Why India is not talking about Creative Economy?

"Hands Up," an interactive digital video project by Roopa Vasudevan and Atif Ateeq in New York sparks discussion of encountr killings of minorities in the United Sttes. Credit: Humai Mustafa

While Creative Economy is fast emerging as an alternative economy elsewhere in the world, the increasing incidents of religious intolerance and cultural obscurantism in India may prove a damper…writes Sabin Iqbal

"Hands Up," an interactive digital video project by Roopa Vasudevan and Atif Ateeq in New York sparks discussion of encountr killings of minorities in the United Sttes. Credit: Humai Mustafa

“Understanding the Creative Economy in India”, a well-researched report by Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) in 2013, talks about three Ts which are crucial for Creative Economy to flourish in a society: Talent, Technology and Tolerance.

India has talent aplenty and the country’s technological prowess is not inferior to any but the third T, Tolerance, is in a shambles at the moment.

Though the nation was once known for its “all-embracing” ancient philosophy and way of life, it has become a fatal playing field for religious minorities, secular writers and all those who are engaged in creative and cultural expression.

With the kind of fatal and virulent behaviour and violent actions from extreme right-wings, India is sadly fast becoming a hostile nation to creative expressions, let alone nurturing an alternative economy pillared on “creative industries”, like Indonesia and Vietnam are doing.

But elsewhere in the world where religious and cultural tolerance is practised and encouraged by rulers who want to see their economy wriggle out of the global slump, a quiet revolution is happening. It’s a bloodless coup.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launches Make in India Week in Mumbai
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launches Make in India Week in Mumbai

From one end of the world to the other, and from one city to the other, “capitalism” in its traditional form is in its deathbed. Much like an “etherised patient”, as TS Eliot has famously described an evening, staring at the pre-glow of “post-capitalism”. It is only a matter of time it kicked the bucket, albeit surreptitiously and quietly.

In more ways than one, capitalism and its systems are becoming history.

Paul Mason of The Guardian writes in an article, “The end of capitalism has begun”: “Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.”

While Mason drums up support to the argument that capitalism has had its day, experts like John Howkins and Richard Florida are talking about “Creative Economy” and an emerging “Creative Class”, while Charles Landry talks about “Creative Cities”.

It is not any more “land, labour and capital”, but it is very much about the intangible, abstract “intellectual capital”, which is going to be the nucleus of the new bloodless, economic revolution.

What has never been figured in a balance sheet of business houses is going to drive their very business: Individual creativity.

The era of industrial economy has long driven into the sunset, and the following knowledge economy has transformed into many dynamic forms. Now, it is the time of “Creative Economy”. Take a bow to the dreamers and innovators. It is ideas and imagination that is going to shape our life and power our businesses.

The God of Small Things

India generalCreative Economy (CE) is the fast-emerging alternative economy, which is making steady inroads into national and global economies. CE is the little ruddy boy, David, trusting a native catapult, but skilled enough, to kill the giant, Goliath, with just one hit.

In simple terms, CE is about turning ideas into Intellectual Property. Its five major components are ideas, innovation, imagination, culture and creativity. According to Howkins, who coined the term, creative economy is “a system for the production, exchange and use of creative products”.

Way back in 1998, the United Kingdom took a bold decision to identify 14 “Creative Industries”,  such as advertising, architecture, art, crafts, design, fashion, film, music, performing arts, publishing, leisure, software, toys, TV and radio, and video games. Accordingly, they chalked up national policies to create an ecosystem to nurture these industries.

Today, the creative industries in the country have become the driving force of the economy, Prime Minister David Cameron said last month at the launch of a new scheme to help creative entrepreneurs raise investment and win new customers.

Cameron said at the Creative Entrepreneurs event at 10 Downing Street the creative economy is growing three times faster than any other sector.

UK’s Creative Industries are worth £76.9 billion per year to its economy, according to the Ministry of Culture, Media and Sports. “This massive contribution is an all-time high and equates to £8.8m per hour, or £146,000 every single minute, playing a key role in the Government’s long-term economic plan.”

