21 Aug Creative Women: Dinika Govender
Dinika Govender is a force to be reckoned with, but in a gentle way, if that makes sense? She is most often found in motion; whizzing through the city on her bicycle with a head full of ideas ranging in topics from urbanism to creative discourse to interesting flavour combinations she’s planning to experiment with in her next batch of Bakewell cookies – a side-project turned baby business which she officially registered this week. “Made in Cape Town with Love and Science”, Bakewell began with Dinika baking biscuits to serve at Twenty Fifty’s Monday morning creative talks. Unsurprisingly, she made the extra effort to match the flavour to the speaker of the week; organic peanut for Misha Teasdale of Greenpop, Greek shortbread for Nic Haralambous and something spicy for Zahira Asmal.
Currently working as a strategist at New Media Labs, Dinika is also an ambassador for Sandbox, Cape Town and teaches the occasional marketing communications class at Twenty Fifty. Just hearing about everything she gets done in a day is exhausting.
We spent a little bit of one such day with her to find out more about her various and varying projects.
How would you describe what you do? Please tell us about your various roles at New Media Labs, Sandbox, Bakewell and Twenty Fifty.
I do everything possible to confuse my friends and scare my parents – all in the name of The Future. I joke.
I currently do business development for New Media Labs, a tech-agency based in Woodstock. It’s a role that I’ve been able to have a hand in crafting, and it spans online and offline activities all geared towards strategic-marketing and industry-engagement. One such thing is New Media Mondays, a quarterly event I’m testing out to facilitate more ideas-swapping than name-dropping. Outside of this role – but still within the company – I’m quite excited to be working on the activation of AfricanUp.com. It’s an NML-built platform designed to accelerate African tech-innovation by connecting key players and opening up markets across the continent.
So that’s the 9-to-5.
On the side I’ve started Bakewell: a microbakery head-quartered in the midnight kitchens of generous friends, with deliveries done by bike to a growing number of eateries in the city. It’s a great excuse to jump off the Internet highway, and to get my hands stuck in the business of testing, tasting and making. It’s still early days, but what started out as a hobby is turning into a sweet entrepreneurial adventure.
On the other side, I’m co-leading the Cape Town Hub of Sandbox – a global community founded to support the professional and personal development of under-30 change-makers. At the moment we’re transitioning (globally) to a newer structure that will likely include a brand overhaul. This feels less like work and more like family-building with a groovy group of diverse people (and other similar networks) do what big families do best: support each other. This just happens on a global scale, online and offline, all the time. Amaze.
On the far side, I teach the occasional class at the co-working space Twenty Fifty as part of a great skills-share initiative they’re getting off the ground there.
How did you come to be where you are? Please let us know about your journey so far and some of the things you’ve been involved with along the way.
“With an idealistic head and a big mouth,” my mother often tells me.
True enough, it was with a sense of romanticism that I left the gated Suburbia of Johannesburg for Cape Town five years ago. I studied (almost all of) Business Science at UCT and found that I enjoyed learning through doing a little more than learning through library-marathons.
In my first year I was accepted to the Allan Gray Fellowship Programme (which was a deep dive into entrepreneurial thinking). Over the next few years I was accepted to a few internships and leadership positions that took me to Jo’burg, Geneva and Washington DC in industries ranging from consumer goods to political media. I started TEDxUCT towards the end of my studies largely because I was frustrated by a high-pressure siloed academic system that did not encourage any faculty-neutral spaces to dream. And because I had an inkling that I couldn’t have been the only person on campus who was hooked by Dan Barber’s How I Fell in Love with a Fish. I’ve since passed on my baton, and it’s growing and glowing under a new team. Over the last two years I’ve helped visionary friends out on Future Cape Town’s and Twenty Fifty’s respective start-up stages. These relationships were forged over one too many coffees at Clarke’s, I’m convinced. But I’m all the more energised for it.
I’m very lucky in that my parents worked amazingly to give my sister and I opportunities to travel from a young age, so culture-shocks are something I look forward to; but working and living overseas really is the praying mantis of travel bugs. Through my cultural exchanges, it occured to me that there’s an innate resilience that young South Africans (born before 1994) share. We’re the bridge generation – suspended between a divided history and a vision of a shared future – so cultural tension is not something we buckle easily to. We’re always experiencing it. Trying to defend living in the city centre to my parents: case in point.
What’s an average work day like for you? (If there is such a thing.)
Wake up for sunrise – morning walk or run (weather permitting)
Bakewell deliveries (about thrice a week) en-route to the office
Out-of-office lunchbreak: usually a walk (or cycle) out to a gallery nearby. Most times it’s just a walk through streets I haven’t been through before.
Work work work to complete one big thing. The days easily get filled with ad hoc “tasks” that detract from larger productivity goals, so I try to make sure that I accomplish one significant thing that moves an idea further along the road to execution.
Stop at baking supply store en-route home. Discuss this week’s batch of Bakewell cookies with the tannies there as I stock up on Bakewell ingredients.
