• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Considering creative industries

Considering creative industries

The expression ‘creative industries’ has been with us for a little while. I think I first came across it when living in Lagos and having contact with the then representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). This was Kandeh Yumkella, who is now running UNIDO as director-general, and the interview I did with him (for BusinessDay) gave me two ideas that have stayed with me. One was how the industries in Nigeria’s informal sector, such as clothes, shoes and spare parts, in places like Aba and Nnewi, could be improved by being brought into the formal sector, and the other was the concept of ‘creative industries’. This came from the value that different forms of cultural activity can bring to the economy of a country. It is an expression that has also caught on at UNESCO, although they have perhaps less concern with the economic benefits of it, even while accepting the word ‘industry’. As one well-known British cultural administrator said, “culture is not a commodity” and profit should not be the main motive, even if the activities bring in enormous benefit to those countries that are rich in cultural activity.

It is helpful to employ the definition of John Howkins in The Creative Economy: How People Make Money from Ideas (2001) when he described a broad range of subjects to cover the concept, including “advertising, architecture, arts, crafts, design, fashion, film, music, performing arts, publishing, research and development (R&D), software and toys and games”. This definition was also used at an extremely animated day conference on the subject held recently at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden. This was organised by the African Creative Industries Investment Summit (ACIIS) to deliver, said the organisers, “evidence-based scenarios using African ventures within high growth creative sectors”, with a view to showcasing “economic opportunities to the network of development financial institutions, private equity, limited partners, venture capitalists and family offices in and around London”.

Read also: ‘We are looking for creative people and problem solvers’

This particular exploration of new ideas has been attractive to me for some time, and I was impressed by the range of speakers. These, firstly, presented an overview of creative industries in Africa, and then went straight away into the crucial aspect of the accessing of finance. Nicola Searle of the UK Intellectual Property Organisation stressed the disruption of old business models with the arrival of the digital age; and there were also a couple of advisers on the subject to the British Council, which has realised the importance of creative industries in Africa for some time. One of them, Tom Fleming, has worked in Nigeria on film development, including the “Nollywood effect”, as well as transcending the dearth of cinemas (there are a hundred in Nigeria compared with 800 in South Africa).

The securing of finance in the cultural sector is hard because of the difficulty of estimating value, which, as all fund-seekers and funders know, helps quantify the celebrated “return on investment”. For me, by far the sagest words at the summit came from Parmender Vir, an award-winning film and TV producer who now runs a specialist consultancy “facilitating cross-border business with emerging markets”. I found her narrative fascinating, as she admitted freely that she had made the dramatic switch from “consumer to investor” – from being herself a creator to “looking at my industry from a commercial point of view”. She had found it was “time to grow up”. Where once she had consorted with the cultural community, she said, she now mixed with accountants. What struck me was that she had found her most fruitful field of activity in the creative industries in Nigeria, where the sector is “the second largest employer after agriculture, generating millions of jobs”. This was a statistic I used when once more giving a presentation of my own book on Lagos and its creativity last week (incidentally, also at the Africa Centre). I was struck by how much the two subjects dovetailed neatly together.

She stressed passionately there is a serious need for a change of mindset: she told how disappointed she had been by the reactions of possible investors when she tried to explain the potential of Nigeria. Her yardstick of comparison is India, which, in spite of having more poor people than the whole of the population of Africa, has been able to market itself as a global economic leader. In her appeal for investment, she asked, why not set up “state of the art” studios in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya? Indeed, her speech had many quotable punch-lines: for example, she noted that Nigerian “investment” in the UK is already in the realm of £4-5bn (in property?); “leveraging the diaspora” was vital, bearing in mind that the Arab diaspora had changed the Arab world forever, having gone from remittance culture to investment. My own concluding word to readers would be simply to retain her own prediction that “local content” in Africa will be entirely digitalised by 2015.