For three days last week, the world’s rich and powerful met in Davos, Switzerland for the annual 47th edition of the World Economic Forum.
Tucked away for the annual gathering in the European winter, governments look to attract investors while businesses seek partnerships to make more profits and broaden their influence, civil society trying to spread their gospel and acquire new funding.
Against the background of the forum is a recent realisation that dependence of trade of commodities leaves economies vulnerable and thus the need to diversify economies. Fast.
Equally important is the fact that several countries are trying to recover from the dip in commodity prices which significantly cut growth projections of several of these countries.
The global economic trends have taught Rwanda and its neighbours on the need, to think outside the box and seek new drivers of growth.
Among the alternatives for the diversification beyond traditional sectors and industries is the creative industry which few countries have explored.
Though activities in the creative industry have long been viewed as hobbies or pet projects, it’s probably time to view such as the ‘next big thing’.
The creative industry’s potential to be an avenue for economic diversification is partly due to the multiple sectors and activities in the industry including fashion and accessories, graphic design, photography and filmmaking, creative advertising and music, among others.
Art is the common factor across activities in the creative industry and with its global consumption, there is no limit to how far products and services can reach.
A year or so ago, over coffee with a Swedish economics professor, I realised just how much we underrate the sector.
The Swedish creative industry contributes about 5 per cent to the country’s GDP and provides employment to over 200,000 citizens annually.
But see, the thing with the sector is that its potential goes beyond the conventional art creations such as music and paintings. Its main potential can be realised when it is blended with the creative industry.
In Sweden’s case, the strong relationship between business and creative industries has been responsible for the unprecedented emergence and growth of the country’s world-renowned brands.
Globally renowned brands, like H&M, a clothing line, Spotify, a music streaming company, and Sound Cloud, an online audio distribution platform are products of the sector.
At a time when Rwanda has embarked on ambitions to create at least 200,000 jobs per year, diversifying exports and attracting more investments, we probably ought to warm up to the industry more.
In conversations with people making a living in the sector, you will learn that there is no shortage of skills or talent in the country.
You will also learn that, despite the potential, there lacks a framework to create an enabling environment for emerging acts in the industry. There lacks basic supporting factors like adequate public spaces for poets and actors to rehearse and showcase their arts.
Others will explain to you their struggles in accessing funding or guarantees from banks and financial institutions despite the bankability of their ventures. Largely because they are still not well understood by the rest of us.
Despite there being a cultural policy that is aimed at creating confidence among talented people and reducing their vulnerability in the market to transform their creativity into sustainable businesses, it has served little to change status quo.
The state of the industry has discouraged potential new-comers from taking it seriously as a career and most parents can be heard asking their children to have a fall back plan before entering the sector.
The state of the creative industry has also led others to go back to more ‘normal professions’.
As things stand, we have the creatives, they have talent and ideas, there is market for their crafts, but can we do better to better their environment?
The writer is a practicing journalist