist and campaigner Lewis Nkosi, who spent 30 years in exile. We spoke to Louise about the Awards and the impact her father has had on her career …

Please introduce yourself

I’m the CEO of a not-for-profit called MeWe360. I was born and still live in London. I’m a black woman of mixed heritage, Zulu–South African and English.

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …

Full.

Please explain what DBACE (Deutsche Bank Awards for Creative Entrepreneurs) is and how it helps creative social entrepreneurs …

DBACE is a longstanding flagship programme for Deutsche Bank and is now in its 31st year. The awards programme helps talented creative entrepreneurs bring their ideas and business goals to life whilst making positive social and environmental impact through their creative ventures. There is a prize fund of £60k as well as 12 months business support for winners including individually tailored development and peer learning. But DBACE goes beyond just supporting the prize winners. We also run an outreach programme offering development opportunities for hundreds of entrepreneurs. Our aim is that anyone going through the application process, whether they win or not, benefits in some way and that their touchpoint with DBACE will positively contribute to their leadership and entrepreneurial journey.

The awards are produced by MeWe360 can you tell us about the organisation and how the collaboration came about?

MeWe360 is a pioneering Black-led organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting Black & Brown entrepreneurial and leadership talent in the UK arts and creative industries. We champion equity and strive to build a solid foundation for the ventures and institutions we support in the arts and creative industries by enhancing equitable access, fostering opportunity and increasing visibility for diverse entrepreneurs in the creative landscape.

I love the word ‘audacious’, made famous by Barack Obama, and a large part of what I hope that MeWe360 does is celebrate and support our members in their sheer audacity to dream big, expand their ambition and generate and lead change in a society where this is often made very difficult depending on who you are and where you come from.

In 2018, Deutsche Bank decided to take time to rethink the DBACE awards which led to them bringing us on board as experts in creative entrepreneurship. We helped redesign the awards and have been delivering it for the last six years. During this time, DBACE has continued to be open to all communities but has expanded its reach so that non-university students and over 30s can apply. With our specialist knowledge, MeWe has also helped to develop and enrich the business support dimension of the programme.

You’ve recently become the new CEO of MeWe360, how do you go about reaching your goals as CEO and what can supporters of MeWe360 expect moving forward?

Well, it’s people that make things happen so for me it’s all about the team and broader network – the staff, freelancers, our board of trustees, supporters and advisors – being able to harness and support their talents and commitment is key to achieving MeWe’s goals. Another critical factor is ensuring that we as an organisation operate in a way that enables us to keep learning and be nimble enough to adapt and be responsive. This entails continually listening to what our members’ needs. It’s about mindset and creating an environment of trust amongst the team because to learn you have to be prepared to be a little vulnerable, to feel able to make, own and grow from things that go wrong as well as right; and it’s also about making sure that the organisation has the right ‘nuts and bolts’ infrastructure in place in terms of things like IT and systems so we have the capacity to be flexible and operate with greater ease and efficiency. At the moment we are excited about developing new programme strands including helping members navigate the fast-moving, and sometimes daunting, world of AI.

Your father Lewis Nkosi was an anti-apartheid journalist with a legacy that for some would be daunting to follow but you have managed to find your own path and extend your family’s legacy in your work. In what ways has your father influenced you?

I would describe my dad as a maverick and the embodiment of the word I used earlier ‘audacious’. He revelled in breaking rules (which got him in a lot of trouble in apartheid South Africa and in many other contexts!) and calling out the things he felt were wrong. He had such a sharp mind and as a critic had a high bar for the African literature he championed – excellence was important to him and he often warned against some of the failures of lazy protest literature. His influence on me is a legacy of refusing to accept the status quo which has inspired my work in equity and social justice. It’s also a legacy of appreciating the power of creativity – of ‘telling our stories’.

The writer, bell hooks, talks about the construction of dominant privilege being that you don’t have to think about what those ‘other people are thinking, feeling, hoping, dreaming’. For those not in the position of privilege it’s the opposite – we are often force-fed other people’s stories and starved of our own. I hope that MeWe is enabling Black and Brown creators to tell the stories through work that would otherwise not be told so people feel empowered, not invisible. Our ambition is to support the cultural leaders who act as beacons of inspiration and change in the communities in which we exist – building ventures and institutions that drive change within the Black & Brown community and wider society.

