Interview: Lilian Schulze



Even in the rainbow-nation of South Africa Lilian Schulze is a real world citizen. German-Taiwanese roots, besides that lived in the Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark and a list of other countries. Four years ago she came down to South Africa to work on her dream project: the Ubuntu Academy. After four eventful years, the Academy is positioned in an intermediate stage, and Lilian sometimes seems what is called "the last man standing." The first generation of students officially graduated. Now Ubuntu wants to make the transition to a professional, sustainable academy for creative talent. What is the vision of this world citizen on development? And what is the view of this European African on the Western image of the continent?




An interview with Lilian Schulze:

I. General Information

a. Can you shortly describe the genesis / history of the Ubuntu Academy-project?

“Renske, the founder of Ubuntu, came to Cape Town to do research. When she tried to gather a team around her I was one of the people that joined Ubuntu. When I heard it I was immediately sold on the concept. The idea really was a dream coming true for me. From that moment it all went very fast. Within three months we had an Ubuntu office, auditions were done and we started the program. Looking back, perhaps this all went a little too fast. In March 2013, we started with 55 students and moreover with a lot of coaches and trainers for the students. It all went very fast, but actually there was too little structure. It was all very passionate, but very disorganized. Moreover, the curriculum was not clear at all. At a certain point we just set ourselves a clear goal, and we decided to organize a big event. A great show where all the disciplines witthin Ubuntu would be geshowcased. Despite some problems with the venue the event took place on July 4th 2013. A wonderful event with film, music, performing arts, photography and much more. Suddenly people knew about Ubuntu Academy, we had established a name! Not much later, there was a real problem: the money was gone. Nobody saw that coming, the accounting was not very transparent. Suddenly our people could no longer be paid and many coaches and trainers left. Flexibel as we are we then organised a crowdfunding campaign to make a new start, with a theaterplay as the ultimate goal. From that moment the team that still is came to be: Nelson, Mirna, Claire and myself.

The actual vision of Renske was something too ambitious. Although there was perhaps too little structure, there were a lot of events in our path, and so we could still continue to offer the students new projects and challenges. Ultimately, however, we want to return to our own real vision for Ubuntu. Although it was huge and messy, we have achieved a lot of our central goals: Getting students ahead in education, developing the artist within themselves. We are actually still working on that now. The final camp we organized a little while ago was a perfect example of how we want Ubuntu to be in the future.”


b. What has the impact of the project since then, on the target group and local community and surroundings?

“Despite everything, I believe we have achieved our core objectives nevertheless. First of all creating 'cross community relationships' between young people from the townships and the art community. In addition, offering students insight into new concepts, networks and contacts. And finally, creating a lot of new friendships. Friendships between students, and between students, professionals and artists. We created a big volume of social capital, and that has had a huge impact.”


c. What has motivated you, personally, to start your project?

“The basic idea appealed to me enormously: the vision to integrate art, entrepreneurship and leadership in a program. When Renske told me about the idea, I thought, this is my program! I have great faith in the concept. More and better education in a more playful, creative way.”


d. What is, according to you, the strongest point of the project?

“That's a difficult question. In essence I think the strongest point lies above all in that our students are really very talented. The strength of the program is then to empower the students to find this inner talent and support them to exploit it. The talent is there, the Academy helps students to pick it up.”


e. What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / point of improvement for the project?

“Obviously, the organization of the program, as well as the financing. The issue is that when we start the next edition of the Academy, we want to do this really well organized. Structured and improved based on our experience with the first group. We have so many learnings out of these first two years! This is what we are working on very hard right now: the blueprint on which the next Academy will be based.

In addition, often the dependency and the constant feedback loop with Ubuntu Talent Organisation in the Netherlands is a problem. It would be good if we could become more independent in the future.”



II. Development (aid) - north / south relations

a. What is your idea on development?

“ Development is progress. Change, evolution, dynamics and growth. That is development as I see it. This is always the core. The content may change depending on the entity that evolves. Development can be quite large, but also very small.”


b. There is a lot of Western organizations starting development projects in Africa. What is your general vision on this development-aid?

“I studied development sciences, so I do have a certain vision on this issue. What I conclude is that the traditional development-aid has failed on a large scale. The fact is that politics is always and everywhere involved in development-aid. It always gets influenced by institutions with an agenda that includes other interests than a better world. Now new schools try to re-invent development and development aid.”


c. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for Western organizations that want to develop other / foreign communities?

“It all starts with doing good research: what are the real needs of the people in a certain place?

In addition, a certain degree of humility is very important: the work you do is not about you, that you are there to help. Also sincerely try to understand the context. What is it exactly that is going on where you are. And most important, take a local partner in order to better understand your environment!”


d. The In2Afrika Foundation takes the civil society as main principles, in which small scale and local practice are the two most important principles. What is your opinion on our startingpoint?

“It just depends on what you want to achieve, and what development has as a purpose. I think it's just important that you look at organizations and projects on a different scale as well. Some projects just operate better on a larger scale, or must grow in order to be successful. Perhaps a project is small scale simply because it is not functioning properly! Scale on itself does not say everything.”



III. Image of Africa

a. What is, according to you, the current prevailing Western image of the African continent?

“I think the picture is generally bilateral. There is definitely a narrative of 'Africa is rising' . Africa has potential. On the other hand, there is still the image that Africa is lagging behind: Africa is poor, dirty and sick. I think a mix of these two is the image that exists. It runs behind on the one hand, but on the other hand it has growth potential.”


b. What's your opinion on these images?

“In general I do not agree with one single image of Africa. I think this is very important. It's so important for people to understand that if Africa is immensely diverse, all but one black continent. Looking at Africa as one big country is really disastrous. I think that is the core of what needs to change: the valuing of diversity.”


c. How should this image be changed?

“I think it has to come through storytelling. People need to hear and see as many different stories as possible about Africa, so that they begin to understand how diverse the continent is. And for that, there is obviously a need for people that tell these stories. Like In2Afrika for example.”


d. What does the Ubuntu Academy-project do to create an image of the project and of the African continent in general?

“First and foremost, all the art and culture that we as Ubuntu produce is exactly what every Westerner should see about (South) Africa. We produce the Africa of today, its culture and life here. If people could experience what we create, that would be perfect.

On the other hand, the art that the Ubuntu students create tends to also be a display of the tougher life in South Africa, because of the area where they come from. In any case, I believe that Ubuntu's students have so much talent that it will always have a good influence on the image of Africa in the West.”