Innovation Island: Sri Lanka’s creative industries’ strategy

This is probably one of the most interesting projects that we’ve consulted on. When AOD commissioned Public Works for a monumental project that involved playing a part in strategising and branding Sri Lanka’s creative industries policy proposal, it was very exciting. While the local creative industries strategy was something that a large number of stakeholders—from British Council Sri Lanka, the Export Development Board and the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade, to creative businesses like the Colombo Design Studio and Selyn—this particular proposal for branding the creative industries came from AOD. We were involved in coining the name ‘Innovation Island’ and crafting the first strategic communications that went out to the public on this story.

A national game-plan for Sri Lanka’s creative industries? About time.

Everyone is talking about Sri Lanka—new opportunities, interesting collaborations, untapped markets, fresh talent, paradisiacal beauty and a wealth of culture and heritage for inspiration. In this promising landscape, a major new focus is the island’s creative economy, and the enormous potential that it holds to transform the country. Efficiently harnessing this potential means having a national policy that encourages practitioners, supports emerging talent, provides infrastructure, facilitates innovation, research and education at the very least. But, why are Sri Lanka’s creative industries important enough for a national policy? Because ‘creative capital’ is central to today’s economies, and will undoubtedly become even more important as we progress into the fourth industrial revolution. Creativity, basically, is the new power currency. Keep reading.

Experts compare fuel energy—the power currency of the twentieth century economy, to creativity which is predicted to dominate the twenty-first century. In the same way that access to energy and the policies around oil determined the geopolitics of the past century, creativity will be among what drives tomorrow. This is why governments around the world have made some of their best efforts in policy-making to form their national strategy for creative industry development.

Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Canada, Singapore and South Korea are some of the leading global success stories of nations that have progressed towards enormous economic growth by harnessing the ingenuity of their people through effective national policies. The eleventh Five-Year Plan of the People’s Republic of China made it evident that the East Asian superpower aims “to move from made in China, to designed in China”—a powerful example of the worldwide understanding that generating original creative content is more valuable in the current economy than manufacturing larger product volumes. In 2015, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the creative industries in the US bring in $698 billion (Dh2.56 trillion) to the national economy via 4.7 million jobs. Similarly, the British government declared its creative industries  to be worth $116.7 billion per year in the $2.56 trillion national economy. The growth of creative industries in the Middle East and the North African region has demonstrated impressive results, with the design sector valued at $100 billion in 2014 (Mena Design Outlook report, Dubai Fashion & Design Council). Zooming out on the wider global picture, United Nations’ survey of the worldwide creative economy concluded with the following, “The interface between creativity, culture, economics and technology, as expressed in the ability to create and circulate intellectual capital, has the potential to generate income, jobs and exports while at the same time promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development. This is what the creative economies have begun to do.”

Tapping into Sri Lanka’s creative talent pool with the right focus and strategic approach requires a national policy that converges ideas, efforts and transactions effectively. In 2018, the first discussions on proposing a national policy for the creative industries was initiated in collaboration with AOD and the British Council Sri Lanka. This is where it all begins.

Who is behind Sri Lanka’s national policy for the creative industries’ development?

The first discussions on Sri Lanka’s national policy for the creative industries included representatives from the Ministry of Development Strategies & International Trade, the Board of Investments Sri Lanka, Export Development Board, the National Design Centre, University of Moratuwa and AOD. Keep reading.

Bringing in Britain’s expertise in forming and implementing strategies for developing a creative economy, the British Council Sri Lanka and Jane Rapley—professor emerita of the celebrated design university Central Saint Martins’ UK and AOD’s academic advisory chair, also joined in. As practitioners of creativity in cultural and commercial realms, artist and designer Anoma Wijewardene, and representatives of 99X Technology, Colombo Design Studio and the Colombo Design Market were also part of the discussions.

The panel concluded on the necessity of a nurturing a complete ecosystem of practitioners, commercial entities, education institutes, events, cultural units, infrastructures and research as well as the establishment of standards, ethics and codes of conduct, for a three-sixty approach to developing the creative industries.

Encouraging diversity in people, ideas and cultures, creating value for them and celebrating the creative industries were also highlighted.

Establishing Sri Lanka’s identity as a creative nation and bridging the communication gap between artists, designers and technologists, scientists was also part of these initial discussions. Developing the next generation of creative talent right by incorporating design thinking into the school system, and whether the state design universities were being made accessible to the students that are truly passionate about creativity through the existing z-score system, were also discussed by the educators and government representatives at the meeting. 

The group also brainstormed ways to navigate around challenges like the lack of design and innovation centres, art galleries, creative spaces, public resources like creative cafés and museums, design publications and dedicated culture pages. The role of entrepreneurship, mentorship, technological support and managing the attitude towards risk-taking were also part of the conversation.

These ideas will be taken forward to form the national policy on Sri Lanka’s creative industries as a partnership between the state and the private sector, under the leadership of AOD and the British Council Sri Lanka.

The future we want from Sri Lanka’s creative economy 

Creativity has been proven to open up new avenues, unlock big ideas and bring in fresh connections between people, products, services, brands and businesses. It can help businesses achieve superior market edge, leapfrog competition and leave a lasting impression in the minds of consumers. So, with all this hype about creativity being the next big thing, how exactly would formalising a national creative industries policy play out for Sri Lanka? Keep reading.

In many ways, a focused national strategy to develop the creative industries will bring in high returns very fast in both export and domestic markets, as this potent industry can produce a remarkable growth in revenue and become a solid pillar for the Sri Lankan economy. 

But, it’s not just business. The development of the creative industries also carry non-monetary values such as inclusive social development to facilitating new understanding between diverse groups and ethnicities. The creative industries are also significant job creators, and have the potential to create thousands of new employment opportunities for Sri Lankans. A sound creative economy can also contribute to the overall well-being of communities, individual self esteem and the quality of life, leading towards sustainable development. 

Here are some of the key takeaways from the initial discussions that will be taken forward to form Sri Lanka’s national policy on creative industries.

Creating understanding and facilitating focus studies on how the creative industries will be a driver and enabler of economic, social and environmental development processes in Sri Lanka. Such studies will allow the government and partners to project tangible outcomes and attach financial deliverables to the policies. Creating awareness on the creative industries development and its benefits will change the public perception on the sector and garner national support.

Discovering the available opportunities by investing on mapping Sri Lankan creative industries’ assets. This data will be instrumental in accurately projecting the necessary resources for creative industries’ development. 

Allocating state and private sector investments for creativity, innovation and sustainable creative enterprise development in Sri Lanka. 

Investing in developing the local creative talent pool through education, scholarships, opportunities for exposure and professional capacity-building to empower artists, designers and creative entrepreneurs. 

Recognising that the creative industries carry significant non-monetary value that contributes to achieving human-centred, inclusive and sustainable development for Sri Lanka.

Recognising that the development of the local creative industries will have a positive impact on other sectors, particularly exports, like tea, apparel and tourism to bridge local product and service propositions with international consumer tastes and needs.

Got more to add, discuss or propose? It’s important to us—let us know.

At a time when the world is transforming itself rapidly, we must recognise the importance and the power of the creative industries as enablers and drivers of a new and sustainable kind of development for Sri Lanka. It’s the future we want, and this is a big step in the right direction towards it.

This pull quote is from the Daily FT feature on the campaign. Here’s a link to the full article, which we created for DFT.
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