When you reflect on your career thus far, what are you most proud of?

I’m proud of any time (seemingly small or big) I have contributed to making a positive difference. Many decades ago, working with asylum seekers, I taught weekly English classes. A student let me know that the safe space and community we had managed to create together had been a lifeline for them.

[With] my work at MeWe whenever I meet one of our members and they say we helped them in some way to survive (and thrive) through a stage in their journey be it a high or a low, I know I’ve been doing my bit in sustaining the enormous talent we are privileged to meet and work with. That we can help them achieve sustainable leadership careers leading robust impactful enterprises makes me enormously proud. I am so proud that MeWe has been able to help Deutsche Bank redesign and reinvigorate the longstanding DBACE programme to become the inclusive and diverse award it is today in a landscape where investment is, unfortunately, deeply inequitable.

It has been such a privilege to be approached by other awards programmes and funders asking about how we have managed to achieve the level of engagement and representation (in terms of applicants and actual winners) from groups usually woefully under-represented and marginalised. A really important step for the awards last year was lifting the upper age limit so it’s no longer capped at 30. That arose from an understanding that often an entrepreneur needs time to gain experience and confidence, to gain credibility before they can strike out alone, something which is particularly pertinent to less privileged communities. We and Deutsche Bank felt that this was a progressive and much-needed move.

The diversity of applicants to the competition demonstrates the critical importance of DBACE as an initiative that supports entrepreneurs who may not have access to traditional means of funding, business and leadership development support and education often afforded to those from backgrounds that are more financially secure or who already have established networks.

Highs, lows, solutions …

Growing the number and quality of applications year by year (applications have more than quadrupled since we became a delivery partner) has been a high. It’s taken a lot of work and we’ve worked hard to connect with and secure the support of hundreds of individuals, networks and organisations across the country to help us get the word out and support the delivery of our outreach programme. Steep learning curve when COVID hit and we had to adapt fast to deliver the awards.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU …

If not this, then what? Education is something very important to me and so it would be something connected with education for young people, especially those being failed by the current system. Otherwise, my first passion was for the performing arts and I attended the amazing WAC founded by Celia Greenwood (attended by the likes of Courtney Pine, Marianne Jean Baptiste and Sophie Okonedo). So maybe in another life, I would have continued to pursue that.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week? Sad and Mad, what is happening in Sudan, the Congo and Gaza; Glad, my regular dose of the personal blog written by my mother and sons Tola and Kev called @Raising Kevin all about ‘raising a fine young man with autism’.

What are you watching right now? Too Beautiful: Our Right To Fight – a doc about female Cuban boxer Namibia Flores Rodriguez. Love Island and Better Call Saul.

What are you reading right now? Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward.

What are you listening to right now? Revisiting Nas’s ‘Illmatic: Live from the Kennedy Center’ in preparation for hopefully seeing him live later this summer.

The last thing you saw on stage? Chineke! At the Southbank. It was the first time I had been to a classical concert. Chineke! is on one of MeWe’s partnership programmes supporting high-growth Black-led organisations to raise next-level finance.

What’s on your bucket list? Taking the family ‘back home’! Our kids haven’t ever been to SA or Nigeria (where their dad is from).

Where’s your happy place? Any place I can enjoy the company of friends or in a warm sunny country on a beach reading a book or I love a lazy day in bed.

Who’s the most important person in your life? My family and friends.

Celebrate someone else … My twin sister who works as a counsellor supporting vulnerable people.

Celebrate yourself … I’m not so good at that! Hopefully, this is covered by Q.7

Whose footsteps are you following in? I can’t say I’m following in their footsteps but I can name some of the people that inspire me in different ways – my mum, godmother, the filmmaker Ava DuVernay, the publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove and writers such as Toni Morrison, Bell Hooks and Ntozake Shange.

What’s Next? Looking forward to working with and getting to know the new cohort of amazing creative leaders and entrepreneurs leading trailblazing organisations that will be on our next Incubator programme.

Where can we find you? You can find MeWe @MeWe360 and all about DBACE @ www.dbace.org

What’s next for MeWe360? Watch out for the launch of MeWe360’s new website happening later this year!


The DBACE 2024 Awards will be held on 10 July. Inspired to apply for next year’s awards?
For full details go to https://dbace.org

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