Industries in Depth

How the creative industries can boost the global economy

Dave Duarte
CEO, Treeshake
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The integration of the creative industries into the economic rationale of nations is particularly challenging in the context of mixed economies, as the role of creativity as a driver of growth is often underestimated or ignored. In the context of the global south, and their cities of the future; (which anchor the majority of many sovereign economies), the creative sector can play a radical role in the stabilisation of local economies from external shock as well as developing cultural dialogue and social cohesion. The recent discursive development of STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics into STEAMD (Science Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics and Design) is helping governments to steer their planning ethos into more sustainable forms of socio-economic investment.

The creative industries are a critical component of the value chain of almost every single product, from commodities to financial services, providing entertainment, and functionality. The mixed economies of many African cities are reliant in some form or another on the creative industries; sometimes captured in the goods and services of the so-called informal economy to the more complex value chains of multi-national corporations or business flows in terms of fashion, craft and textile production, to gamification and information technology. The narrow definitions of creative as pertaining to “art and craft,” has rightfully evolved into a much richer tableau of creative endeavour and enterprise, not just in South Africa, but in many other countries.

As hosts of the World Economic Forum of Africa 2015, South Africa has two recent creations of interest, the new ministry of small business development, and the Cultural and Creative industries Federation of South Africa, which demonstrate a commitment to this “new economy.”

There are a range of other bodies and events which have maintained a critical role in bringing attention to the role of the creative industries, however these two interventions bring a new level of state investment into the creative industry ecosystem and are a sign of a maturing economic rationale.

However South African creatives will rightly argue that legislation and financial markets in their current form are far from enabling for small/creative enterprises, there is a dearth of investor capital for innovation, and rigid labour market practices prohibit the flexibility of business models to adequately respond to change and opportunity.

Big Business simply does not, “get,” creativity as a value add in commerce, and when most corporations downsize; design, marketing and creative units are often the first to be culled.

In similar fashion, the weak mixed economy of South Africa and the technocratic limitations of the civil service often leave the private sector the only agent of change in responding to the impetus of the creative sector. However; liberal markets are not the panacea of economic development in the context of weak governance and increasing urban inequality and the inevitable rise of slum cities.

The impact journeys into Cape Town; itself an attractive city but blighted by underinvested slums on the periphery as a direct outcome of Apartheid, offered a rapid immersion into the texture of the city, its urbane contradictions of excess and privilege, whilst locating creativity at the core of the discussion.

Several exercises with the Young Global Leaders were undertaken to mark this immersion. At the outset, a series of brief introductory presentations into the challenge of creativity and economic development in the context of Cape Town as an emerging global creative capital were undertaken.

This was then followed up by a 40-minute interactive entrepreneurial game, “Out the Box,” which asked participants to create and pitch for a new business opportunity in Woodstock, Cape Town that would address the challenge of local job creation, combat gentrification and use creativity as its core signifier.

The participants were further broken into several core teams to create intimate and open ended artefacts to unlock their inner creativity, to address a key societal challenge. Whilst Ubuntu as a philosophy is notoriously difficult to define the manifestations of it in the creative industry are the most encompassing and showcase how an idea can truly change the world people live in.

Within hours #CreateAFRICA was trending in South Africa! The exercises encouraged an engagement with the nature of Cape Town as a secondary city seeking to articulate a global position in the creative sector, and in so doing allowed for a diverse and fun entry into the broader socio- economic challenges to be addressed in the days that followed. It was particularly resonant to have been able to host the workshop in Woodstock because it is a great example of an area within a city which has been able to lift itself through its creative capital.

Authors: Mokena Makeka is the Creative Director and Managing Director of the Makeka Design Lab in South Africa. Dave Duarte is Chief Executive Officer, Treeshake. Hanneli Rupert, Founder and Creative Director, Okapi. All three are Young Global Leaders.

Image: Senegalese women and children in traditional garb await the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama and members of his family on Goree Island near Dakar, Senegal, June 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

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Industries in DepthEconomic GrowthArts and Culture
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