What do you want to make them feel?

When creating stories, we consider a few carefully chosen theories connected to human psychology and design thinking. A theory that we’ve most recently started experimenting with for storytelling is an ancient Indian performance arts theory. This is the Eastern theory of ‘rasa’. We started exploring the Rasa Theory because it directly involves evoking human emotions in the storytelling process.

Emotions are very important in decision-making and memory; Someone may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

What a business makes a consumer feel is directly linked to how people remember that brand: It is also linked to how they connect desires and emotional needs to what that business has to offer. This is why we think emotions are especially relevant to storytelling for businesses, and why we are interested in the Rasa Theory.

‘Rasa’—defined closest in English as ‘aesthetic flavours’. Although recent to our storytelling experiments, the Rasa Theory is by no means new; It originated in India sometime between the first century BCE and the third century CE, from where it spread throughout the South Asian region and as far as Bali and the Javanese islands. Rasa is the aesthetic flavour contained in a creative work—it is not what is mentioned outright or described, but rather, evoked in the minds of the audience as moods created through a mix of emotions. The classical Rasa Theory describes nine rasas—sensuality (shringāra); humour (hāsya); sorrow (karunā); anger (raudra); heroic (vīra); terror (bhayānaka), disgust (bībhatsa); wonder (adbūtha), and tranquillity (shānta). These pure rasas make sense for the dramatic arts where emotions are heightened beyond the everyday and made universally intelligible. But, when we bring the Rasa Theory to storytelling, we look at a much wider spectrum. For example, bhayānaka rasa from apprehension to blood-curdling terror, or vīra rasa in expressions of power, confidence, as well as courage. We’re also observing the polarities of each rasa considering both the negative and the positive. This means we find karunā rasa not only in sorrow but also in empathy and compassion; while we see raudra evoked through retribution as much as fury.

Image: 2018, Anne-Marie Gaston. Bharatanatyam Evolves: From Temple to Theatre and Back Again. Manohar Publications

Even when we’re exploring beyond the original theory this way, we still find profound cues to each rasa expression in the art form where it was born—classical Indian drama. Dramatic expressions of each rasa are among our strongest cues to how they can be evoked; Like the shrinking expressions connected to bībhatsa which led us to discover it beyond the emotion of ‘disgust’ usually attributed to this rasa, and find it in evocations like humility. 

✺ Want to understand where we’re taking this in storytelling? Email hello@publicworks.store or sign up to our monthly email to get a taste of our storytelling (Subscribe: https://www.publicworks.store/).

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When your business wants to speak emotions; Poetry for brand stories

Poetry is a powerful form of storytelling that goes beyond the peripheral layers of our mind to reach the more unconscious levels. This penetrating quality of poetry comes from the extreme emotivity inherent to the artform. Poetry triggers emotions through careful disposition of words. It is the mapping of a story felt in emotions with the use of words. We know how important emotions are in decision-making and memory; Someone may forget what you said, but they’re less likely to forget how you made them feel. This is the strength of a poem; This is where poetry and commercial storytelling begin to convene.


Poetry is a feeling-first artform. You work in the dark with your eyes closed, but your heart wide open. And, this is precisely why the heart also becomes the place where poetry meets the reader. 


Poems can trigger mental imagery, musical sounds and even a sense of place. A poem is an experience with the potential to surround and immerse. This is why a story delivered with  good use of poetics can be very successful in conveying the subtleties like value and desirability. For example, the poem below was created for a story which focused on a product with an unusually striking colour; it  worked as a way to draw attention to what made the product so desirable, in connection to emotions, scenarios and memories that the target audience would most likely associate with. 

The Sunday white walls,
the blue glass sky,
and the only man walking slowly down the narrow sea road—
all barely alive.
The cat, the houses, and the street
have all been put to sleep
in a warm, comfortable defeat
from the April heat.

But, the pink bougainvilleas!
Oh, those pink bougainvilleas!
They’re ringing dangerously wild, 
impossibly alive.

Bougainvillea pink— 
like laughter in the wind.


This poem was created to evoke a sense of fantasy and place. It aims to transport the reader and create a dream-like nostalgia for this place that we want them to visit and experience.

There’s a morning worth waking up to; but, it’s lost in the Eastern sky behind the Kabala trees.

And, you wonder what makes the peacocks cry the way they do; in a sound that is a union between beautiful and sorrowful, otherworldly and wild.