Training (because endorphines)
Baking (with a series or two keeping me company)
Reading or writing (I’m working at publishing one essay on Medium a month) until I fall off to sleep
What are some of the challenges or advantages of doing what you do in South Africa?
Learning and growing in a democracy that is also trying to growing into its grown-up shoes is a tandem journey – and one that I try not to take for granted. This is a country blessed (#soblessed) with All the Beauty and the Beasts – which makes it a position of creative privilege for anyone with an interest in adding something meaningful to the world.
One of the biggest challenges is greeting No a lot. It would be fair to say I lead a bit of a contrarian lifestyle, and I often face polite skepticism for it. But that’s the skeptics’ problem, not mine.
How do you decide what to take on?
Well, “Yes” is my default response to Life.
But through a few early failures, near burn-outs and personal losses, I’ve formulated some guiding questions to help me decide where to spend my energy. It’s an evolving process, but it goes along the lines of:
Is this something that I want to want to do? A weird question, I know, but it gets to the idea of personal consistency – of helping me discern the projects that my Pride thinks I should do.
Do I trust this person, team, or environment? This is not to say that I only work with besties in places I feel comfortable in, because I thrive in new environments with unfamiliar people. But if our values are misaligned, it’s a Do Not Do activity.
Do I have creative scope? I need this.
Am I the best person for this? Growing up a Type A older child will do wonders to boost one’s self-confidence (read: ego), but I’ve learnt that just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should.
Is this a new challenge or the same one in a different form? The last thing I want to do at this stage of life is turn myself into a one-hit factory with one skill-set.
Is this new idea sexy because it’s really promising, or because it’s distracting me from following through on a current idea?
Can I afford this? Not just financially – but emotionally and physically too. Sleep deprivation and warped relationships are not on my list of life goals.
What are you passionate about?
Being party to the action brewing at the intersection of history, culture, technology and consciousness.
Where do you think your spirit of entrepreneurship, your willingness to get involved and your work ethic comes from?
Look back enough into history and we shall see the future. I can’t remember who said this (might have been Churchill) but I find it quite applicable here.
I think my current “spirit” as you put it has a lot to do with my lineage. My family’s presence in South Africa (like most South African Indians) is tied to three key historical influences: sugar, indentured labour and the British. My dad grew up in a family of sugar-cane farmers to be an anti-Apartheid activist at university; and my mom grew up climbing fruit trees on family farms to climbing the corporate ladder. Both migrated to Johannesburg to build a better life (I grew up in Hillbrow for a few years, man) and both had an affinity for The Beatles and Scrabble. The result was socially conscious, restless Me (followed by a socially conscious, restless and slightly more rebellious little sister).
What are you good at?
Based on external feedback I’m told I’m a good self-starter, communicator, connector and baker. One thing I know I’m good at is reading maps really, really badly.
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to and interested in?
I just finished reading William Golding’s The Inheritors – a short novel about Neanderthal Man’s awakening to an evolving world. I picked it up at some second-hand book-table (not even a store) ages ago and I’m glad I did. It was bizarre reading – like beating my imagination with a feather duster. In a good way.
I don’t watch much, except for the odd episode of Mad Men whilst baking. Irony unintended.
I’m always listening to a mix of things – but at this moment I’m shuffling through some Fever Trails, Wild Nothing (always on play) and Al Greene. See Soundcloud for more musical schizophrenia.
I’m interested in seeing how long I can hold out as a bicycle commuter. So far, so good.
Who are some of the creative women that you look up to?
There are so many to name. Seriously. There is something in each of my friends, and most of the women I’ve had the privilege of meeting on travels, working with, living with, reading, watching and listening to. But to name a few:
Tahlia Govender (my younger sister); Lyndall Maunder (owner of Clarke’s Bar and Dining Room), Zahira Asmal (founder of Designing ZA); Jolynn Minnaar (director of Unearthed); Sarah Kay (Poet); Maria Popova (creator of BrainPickings.org) and Ayn Rand (she was mean but boy did she have conviction).
And what advice do you have for younger women looking to follow in similar footsteps to yours?
Hmmm. The best advice I can give is to follow the advice you give others.
However, I think it’s important to assume that there is always room for feedback, improvement and learning; chances are that no one is going to stand in your way, but no one’s going to lift your feet for you either; everyone wants to live a meaningful life; everyone’s story is significant; and all men are gay until proven otherwise.
What do you want to be known for?
Oh man. Cue existential crisis.
In nursery school I played the ballerina in our main production of The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and my sole purpose was to bring all the dead toys (my peers in teddy-bear costumes) to life. If there ever was a metaphorical stage set for me, that might have been it.
The manner in which I do this is indeterminate, but that’s the exciting part.
I’ve got a few entrepreneurial babies that need nurturing, so I’ll be moving into the next growth phases with each of them. I’d like to keep using work and side projects as vehicles for experimentation and learning, locally and maybe even abroad for a while.
But first – coffee.
Find Dinika at medium.com/@drivingmissd