What could be more Austin than the rise of a festival that combines international barbecue and music? If you are already drooling and asking, “Where do I sign-up?” you will actually need a passport, because this festival is in Tanzania.
“In five years, we grew from a crowd of 700 from the first event, to 20,000-plus,” said Carol Ndosi, the organizer of the Nyama Choma festival. “It is barbecue from all over. For the event this September, we will have five multinational kinds of barbecue — Korean, Chinese, South African, Ethiopian and Nigerian.”
Ndosi was one of 25 young entrepreneurs from Sub-Saharan Africa who came to The University of Texas at Austin as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The program, which is part of President Barack Obama’s broader Young African Leaders Initiative, aims to spur growth and prosperity across Africa.
“[The program] had 80,000 applications this year only,” Ndosi said, “out of which they chose 1,000 people to be placed at different top universities in the U.S.” The University of Texas at Austin has been selected to participate since the program started in 2014.
The Austin cohort, taught by John Doggett of the McCombs School of Business, participated in a rigorous academic course focused on leadership skills, business strategies, entrepreneurship and social communication.
A senior lecturer in the Department of Management, Doggett has 27 years of teaching experience and an extensive background consulting clients across the world in global competition, entrepreneurship, sustainability and energy.
Programs such as the Young African Leaders Initiative increase Austin’s access to opportunities in emerging markets. “When most American’s think about Africa,” Doggett said, “it is the starving people, migrants, civil war or genocide. They don’t understand that Africa is the largest growing economy in the world right now.”
Start-up success stories like Ndosi’s barbecue festival, Nyama Choma, point to the potential for development and consumer market growth. Known as the “largest barbecue block party in East Africa” her festival is already selling out at max capacity.
Ndosi wants to find a way to harness this success for her country, Tanzania. She is working on a social enterprise to train and empower women to start their own businesses producing meats and vegetables that are needed to feed the 20,000-plus hungry attendees. This is one of the concepts she is pitching during her time as a Mandela Washington Fellow in Austin.
“We are hoping programs like this — and the integration with local communities that come with it — are going to put Africa on the map,” Ndosi said.
The University’s International Office hosted the program and coordinated leadership development and cultural opportunities for the fellows during their time in Austin. The 25 fellows networked with local powerhouses such as IBM, Capital Factory and Google. Each fellow also had time to network independently with investors and businesses related specifically to their industries — including IT, fashion, agriculture and energy.
Ndosi, given her barbecue and event focus, had many options to meet people and taste test around town. “I have tried Stubbs, Franklin’s, Salt Lick, Black’s and Freedmen’s,” she said, “but, I would say my favorite barbecue sauce here is Rudy’s.”
When asked how Texas barbecue compares to Tanzanian barbecue, Ndosi admitted they are both great, but very different. African flavor, she said, “hits you like wham,” while Texas barbecue has a “slow burn.”
“Tanzania is very big on spices. Zanzibar Island, which is like the spice motherland, is right next to our capital Dar es Salaam.” Ndosi said. “Garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, coriander, black pepper — that’s the most common stuff you would find in most of our marinades.” The sauces have a lot of heat and curry flavor, and sometimes a hint of sweetness.
“It has been interesting to see my business through a different set of eyes,” Ndosi said. “The barbecue houses that I have been to are really different from the ones back home. The customer service, the way you guys serve the food, you know, it’s just a whole different dynamic. I think I’m going to go back home and revolutionize everything I’ve been doing.”
Ndosi and some of the other partner fellows involved in music, events and fashion are now working with the Black Chamber of Commerce in Austin to bring their products to the Austin market. “We know there’s Blues on the Green, but we are trying to infuse an unplugged blankets-and-wine festival with music, barbecue and African fashion,” she said. “Something in Austin that would be cross-cultural; bring the African aspect to it.”
Having the time to network with Austin’s startup community as well as her fellow African entrepreneurs has been invaluable, Ndosi said.
“Apparently the best of the best were chosen to come to UT,” Ndosi said as she playfully boasted about her cohort. “We all have dreams for what we want to see for Africa in the next 20 years. All of us have the same passion for change — political, economic and social. I really feel like this generation right now, our generation, if we come together we’re stronger than anything.”