It all started with a hip hop dance craze in her high school years. That’s when Mashokane Mahlo and some friends started their own hip hop dance group, Lyrical Sneakers. That’s also when she got her first taste of being the boss.
As manager and co-founder of Lyrical Sneakers Mashokane was responsible for booking the dance group for events and making sure their attire, music and dance routines were ready. On top of it all she had to ensure that her school work would not be neglected. The group enjoyed great success, performing on an award-winning video with the artist Pro Kid and briefly working with other artists such as Slikhour and Shugasmaxx.
It was all this multitasking that got Mashokane thinking, “I enjoyed managing my own thing and I was good at selling ideas and pulling people together to achieve a goal. From then, I just knew I wanted to start my own thing. “In Grade 11 she realised that her multitasking abilities could be preparation for one day running her own multimedia company.
Though this idea was now firmly planted, Mashokane’s journey to her multimedia dream was only just beginning. She followed the advice of her teachers at Mondeor High School and applied for a bursary that would guarantee employment. She was offered one by Sasol and made the trek from Johannesburg down to the University of Cape Town to study BCom Law and Economics. Her reasoning was this: she was creative enough to figure out a thing or two about media on her own, but she knew nothing about business.
When she moved into her flat in Cape Town and made her first friends, she realised that both her flatmate and two very good friends were part of the Allan Gray Fellowship. Their talk of entrepreneurship and their engagement in various Fellowship activities intrigued her so much that she applied to become a Candidate Fellow as well. Wanting to still hold on to the promise of employment offered by Sasol, Mashokane declined the financial support offered by the Foundation and retained Sasol as her main bursar. After spending two vacations working at Sasol, however, she realised that the corporate environment was not for her. After negotiating with both Sasol and the Foundation she was free from obligation by her third year. That’s also around the time when she got her idea for the next big thing.
‘The Next Big Thing’ would be the name of a TV show that would celebrate successful young people in South Africa rather than celebrities. She pitched this idea at the Foundation’s Jamboree, which was held during her third year, and received the approval and encouragement of both the judges and other Candidate Fellows. She came up with the idea when she pondered how being surrounded by inspiring individuals like the Candidate Fellows had inspired her. She explains, “peer motivation, especially good peer pressure was more impactful in driving ambition and initiative in young people than role model motivation.” She found that despite their exposure to various industry leaders, “the consensus among the Candidate Fellows was that just being around the community stimulated [them] more.”
In order to realise her dreams she instinctively knew that she needed guidance from some industry leaders. A month after the Jamboree Mashokane dared to contact Khanyi Dhlomo. It may have been the quality of her idea, the persuasiveness of her email or the fact that she read Khanyi a poem during their first teleconference meeting; whatever it was, Khanyi agreed to mentor Mashokane. And so began a very fruitful period of refining the idea behind The Next Best Thing and registering her company YEP Media, which stands for Youth Entrepreneurs Media Platform.
Of her decision to focus her business energies completely on media she says, “I believe media is a powerful tool to shape the direction of a nation… I want to use YEP Media to empower, inspire, connect, educate and ignite the youth of South Africa. And hopefully by successfully changing the economic mindsets of the country positively, we can change the behaviour and truly achieve a world-class South Africa in every sense: economic, social, environmental and political.”
Mashokane now has a team working with her on the four tiers of the company. There’s the online platform geared towards engaging youth and connecting them with mentors through The Village Club one-day-mentorship programme, then there’s the corporate media services branch through which she and her team provide design, provide web development, video and communication services to their clients. The third tier of her company is a monthly publication titled The African Youth Writers Publication –The Voice of a Conscious Youth, which publishes articles on current affairs by young writers.Finally, the fourth tier of YEP Media deals with the production of the TV show The Next Big Thing. The pilot episode, featuring Mandla Mdakane, the professional motor sport racer, has already been shot and is under review by eTV for the funding of the other 11 episodes.
A few months out of university and Mashokane Mahlo is already making things happen. She is the epitome of the Foundation Pillar, Personal Initiative: a person who makes things happen and celebrates the satisfaction of bringing new things into being; someone who is independent, proactive and self-starting.
Written by Alexa Anthonie.