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One year with creative entrepreneurs in four continents

In this blog, we hear from Fiona Myles, one of our workshop associates for the Creative Enterprise Programme, which works with creative communities around the world to support the growth of sustainable and resilient livelihoods.

As the temperature climbed over 40 degrees in Santiago, Chile’s capital, Nesta’s Head of Learning Programmes Sonja Dahl joked, “this is extreme work shopping”.

I was there facilitating the Creative Enterprise Programme (CEP) with Nesta and the British Council. The programme consists of practical workshops to support creative entrepreneurs to set up and grow their businesses. Last year I facilitated the programme in Chile, Colombia, Malaysia and Ukraine, culminating in scaling the programme in West Africa with 25 creative hubs and three locally recruited associates of the programme.

What have I learnt from this experience about building the creative economy? What kinds of creative enterprises are emerging in the different countries? Below are some of my thoughts from a year with creative enterprises across the world.

Building the creative economy

The UK has one of the most developed creative economies in the world valued at £91.8bn GVA (Gross Value Added, DCMS 2017), and providing over three million jobs. Nesta developed the Creative Enterprise Programme in partnership with the British Council to share this knowledge with countries around the world to help build their creative economies.

The challenges that countries face vary hugely and can include balancing their economic growth, skilling and employing young people, and providing more equal opportunities for women. For example, Chile’s economy is heavily dependent on mining, and the government wants to develop its creative economy to diversify and provide more opportunities across its dispersed cities. In regions such as West Africa, there is high graduate unemployment and the creative economy can provide pathways to work. Roar Nigeria is a University-embedded innovation hub that scouts for, trains, invests in and supports student startup enterprises.

Some of the countries on the programme emerged from communist regimes a long time ago, yet the creative industries still tend to rely on state funding and are trying to grow to be more commercial and independent.

The flexibility of the sector

The creative industries encompass digital, film, gaming, fashion, theatre, festivals, product and service design. They can range from large scale projects to the gig economy and home working.

This flexibility provides low barriers to entry for people to be entrepreneurial and the ambition can stretch from micro-enterprises to, for example, Ventures Platform in Nigeria, which runs accelerators to develop big ideas to solve Africa’s challenges.

What kinds of ideas?

The enterprises I worked with encompassed both global trends and ideas particular to their local contexts. Enterprise ideas included new digital models such as healthtech, social enterprises working on getting more women into technology and providing opportunities in fragile regions.

In cities that are becoming more open, enterprises are helping people to access new cultural opportunities and develop services for emerging tourism. Below are some of the places and creative entrepreneurs that particularly inspired me on CEP in 2017:

Ukraine, Dnipro

Dnipro in Eastern Ukraine is near the Russian border. The city centre has very wide streets, wide enough for the tanks for the ‘victory parade’. Here I met creative entrepreneurs who are setting up festivals and experiences both for the local population and growing tourism.

You never know where you will discover the best talent. I met gaming specialist Roman Sirenko who has set up HexWix, an eSports business where you can search for the team and players to participate in online games and tournaments. Taking part in the CEP gave Roman the tools to develop his business proposition and he went on to win a competition to be on Kyivstar’s acceleration programme (Ukraine’s national telecom operator).

Colombia, Bogota

We arrived in Bogota on a Sunday which is Ciclovia, a city wide car free day when more than two million people descend onto the main streets to hang out, eat, dance and enjoy a more liberal and crime free city.

One of Bogota’s defining characteristics is its street graffiti, and one CEP participant specialised in street art walking tours and exhibitions. Enterprises to access cultural events were popular here, such as a creative magazine, creating virtual reality museum tours and innovative textile and fashion companies.

Chile, Santiago and Valdivia

Chile has one of the best performing economies in South America but it is overly dependent on mining and needs more re-balancing. I facilitated two workshops here one in Santiago and one in Valdivia. Santiago had a diverse range of enterprises including ideas like Biobjetos, a company specialising in bio-models and surgical guides based on a patient’s anatomy.

Valdivia is renowned for its film festival and its rainy weather. We managed to put the two together as Hosea Louis Rivas, the Valdivian Film Festival’s executive producer, gave an inspiring talk and hooked up with a local entrepreneur with a view to produce merchandise for future film festivals like macs with ‘Singing in the rain’ on them.

The CEP programme was endorsed by Chile’s innovation agency Corfo and some of the participants got to meet Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet.

Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

Cyberjaya is a science park just outside Kuala Lumpur and forms a key part of the Multimedia Super Corridor in Malaysia. We collaborated here with MaGIC, the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre which has focused more on technology start-ups and now wants to extend its reach to the creative economy.

The youngest participant, at just 19, was Nor Marissa Lokman. She is an ice speed skating champion with a following she wanted to convert into a fashion business. Other participants ranged from social enterprises addressing energy and food issues to interior design, fashion and broadcasting businesses.

Nigeria, West Africa

The British Council decided the best way to scale reaching creative enterprises in West Africa is through their creative hubs. These are defined as a physical or virtual place that brings enterprising people together who work in the creative and cultural industries.’

Over 195 hubs applied for 25 places in the programme from Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The focus of the creative enterprise hubs ranged from fashion, literature, technology, women into technology to addressing local social issues.

This was the start of a two-year programme to build the creative economy in West Africa and we trained three local associates to keep delivering and scaling the programme here.

What’s next?

Some of the programmes we delivered in the last year continue to support the entrepreneurs involved in other ways. For example, in the West African region, hub leaders are coming to the UK in the Spring, on the Creative Hub Exchange Programme to learn best practice from the UK hubs network.

More broadly, the Creative Enterprise Programme will continue to work with creative entrepreneurs around the world. Workshops will be delivered by both UK and local associates, to keep scaling and growing the creative enterprise economy.

Thanks to all involved

My thanks to Nesta, the British Council team both headquarters and local country teams, translators, local legal, accounting and speakers who all made running the Creative Enterprise Programmes a success.

The Creative Enterprise Toolkit is open source and is available to download for free.

Working with the West African creative hubs.