Interviewed by: Gifty Blankson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BASED IN: GHANA
VDF isa dance and drama company for children with the commitment of discovering talents in young people and giving them the platform to showcase it. I am in a part of the world where Arts is not considered as important compared to science and maths and our goal is to educate people on how important the art is to the complete development of a child hence our motto: Providing balance to academic excellence. I studied science in high school but did not find fulfilment in it. I was drawn into dance and drama and went on to pursue it at the School of Performing Arts in University of Ghana. I was one of the four students selected by a team from Mandy Fouracre Dance Academy, a ballet school to train in ballet and that was when I discovered the great essence of ballet and dance for children. I continued to research into the importance of arts for children during my masters program and that gave me the motivation to start my own dance program for children to help build their confidence and channel their energy into something positive.
Where do you see your company in the next 5-10 years? What's the dream?
In the next 5 to 10 yearsVDF should be in every region in Ghana training more students and creating more employment for graduates from the School of Performing Arts. I also hope to get someaffiliations to international dance companies or schools where our students can get exposure through exchange programs with children from other countries.
Where are you based?
We are based in Accra. We do not have our own space yet. Getting a space is pretty expensive so we do an after school in about 13 schools and hope to get a property soon so we can carry out most of the plans we have for the dance factory.
How important is having a strong network? Who is your mentor? How did you go about getting them to mentor you?
My kind of work is built on integrity. Parents can decide to pull their children out or not enrol them and they will not lose much because it is not an academic work. Having a strong network saves you from making certain mistakes. It opens doors for you and makes clients have confidence in what you do just by your association. Uncle Ebo Whyte of Roverman Productions is one of my mentors. I am a part of his group so I learn so much from his creative works, organizational skills and values. I seek council from him from time to time. Kate Hammond is my mentor when it comes to teaching dance. She has a dance school in UK and gives me teaching materials and ideas for my company. I met her through facebook. She used to teach at MFDA where I had my teacher training in ballet.
Do you believe in being profitable from day zero or do you think "investing and learning then succeeding" is the way to go?
I do not believe in being profitable right from the start. Well, it is nice to make some profit but I always invest and put back into the business the profit I make so I can get better and better. I use my profit to travel to learn more so I can teach my students. I invest in training my team of instructors by bringing teaching artists from other countries to give us dance workshops. Our end of year recitals are performed against a set and studentsare awarded medals and certificates. These are all investments I put into the program to make it attractive and to give my students a sense of achievement. I know a time will come I will get sponsors who will cater for all these and I wouldn’t have to use my money.
Why do you do what you do? What made you start? What keeps you going?
I worked with MFDA for 6years. I was not satisfied anymore. I wanted to grow, to move on to a new level in teaching but my boss was not ready to invest because she was afraid I will not remain loyal. That was very liberating because It would have been difficult to leave if she had invested. I paid for every training she took me through so although it was difficult for me to resign, I left with a clear conscience. I saved money and travelled to Germany where I took classes in Ballet, Jazz and Modern dance.
I have a passion for the arts and I love working with children. When I see children from other parts of the world confidently exhibiting their talents I dream of the time Ghanaian children will also find themselves on the same platform and doing fantastic things. I want to be an example for young people who choose to pursue arts, to let them know you can still make it as an artist. You don’t have to end up in a suit and tie sitting in an office. This is what keeps me going.
What is the most successful tool you used to grow your business?
Integrity and time consciousness. I come from a part of the world where unfortunately time is not respected much but I learnt to be time conscious from the University and also from my former work place so I carried it into my business. The parents I deal with are people who respect time and expect to get value for their money. This helped me to gain respect and people took me seriously for what I do.
Is it important to innovate in your industry? How do you plan on doing it?
Many dance studios are sprouting and people are teaching all over the place. Year after year my recitals will have to be better than the previous. That is the only way people see growth and continue to enroll their children because they know there is always something new to learn. So yes it is important to innovate. I plan to do that by finding more fun and creative ways of teaching and challenging my instructors to push themselves to become better; this I will do by organizing workshops for them.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs trying to take their business to the next level?
Stay focused. Find that one thing that can propel you to make progress and stick to it. Always look for opportunities to make your business better than it was. Don’t get too comfortable where you are. Keep moving and growing.