Leungo Mokgwathi
NACB CEO: Shombi Ellis

Eliss Pioneers the National Arts Council

Leading the recently launched National Arts Council of Botswana (NACB) as the CEO is none other than the multi faceted Shombi Ellis.

An artist at heart with a multidisciplinary background that stretches across media, arts, health, governance and financial management, Ellis assumed her role in January 2023.

Her job is cut out for her as she sets out to promote local arts industry by emphasizing the worth and value of artists.

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In this feature, she shines a light on the NACB’’s mandate , her responsibilities as the entity’s first CEO and some of the challenges faced by the creative industry.

Kindly please introduce yourself

As you might already know, I am the CEO of the National Arts Council of Botswana, but I like to say that I am an artist first so that it’s clear that I have had some experience within the arts industry.

I am 47 years old, grew up in Gaborone but I’m originally from Kanye.

Give us a brief look into your portfolio.

I worked for over 20 years in the developmental world, mainly in health.

My background is in Marketing Communication and Video Production and I have a Double Arts Major from Liberal Arts College.

I like to infuse my Marketing Communications background with the Health aspect, so, for the past 20 years, I worked in the health realm building capacity for organisations to create strong HIV/AIDS programmes.

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Within the creative industry, I have worked on a number of film productions locally and internationally.

At one point, I was a production assistant for a Whoopi Goldberg Production.

I have also been on radio and TV, I first did a short stint at RB1, moved on to RB2 and eventually went to BTV. I’m also a poet.

How did you end up as the NACB CEO?

The positions were advertised in the papers so I took a chance and put in an application.

Sometime after, I was called in for an interview and somehow I landed the job.

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It all started with the NACB bill which was passed in 2020, then a board was put in place to set up the systems and get everything started.

After that, the executive team came in and I was the last piece to that puzzle, joining in January.

Have you always had this outspoken personality?

Gosh, I was such a chatterbox as a child!

I remember being scolded a lot for always talking in class.

Now that you ask, I realise that I have been an advocate for most of my life, starting off as a peer educator from my teen years.

At age 18 I had already travelled as far as London and The Philippines for advocacy seminars on HIV/AIDS.

I never knew that I’d end up in this seat, however I realise that all those moments were building up to this.

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From all the applicants, what do you think set you apart?

I have no doubt that the other candidates were strong and competent for the task.

However, I think for me it was my multidisciplinary background.

I think it may have been the fact that I have experience in the arts, media, health sector, a strong background in governance and financial management.

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You can’t work in this industry unless you have walked in the shoes of the artists themselves and actually understand some of the issues they go through: what it means to self sacrifice for a piece of art, or to work tireless hours and not have your work recognised or valued.

So what exactly is the mandate of the NACB?

Our role at NACB is to provide a platform for the promotion and development of the arts and culture industry.

We do that by firstly ensuring that we create a safe environment that enables artists to do their work.

This starts with formulating responsive policies that speak to artists’ needs.

Alongside robust programmes that promote the arts, funding is also an important part of what we do.

We are transitioning from MYSC so we have taken over some of their programmes such as the Arts and Culture grants, National Arts Festival, Khawa Dune Challenge and some exhibitions.

What is interesting for us is that we have an opportunity to bring in a fresh lens and a new approach to how things were done previously.

What are your responsibilities as the NACB CEO?

My job description includes providing oversight and steering the direction of the ship as the captain.

My job is to ensure that the mission and vision are clear internally and externally, and to deliver on the NACB mandate on behalf of the shareholders.

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I’m also responsible for ensuring that we can collectively get the job done as a team and report progress to the board.

I am the person responsible for networking and stakeholder engagement: having conversations with key players and developing relationships with them.

Speaking of key partners, which entities in the creative industry are you already working with?

At the forefront is the artists themselves.

We have already engaged with some in the Greater Gaborone region and we will continue with such engagements nationally to learn about gaps and issues which exist in order to build programmes that address these needs.

We have also convened with a number of associations such as BOMU, BEPA, The Mogolokwane Association and The Fashion Designers Association just to name a few.

We appreciate these entities as key partners in ensuring that we have quality programmes that are responsive to artists’ needs.

I make it a point to attend many of these events to see what artists are up to on the ground and see how we can work together for their progress and development.

Also, in these small interactions is where you will find gems.

What are some of these gaps and challenges that NACB hopes to address?

The fragmentation of the industry is at the top of our list.

We want to ensure that the local creative industry is well coordinated for the sake of monitoring and evaluating its growth and the impact we are having on the economy.

We want to arrive at a point where we can determine how different players, whether corporate or independent, feed into the local creative industry’s ecosystem.

A big part of that is through data and monitoring which calls for the development of systems which monitor such data on our industry players.

We also want to emphasise the value and worth of artists.

Artistry is a technical field and these individuals need to be respected and paid well for their works.

As a woman who is breaking glass ceilings by captaining the NACB ship, how is the race towards creating more leadership platforms for women going?

We are seeing more and more of it and it’s amazing to see all these names coming up.

However, if we are going to give women these platforms, we need to give them full authority and autonomy to lead instead of doing it from a tokenism point of view.

How hectic and challenging has it been since you assumed office?

There’s never a quiet day here at NACB.

Phones are always ringing, meeting after meeting, it’s hectic.

But I’m enjoying every moment of it because I’m exactly where I have always wanted to be, serving creatives and advocating for their wellbeing.

What do you get up to when you take off the captain’s hat?

I’m a mom of two, I love spending time with my kids because they help me unwind.

I also love reading motivational books and sometimes hanging out with friends.

Mention three items which are always in your handbag.

My makeup, my phones and my Bible journal.

I carry God with me all the time because ultimately, through him we are able to do all that we do.

Finally, Thank God it’s Friday, what will you be up to this weekend?

I would like to travel to Swaziland to get some rest after a long week.

I worked there for six years so it’s my home away from home.

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