The old man who lives across the street said that peacocks belong with the spirit of the old god Kadira—a warrior turned forest-dweller, turned ascetic, turned deity.

The old man is a poet—so he must be right.

The ocean and the sunset are laws you learn to instinctively follow, when you’re living in the Deep South.

There’s something about showering under the palms.

There’s something about walking under the stars.

There’s something about sitting in nature with your heart held out.

There’s something, there’s something…

There’s something about Kabalana days.

When a brand uses poetry in its communication, it engages the audience directly through emotions, and this is great; But, is poetry for all brands? We don’t think so. Not all brand personalities are emotionally rich and diverse. When we work with clients, we first work out the framework of the brand personality before we get into creating any stories. Depending on the outlined brand personality and voice, we create stories that would be appropriate for the client’s company, and bear resonance with the identified target audience.

Poetry is not for every audience, nor brand. Is your brand an emotive one, or a more cerebral one? Does your audience have an affinity towards literature and the arts? These are some of the many questions you need to answer before using poetry in your brand stories. 


If you’d like to find out more about how we use poetry for brand stories, send me a message or reach out to my studio Public Works. We’re always happy to engage in a conversation that involves poetry, storytelling and business. 

Endings—where stories leave the audience: Part two

In the first part of this story, we looked at why endings are such a make-or-break element in storytelling, and how weak endings break the trust between the audience and the storyteller. In this second part, we’re going to explore how brands can consistently create good story endings by considering their company values, key personality traits and media goals.

One of my favourite lecturers at university spoke about how a mediocre work of art would lead the observer towards entertainment, a good work of art towards inspiration, a great work of art towards insight and a masterpiece towards realisation. This always stayed with me. Now I know that this applies a little differently to all forms of expression, including stories.

From our experience at Public Works, the ending of brand stories are most successful, consistent and memorable when they are connected to your brand personality and values. Some brands want to inspire, some want to entertain, some like to give insight, and others like to make a connection. In our storytelling process, we identify these aspects of a brand with the involvement of the client, at the very beginning of our work together.

We ask them questions about how they want to be remembered, how they want to influence the world, how they want to connect with others, and what they themselves are seeking for. Depending on what the client brand identifies as their preferred point of influence, connection, exploration, and legacy, we consistently build stories that lead to endings that generate the right brand perception. 

In commercial storytelling, it’s through these desired brand perceptions, that storytellers can craft the most successful endings; Consider if your brand should be delivering the audience with endings of justice and satisfaction, surprising twists or thrilling cliff hangers; or is it a brand that delivers happily-ever-afters? Endings left unresolved, or abstract, can be tricky—unless the storyteller can make a point out of that uncertainty. In commercial storytelling, we find that endings with a ‘zoom out on a big picture’ work great for brands that want to deliver insight, while endings that create relief through a solution are particularly good to show how certain problems can be resolved.

Endings with prompts are particularly useful to inspire people to do something, or become part of something. One of my personal favourite endings to storytelling is ‘closing the circle’; returning the story observer to the beginning. If we’ve done our job as storytellers, ‘closing the circle’ type of endings highlight to the observer how their own understanding has shifted through the story, creating a sense of awe and a greater appreciation for their experience. Much of storytelling is cyclical. Sometimes it’s a metaphorical return home, such as in ‘The Hero’s Journey’ story pattern, while in other cases, the cycle is quite literal with the story ending where it started.

An all-important aspect to consider when crafting successful endings to brand stories are the current media goals of the client. What is the client intending to achieve from the stories? Sell? Inspire? Invite the audience to participate in an event? Build brand awareness?

These are important conversations to have at the beginning of the storytelling process. Of course, media goals shift over time; and we recommend clients to realign them to coincide with changing business strategies and market contexts every six months to one year. Framing story endings with media goals has given our clients stories that consistently contribute to their business.

Endings are one of the most important, effective and interesting aspects in storytelling; to understand how you can create stories with endings that lead to better business, get in touch with me at our storytelling studio Public Works.

Managing brand stories with sensitive messages

Sometimes, brands find themselves in dangerous waters when trying to engage their audience through emotionally-charged popular narratives. Often enough, we see businesses initiating or tagging onto sensitive conversations involving race, politics, skin colour and gender; some nail it, others damage their brand catastrophically, and most end up making their conversations seem unauthentic. Remember how the race to position themselves right within the Black Lives Matter movement came out for most brands? Those who did not filter the narrative through their own brand personality, or present it through their true views and ideas, had their audiences disengaged, and sometimes even enraged.

