Young, Gifted & Killing It: Owethu Makhathini
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Owethu Makhathini (@owethumack) has always been a creative at heart, from wanting to be an actress and watch-this-space multidisciplinary collaborations to running her own creative consultancy. In this interview, she shares her passions for her business and transformation in the creative industry as a woman.
Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Owethu Makhathini: My name is Owethu Makhathini, I grew up in Durban and Auckland. I wanted to be an actress, a lawyer, a diplomat, then a businesswoman.
VN: Please explain what you actually do and how an average day looks for you?
OM: I do a number of things. First, I run Makhathini Media which is a creative consultancy based in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. I specialise in crafting curricula on digital marketing, social media and work readiness. Secondly, I am a freelance writer for both online and print publications; my most recent work is an essay in the book Feminism Is, the April copy of ELLE Magazine and on Between 10 and 5, the online creative showcase. Thirdly, I am a public speaker; I speak mostly to youth and businesswomen. There is no such thing as an average day when you’re a creative entrepreneur as no one day is like the other. My day typically involves sending lots of pitches, emails, invoices, writing features, fiction and speeches as well as shuttling between Joburg and Durban.
VN: Tell us about your company and business journey?
OM: My company, Makhathini Media, is still in its infancy. It is a creative consultancy that offers digital skills training, work readiness and social media strategy among other services. I started the company in order to primarily upskill young people in entrepreneurship, digital literacy, code and programming, creativity and work readiness on a large scale. I also want to fund creative projects, facilitate wellness and networking events and help big brands create compelling-perception-shifting creative while driving the industry forward.
VN: What drives you in the hard days of running a business?
OM: Knowing that I am creating a legacy for myself and my family is what drives me. Entrepreneurship is a tough journey but I wouldn’t have it any other way; it has been a journey of self-love and becoming closer to myself and my purpose. I know that what I am doing now will pay off; I don’t care if it takes me two years or 20 years, I am in it for the long run.
VN: Why do you think the industry is struggling with transformation?
OM: The advertising industry is still a (white) boys club. Transformation is slow and the norm is still to entrust big, sometimes international, campaigns to white creatives, entrenching a de facto system of separate development. The structure of ownership, capital legacy and human relationships needs to be completely overhauled. There is very little, if any, emphasis on skills development and leadership training within the agencies to equip those who have been previously disadvantaged to get the opportunity to create legacies in the industry. Black people, particularly women, are facing the unique challenge of being passed up for promotions while being hired as a little more than figureheads in otherwise untransformed departments. Advertising can be used as a medium to shift perspective and contribute towards nation-building and should be treated as such. It is irresponsible to create work that does not account for the climate it is produced in, and the burden should not lie with the marginalised to lead the transformation.
VN: What is it like to work as a female in a male-dominated industry and how do you think the industry may attract more female creatives?
OM: The industry can start viewing women as people. Women deserve a seat at the table and it all starts with transforming the industry through legislation and enforcing HR practices. The culture of agencies has to adapt in order to provide the best experience for everyone in order to extract the best creative work. Differences between men and women, old and young should be celebrated and used to show people that our differences can bring us closer; hiding from them is what creates misunderstandings and ill-treatment.
VN: What do you feel is missing in the ad industry today?
OM: Authenticity, relevance, creativity and representation.
VN: Where and when do you have your best ideas?
OM: My ideas usually come from a good night’s rest.
VN: What advice can you give to young women wanting to get into the business?
OM: I would definitely encourage women to get into the industry and fight for their seat at the table, for women to build alternative tables that challenge the status quo. I would advise her to get a mentor or two early on to avoid making the mistakes some of us have [done] in the past.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known.
OM: I can sing.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
OM: I am working on a series of multidisciplinary collaborations with incredible established and emerging creatives. Something to look out for because it will be exciting!
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at UCT and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he’s currently advisory board chairman. He also sits on the IAB’s Transformation & Education Council, is a DMA board member and has judged the Loeries, Apex and AdFocus awards. He is CCO and founding partner of the largest black-owned and -managed full-service agencies in the country, AVATAR. He is also co-founder of M&N Brands, which is building an African network of agencies to rival the global giants. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.
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