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Monday, March 6, 2023


Thinking big, scaling fast by Heather Dugmore


(Above: A creative shoot in the Trulife studio)

Signing a R100,000 deal with MANCOSA, a higher education college, is just the start of a profit-making channel for the non-profit organisation (NPO), Trulife, in Kloof, KwaZulu-Natal, who participated in the Arts & Culture Trust’s (ACT) Thuthukisani Programme – a business development initiative for artists and arts organisations, funded by Nedbank’s Arts Affinity.

Trulife develops creative art forms such as dance, theatre, film and photography to address social injustices in schools and society and focuses on issues such as bullying and gender-based violence. ‘We have been going for 12 years, raising funds to continue our work, but we’ve always dreamed of having a profitable business that could feed into our NPO with sustainability as the goal,’ says Nancy Strauss, the Creative Director of Trulife.

Like many NPOs, Trulife needed to shift from non-profit thinking to profit thinking.

“As an NPO you raise funds, but as a business you sell. It’s not an easy shift but once it happens, the rhythm of commercial success follows,” says Willem Gous, microenterprise specialist and owner of The Human Entrepreneur, which was a finalist in the 2022 Africa Startup Ecosystem Builders (ASEB) Startup Mentor of the Year award and the ASEB Startup Incubator of the Year award.

Countrywide, Gous has been mentoring artists and arts organisations participating in the ACT Thuthukisani Programme. The aim is for participants in the programme to become profitable within a 90-day period.

“The first thing I look at is the amount of profit they aim to make, in other words, how they value themselves monetarily, and they invariably sell themselves short. This gives me an insight into their relationship with money,” explains Gous.

“Many creatives and people in the NPO sector must learn to see money differently. Money is simply an energy exchange; you are taking the value you put into arts and culture and exchanging it for money to enable you to amplify the work you do and pay for life’s necessities. A negative relationship with money withholds you from growth, prosperity, health and happiness,” Gous adds.

Programme participants whose business concepts show merit can receive up to R45,000 to develop their business concepts and participate in the mentorship with Gous.

(Left: Exterior view of completed Trulife studio)

Fuzile Macala, an administrator with Trulife who manages the studio, explains: “We had an extra room in the building where Trulife is based, and we used part of the money from Thuthukisani to convert the building into a space that could be used as a professional studio, gallery and stage to hire for rehearsals, performances, photography or film shoots and other creative endeavours. “To attract clients, we used the rest of the money to upgrade our website and leveraged social media to advertise the space and business that we have called Trulife Media House “

During the mentorship, Gous also emphasised the importance of physically reaching out to people by calling and visiting them to attract clients and achieve sales, which they did.

“For someone moving from a non-profit to a profit-oriented business, I wasn’t very confident at first,” says Macala. “During the mentorship with Willem, my confidence grew and I also learnt to define and connect with our specific customer base, such as photographers, film- and video makers, modelling- and advertising agencies. We calculated a competitive rate, and held a launch event in November 2022, attended by 100 people in the creative industry.”

To date, their biggest client is MANCOSA, which signed the R100,000 deal with Trulife to manage their entire first-year student campaign. “We thought the physical space would be the drawcard but knowing we have a really good creative team on the non-profit side, MANCOSA asked us to handle the whole campaign, including videos, social media and photography,” says Strauss. “They were able to use our studio space to do all of this, which helped us to cut costs considerably.”

“It’s wonderful to witness the progress of so many of the participants in the ACT Thuthukisani Programme,” says Tobie Badenhorst, Head of Group Sponsorships and Cause Marketing at Nedbank. “They are creating and running businesses – and making money in the process. They are growing and becoming sustainable, which is precisely why the programme was introduced.”

ACT CEO, Jessica Denyschen, explains that the name of the programme, Thuthukisani, is the isiZulu term for 'development'. “Having launched the programme last year, it is so rewarding to see creatives throughout South Africa transforming into entrepreneurs and applying their skills to develop new businesses.”

During the three-month mentorship, Gous helps to drive each business to make money while achieving their creative goals.

(Right: KZNSA & Woza Moya Ufafa Valley Gift Range)

Also in KwaZulu-Natal is the non-profit KZNSA Gallery, which showcases the province’s outstanding arts and crafts talent. The Executive Director of the KZNSA Gallery, Angela Shaw, was selected for the ACT Thuthukisani Programme. Her business aim during the three months, ending December 2022, was to grow the product lines they sell in their shop and on their e-commerce platform.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we started to help keep our doors open,” Shaw explains. “It was also an opportunity to share the high standard of creative work coming out of KZN with an international audience. The site aims to position us as the go-to for the best of KZN arts and crafts,” Shaw explains.

“We used the R45,000 to upgrade our website and migrate to a WordPress e commerce platform, as well as develop our social media outreach so that people can be directed to our online shop. We send arts, crafts and gifts all over the world, and we are focusing on driving online sales worldwide. NPOs have to embrace sound business practice to survive,’ Shaw concludes.

Gous adds: “Angela is eminently coachable; she’s open to new ideas and to questioning her current and past actions, which speeds up breakthroughs. Now that we have the pandemic under control, we discussed that one of KZNSA’s greatest resources is the 500+ people who visit the gallery each month. It presents an ideal opportunity to talk to them, ask them what they like, which types of art and crafts they buy, learn from them, find out what drives them and what brings them to the gallery.’

During the mentorship, Shaw realised they needed to introduce a wider range of prices to suit a wider market and used the rest of the R45,000 to do this. “With 70% of our shop purchases being gifts, we have started adding a cheaper, high-quality gift range that includes screen-printed cotton tote bags and t-shirts,” she explains.

Embroidery designs from one of their partner organisations, Woza Moya Community Development Project in Ixopo, are screen-printed onto the tote bags selling at R195 each and t-shirts at R150, and they have also created gift cards priced at R20 and gift wrap at R25. They work with local service providers, using a screen printer and sewing factory in the neighbourhood.

Shaw says the Thuthukisani mentorship was “extremely valuable to review what we are doing with a business strategist like Willem. We’ve started small; we printed 100 tote bags and 100 t-shirts, and we sold half of this stock during December 2022 and January 2023. Our next idea is to use the images from the murals at the gallery on tote bags and t-shirts. As the murals change, we can add to the range while preserving the heritage of the murals that are painted over.”

Gous says people in the creative industry have great potential to be successful entrepreneurs. “They have the ability to create new solutions and deal with challenges in creative ways. In the same way that artists can create a song or curate an exhibition, they can develop a successful business if they learn to apply their creative thinking in a business context and focus on making a profit.”


Thuthukisani is currently in cycle 3 of the programme for the final three provinces: Gauteng, the Free State and the Western Cape. Mentorship training is scheduled provisionally to start at the end of February 2023.