Back in 2017, this famous failure of a brand story sparked unanimous reactions of disappointment and had Pepsi cornered to an embarrassing withdrawal of the ad and a public apology. Composite. Pepsi Global/Youtube, HanorahHardy/Twitter

Engaging with popular narratives is a good thing to do; It shows that the brand is alive, current, listening and responding to the world that its consumers live in. But, not every brand can tag onto every narrative. It must be authentic; there must be history, connection or reason; And most importantly, it must be delivered right through the brand’s personality and tone of voice.

When we were working with Rithihi—one of Sri Lanka’s most beloved saree boutiques—it became important to engage with certain topics that were sensitive. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in India as the death tolls were sky-rocketing, it was insensitive to talk about the beauty of sarees handmade in areas like Banaras, Kanchipuram and Ludhiana, that were devastated with disease. It was important to address this, and convey the brand’s authentic emotions towards the catastrophe; However, it was a highly emotionally-charged topic and there was already growing criticism on how some brands were delivering their messages.

Public apology by Robt. & John Murray, NY, 1775 LCCN2002705582.jpg
1775, PPOC. Library of Congress

A well-articulated brand personality and voice are the most important tools you have when navigating through complex or sensitive narratives. They are your frameworks to be truthful and authentic.

We created a newsletter with stories that celebrated the skill and beauty of artisanal communities affected by the pandemic. The message was approached through Rithihi’s values, while the response to the situation was framed through the brand’s personality framework. The stories, as always, were delivered strictly through the established brand voice for Rithihi. As a result, the message was authentic in reflecting Rithihi’s true views and sentiments, and well-received; it led to creating many meaningful conversations between the brand and its audience.

Read the newsletter stories responding to the sensitive pandemic situation in India

These kinds of emotionally-charged narratives are where a brand’s true strength in communications is tested. Rithihi continues to have interesting and engaging conversations with its circle through relevant topics and narratives that really speak to people; The brand personality framework and the voice that we crafted for Rithihi have been the key tools in getting these stories right. This is why we often point to Rithihi as an example of a brand that effectively uses the tools that we developed to have meaningful conversations. If you want to find out more on how we consult and create stories to help brands navigate through complex narratives, send me a message.

Read more

Newsletter stories inspired by pandemic-driven new normal of weddings

Newsletter stories addressing lock-down induced business limitations

Endings—where stories leave the audience: Part one

I don’t judge a book by its cover, but I definitely judge it by the ending. I always read the ending of a book before I delve fully into it. If the ending is weak I usually become hesitant about investing my time on that book; And, I don’t think I’m alone there. 

There’s no question about the significance of endings when it comes to stories. From the perspective of the observer, the ending is their last interaction with the story—the place where they leave the created world in the story, and return to their reality; It’s their moment to decipher meaning out of the story experience; the final takeaway. From the storyteller’s perspective, it is the last impression you get to make in your audience’s mind. It’s what we leave the audience with; it’s where you send them off to arrive at meaning. 

1909, Meredith, George. The adventures of Harry Richmond published by Constable, London.

As storytellers, we pay special attention to the ending for two major reasons; First, because we owe the audience an ending that returns the value of the time they invested into the story. This is why weak endings—worse, lazy and inconsiderate endings like ‘it was all a dream’—break the trust between the audience and the storyteller; in the case of brand stories, you can see why consistently weak endings definitely harm the consumer perception of your business. The ending must deliver something worthwhile to the audience. The second reason why we pay special attention to endings in the storytelling process, is that it is the component that audiences most consistently retain. Think about how much you remember from the ending of your favorite movies versus their beginning. People usually remember endings better. In commercial storytelling, this is why the ending is where a prompt, also called a ‘call to action’, is most commonly brought in. 

If an audience invests time into a story, the storytellers must deliver an ending that reciprocates the value of their time. Weak endings break the trust between the audience and the storyteller. Your stories should never waste their time.

