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Coals to Cape Town

Names & Faces - Mike Edwards is taking a year's sabbatical from Arup to work on a South African design expo.

Mike Edmonds has just two weeks to pack up his life before beginning a new cultural experience in South Africa.

Having been awarded £63,500 by the National Endowment for Science, Technology & the Arts (NESTA), Edmonds is leaving his role as director of Arup's Belfast office for a year to see what he can learn from a different job in a very different environment.

'It was incredibly humbling to be nominated for the award, ' says Edmonds.

NESTA aims to encourage innovation in the UK by being a 'genuine risk funder', taking a long term view and investing over £300M in promising new ideas and ventures.

After 26 years in civil engineering, Edmonds decided he could gain interesting insights and learn lessons by working on Design Indaba, a conference and exhibition showcasing South African design. He will work with the event's founder and managing director Ravi Naidoo.

The original idea for the event was to create a high prole platform for the creative industries in recognition of the role they can play in a healthy economy.

Edmonds was offered a selection of replacements, but it was South Africa's parallels with Wales - where his family lives - that made it stand out.

'At first I was unsure the South Africa position was what I was after but as I researched the prospect further it struck a chord. South Africa was built on a single commodity, gold. Wales has had a similar dependence, but on the less glamorous coal.'

Edmonds explains that Naidoo set out to encourage South Africans to take a larger share of gold revenues by getting involved in the design of gold products as well as selling the raw material.

Edmonds will help deliver the next Design Indaba in February 2007 and will present his experience in two feedback events, one in South Africa and the other back in Wales.

Q&A

Mike Edwards Career highlight: Growing the Belfast office from two to 20 in six years.

Thing I would save if my house was on firre: My collection of rugby programmes.

Top tip: Grasp every opportunity that comes your way with both hands.

Most unlikely fact: I once tried to learn the sax but failed abysmally.

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