How do you make sure that an ending is good? How do you ensure the quality of the final takeaway you give your audience is retained consistently? You give the audience something of value. You give them insight, entertainment, inspiration or a solution to fulfil a need; you reciprocate the investment they made with their time. With our work at Public Works, we often use a combination of image, sound and word to create effective endings that deliver heightened emotivity and interest to the audience. 

In the second part of this story, we’ll talk about our process to create brand-appropriate endings and how story endings connect to company values and personality. Endings are one of the most important, effective and interesting aspects in storytelling; to understand how you can create stories with endings that lead to better business, get in touch with me at our storytelling studio Public Works.

When words have the power to make or break this world

Akuru Collective is Sri Lanka’s first and largest typographic collection. This amazing group uses their love for letters to pull off some groundbreaking work for type and language. AkuruCon and local editions of international type forums like AtypI (Association Typographique Internationale) and Typoday are all their initiatives to bring in global typographic knowledge to Sri Lanka, and create valuable discourse out of the island.

We were excited to write and design their manifesto from Public Works. The final outcome was a pretty great example of what you can do with great design, even when the budgets are tight. The manifesto was printed using Riso technique and was written to highlight what brings this unique group together and where their sights are set.

©All rights reserved. No parts of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the copyrights owner.

Feeling places; city stories

Places have stories. The language that place-stories are told in is complex, multidimensional and surrounding. Discovering the story of a place is not as easy as picking up a book and reading, or watching a documentary about it. You have to find it. You have to wait for it. You have to see it unfold as you watch its people wake up and go about making their morning. You have to pick it up through bits and pieces in conversations overheard on the street. You have to catch it in the nostalgia of someone who was born in that place, but had to leave. You have to dig it out of someone who hated it. You have to taste it in a tea shop frequented by its street labourers. You have to feel it seeping in through your pores while sitting alone at dusk, in its oldest quarter.

We were commissioned by @urbanislandcolombo to create bite-sized stories of three Sri Lankan cities; Colombo, Kandy and Galle— each with its distinct cultural aura. We were working with the already set identity of the concept store; At the same time, the stories had to be created to sync up with a contemporary island narrative that Urban Island was building parallel to the tropical modernism movement. Incorporating elements of cultural interest is already tricky. In order to avoid mainstream depictions of these places, the chosen elements could not be too popular; At the same time, they couldn’t be too subversive and completely miss the commercial audience’s understanding or experiences of these places. The stories had to sell; And, they did.

Although we created the stories specifically for postcards, Tshirts, cushions and poster prints, their popularity had Urban Island using the stories or their isolated elements on many different items. With the idea of travelling and discovering new places changing drastically in our post-pandemic times, we’re curious to see how people will continue to remember and hold on to places.

We were excited about this project for two reasons; it was a project that combined both our individual expertise in writing and visual art, and it was an opportunity for us to crystallise some of our favourite experiences and places in Sri Lanka. The series was to target both Sri Lankans and travellers. We understood that for travellers, the city stories series should be about taking back a fond memory from their time in Sri Lanka. Our strategy for the Sri Lankans, was to make the series about celebrating a memory about their hometown, or a place they have a connection to in their country.

The challenge for the writer was capture a special story, feeling, icon or an experience about each city, in just a few words; and, because we wanted to make the writing for this project to take the form mini poetry, the challenge also meant there had to be some form of rhythm or rhyme. 

The project was fun to work on, and from what we hear from the Urban Island team, the series is becoming somewhat of a cult favourite among their shoppers.

A mind flowing free in thread and colour

Joan is a fascinating multi artist with a Sri Lankan burgher heritage. She lives in Denmark now, but returns to Sri Lanka every year to her family estate in North-West of the island. When she commissioned us to write a piece about her life and work, I went and met her at that beautiful old estate. We spoke about her exquisite embroidery work, and her love for painting. Joan’s life was a fascinating viewpoint into lives lived in Colombo over fifty years ago.

Hidden amidst the foliage of the outskirts of Wennappuwa, there is a coconut estate that is a breathtaking composition of human and nature. Coming in, you will be pleasantly warmed in the sunlight pouring through the cane palms standing guard along its impressive driveway. It nestles a charming planters’ bungalow with arched windows opening into sun spangled verandahs. Further in, a beautifully dimmed living space and cool sleeping chambers await. Between the fun play of the vintage furniture, rare heirloom treasures and a twist of Scandi-inspired postmodernism, there is an obvious air of creativity floating through the bungalow.

When you meet its hostess—you instantly know her as the source of that creativity. Joan Leth Pedersen is in the autumn of her years, and radiantly beautiful with a sense of style that could only speak for an intensely creative being. She’s the kind of hostess who excites you with her meticulous devotion to fine hospitality—you just know it’s going to be a good day.

Joan was born in Sri Lanka to Burgher parents who moved to the UK to educate their children. They also travelled between their island home and Malaysia for work in the plantations business. She met her husband, Jens Leth Pedersen in Malaysia fifty eight years ago, at a New Year’s Eve dance, ten minutes to midnight—he has remained smitten since. An accomplished hand embroidery artist with truly remarkable artistry, Joan practices in Denmark where she lives with Jens. But, for eight sunlit weeks a year, the family estate in Sri Lanka remains her home in paradise.

This year, Joan has brought down a large portion of her archive of handmade embroidery based wearable art. This is for a rare media exposure of her works. “It’s impossible for me to put a price on my work”, Joan declares, “because they are my babies,” she laughs. “But, seriously, it’s because my art has never equated to money. It’s not about that for me, it’s never been,” she explains. Joan believes that artistry does not always have to have a commercial element to it—in a sense, an artist does not have to cater to the incessant needs of a society. Art can simply exist—much like beauty or nature, without having to fulfil the human desire to own, to consume. Her work has an ethereal charm about it and draws inspiration from flora and fauna, abstract shapes and colour-play. Stylistically, she finds kinship with Chinese, Danish and Venetian embroidery techniques. But, the most impressive is her own style—an embroidery technique that Joan invented fusing patchwork and threadwork to bring about an unusual effect. Here, cut out fabric pieces are ironed on to ‘glue paper’ and pieced together with embroidered thread work to finally reveal one mosaic-like image held together with perfect thread work. “I don’t know how long it takes to do one piece—it takes hours and hours and hours. But, I love it, and I can immerse in it completely.”

Something striking about Joan’s work is its unapologetic femininity. Her work bears unrestrained female charm with soft colour palettes, dainty motifs and intricate filigrees. But, it’s anything but ordinary. The embroidery itself is unusual in its exotic mix of styles and technique while Joan’s decisive direction in their placement on the garment, and how they work with the female body also add to the unicity. “I always think of where this embroidery will go on a body, and I tend to embellish the unusual corners or the unnoticed curves…it does not always have to be on your upper chest tucked away to a side.”

Her process is fluid and natural, much like her work. “When I get an idea, I just have to do it,” she says echoing all impassioned artists. Her inspirations flood in through nature. In Denmark, the contained cool of Scandinavian landscapes influence her abstract oil painting and designed knitwear. While in Sri Lanka, the island’s paradisiacal abundance seems to translate to Joan’s vivid watercolours—often florals—and finally, to her intricate embroidery.

“Embroidery was always in our family,” she recalls the beginnings into her most accomplished form of artistry. Joan remembers being captivated by her mother’s hand drawn book documenting the baby clothes that she embroidered. She also remembers how she first fell in love with that incredible feeling of being enveloped in an exquisitely made outfit, through the finely embroidered dresses handmade by her mother. Later, she went to complete an embroidery and knitting course at the Denmark College of Handicrafts where she scored full marks, before plunging into the arts in full vigour. She went on to exhibit in unusual locations around Europe, such as the abandoned church in Aalborg commune, and the court house turned museum Tinghuset in Nibe. Beyond embroidery and knitting, Joan also began to see her art within the context of fashion. It came naturally to her, because style was simply in her.


“I always think that clothing should be a complete expression. Personally, I like to make underwear to match my work in order to avoid store-bought pieces that peek outside an otherwise perfect outfit!” she exclaims echoing a practice that still forces her to custom make intimatewear for every wearable item that displays her embroidery or knitting. In her heyday in Colombo, Joan was featured in the fashion and lifestyle pages of the local dailies for her bold sense of style and fashion. Her wedding gown with a spectacular floor-gracing train with hundreds of hand made flowers pressed out in silk in three layers, made fashion headlines and was borrowed by news pages. Style was definitely her thing.

With Joan seated on the verandah of her family bungalow, it is almost visibly evident in the background, how her mind has flown free through the space, touching it with her devotion to beauty; The fiery heliconias set off against the earthly terracotta of the vase, the perfect geometry in the arrangement of hand-painted porcelain…they all vouch for her. As her life approaches a tranquil sunset, Joan has developed a yearning to share her art as a teacher and a mentor. “I have taught several times in my life, and it has always been rewarding. I still keep in touch with some of my students.” She hopes to share her expertise and extraordinary techniques with young fashion designers, textile artists, embroiderers and entities in textile related arts, crafts and design—those who would appreciate it and hopefully, reinvent it in their own way. But, there’s more to it than that too. Joan sees that mastering your creativity as a way to live a wonderful life. “Creativity has helped me to live life on an even keel…being immersed in creativity means that troubles can’t trouble you. So, I’d like to share that.” And with that, Joan offers the greatest gift a creator could leave behind in this world.

This story was published in The Sunday Times in Sri Lanka, which you can still find online here.

On a lush earth

This anniversary edition book was commissioned by Elpitiya Plantations of the blue chip conglomerate Aitken Spence Group. After twenty five years, the company has overcome serious challenges and moved from being a loss-making venture in deep debt, to Sri Lanka’s top rated plantation. The Elpitiya team was optimistic, inspired and victorious—a sentiment worth capturing in the anniversary book. The company’s evolution was told in this story bringing in the most important milestones, people and decisions that made up the company’s history. It ended in a high note of optimism, inviting new partners and collaborators to work with Elpitiya as the company entered the next phase of its development. The story received a fantastic response from Elpitiya plantations, and was distributed to its entire network in Sri Lanka and to partners abroad.

My favourite part of this project was the reactions that the Elpitiya team had to the writing; When I saw their emotional expressions, and was told about their experience of goosebumps while reading the ending, I knew that my job as a writer was done right.

The entire project came to fifty four hours of writing and editing in total. Below are some excerpts from the entire work.

They say love conquers all; All but, superhuman laws that are beyond our control. A drought of resources within a challenging global market context and a tea market meltdown at the worst possible time pulled Elpitiya down a bottomless well of debt.

It was the lowest of the lows.

Some leave it to the divine, others to fortune; but, us planters know that it is the drops of love we put into the land that would cloud the skies gravid come next season.

The little green buds have burst out in full bloom. Against all odds, Elpitiya has emerged out incredible. Amidst accolades and celebrations, the faces of friendship were remembered.

It was a beautiful day.

Being in an industry as volatile as the plantations, tunes your sixth sense to the elements of nature, to invisible forces, to something very much like instinct that is alive in the air. Eventually, you begin to recognise that same thing, in the depths of human spirit; in people’s courage, determination and faith. This is why people are Elpitiya’s most treasured asset; Because without them, the vast green fields of Elpitiya would have remained barren terrains.

A planter’s reward comes in gold. In twenty years Elpitiya has transformed a burden to a fortune. As the Elpitiya family takes a moment together, a second of collective breath to feel the magnitude of their efforts, it dawns on us that the fields are golden for as far as our eye could see.

Some said it was not possible, but we made it. The view from the top catches new vistas and a fresh sunrise in the horizon.

What an incredible place to be.

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“We’ve come to the top, and the dream is to go higher. The way to do it is to not stand by, but keep moving, keep changing, keep reinventing, and thinking of new paths. There’s no stopping us,” promises J. M. S Brito, Chairman of Elpitiya Plantations, channelling the spirit of everyone.

Strong with a faithful force, a potent land, and groundbreaking new ideas, Elpitiya is ready. The plans are many. As they set out, there is talk of adventure parks, perfumery, hospitality, tourism, real estate…there
is nothing stopping Elpitiya today.

It’s not going to be a lone journey, the team at Elpitiya knows. Fresh friendships, unconventional partnerships, and new patrons are welcome to join the expedition; Because now is a time for collaboration, creativity, and grand innovation.

The air in Elpitiya is ringing with excitement.

Can you hear it?

©All rights reserved. No parts of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the copyrights owner.

Innovation Island

This is probably one of the most interesting projects that we’ve consulted in. Few years ago, Public Works was commissioned in a project that involved strategising and branding Sri Lanka’s creative industries’ policy; it was quite exciting. 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—were involved in co-creating. 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.

Here’s a quick look at how the ‘innovation island’ vision was depicted through visual storytelling, followed by a news story that we developed to share it with the general public and the business community through the Daily Financial Times (Daily FT).

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.

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