According to a report published recently by by Arts Council England in conjunction with the Creative Industries Federation, the total turnover in the arts and culture sector in 2013 was £15.1 billion, up from £12.4 billion in 2011.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has said: “The UK’s Creative Industries are recognised as world leaders around the globe and (the) figures show that they continue to grow from strength to strength. They are one of our most powerful tools in driving growth, outperforming all other sectors of industry and their contribution to the UK economy is evident to all. Government is determined to continue its support for this most dynamic of sectors as part of our long-term economic plan.”

America exports more value in terms of copyright than food, soft drinks cars, computers and planes and Britain’s fashion industry employs more people and makes more money than do its car or steel industries. (The Creative Economy; John Howkins)

South Korean President Park Geun-hye leads the pack of global leaders who have put their money on CE. She has, in no uncertain manner, declared that her country’s economic future depends not on the popular “chaebols” (wealthy conglomerates) but in small clusters of tech startups and innovation. South Korea has already set up 17 “creative clusters” with the support of the multinational corporates to tap into people’s creativity and innovation.

She has now put “culture” along with her flagship policy, creative economy, to drive the country’s economy. In her Liberation Day speech recently, she called culture one of the two growth engines to power the country’s economic leap, turning creative ideas into business opportunities. She has understood the power of startups, and that Creative Economy is in fact the “God of small things”.

It is true that the economic centre of gravity is shifting to Asia with China, Japan, Korea and India faring well, titling the global balance of trade, and each country’s soft power.

It is not just UK and South Korea but an increasing number of countries in Europe, Americas and the Far East are turning towards Culture and Creative Industries, embracing Creative Economy, for economic and sustainable urban development. It is happening in Latin American countries such as Brazil and Peru, and it is happening in African countries—both big and small—and the Far Eastern countries are leaping ahead with creative zest.

China is an early bird. Back in 2005 itself, China became the world’s third largest exporter of creative goods—a remarkable feat for a country whose culture and language are still unknown to most people outside.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has underlined the importance of the creative industries to the country’s future. “I agree to open more investment opportunities (for the industry). The government will also give full financial support for the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf) so its work will be fruitful for us,” he said last month during a discussion with prominent creative economy businesspeople. Indonesia, which has a ministry for Creative Industries, expects the sector’s contribution to the GDP to double in five years from the present seven per cent.

Every day we hear reports of more and more countries from across the globe drawing up national policies to encourage creative economy and industries. The United Nations in its 2013 report on Creative Economy confirms that it is “one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the world economy and a highly transformative one in terms of income generation, job creation and export earnings”.

It also says that unlocking the potential of the creative economy also means promoting the overall creativity of societies, affirming the distinctive identity of the places where it flourishes and clusters, improving the quality of life there, enhancing local image and prestige and strengthening the resources for the imagining of diverse new futures.

The report says: “Culture is a driver of development, led by the growth of the creative economy in general and the creative and cultural industries in particular, recognised not only for their economic value, but also increasingly for the role in producing new creative ideas or technologies, and their non-monetised social benefits.

“At a time when countries are striving to reach the Millennium Development Goals and the world is shaping a new post-2015 global development agenda, we must recognise the importance and power of the cultural and creative sectors as engines of sustainable human development.”

Leading postindustrial nations, such as the United States, Sweden, Japan, Finland, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom (Florida, 2005) are now competing based on creativity and related factors like technology, innovation, and talent attraction. Most recently, the emirate of Dubai has taken a turn towards arts and culture, creating “Dubai Cultural Authority” and duly brought special zones like Dubai Media City and Dubai Internet City under it. The emirate has also set up a special zone, D3 (Dubai Design District) and invited artists from around the world to  live and work in Dubai.

It brings us to the Indian context, and its significant silence on creative economy.

Indias Creative Silence

Baby sleepingIndians are creative and the country has a number of flourishing industries based on creativity and innovation. Bollywood and regional film industries are as lucrative as any creative segment anywhere in the world.

In a recent special feature on “Future Cities”, The Economist Intelligence Unit has included Mumbai, and mentioned Bollywood. “Bollywood not only influences related creative industries such as design, digital media, fashion, food and music–it has lent India’s movie capital a ‘city of dreams’ ethos, much like Hollywood.”

India’s advertising and design industries have made significant financial gains. Since Indians live in almost every country, influence of Indian culture and its soft power (Indian curry, Bollywood, etc) is obvious, and much talked about.

However, there is no method or system to measure the contribution of the creative industries to the overall national economy; nor have we identified and recognised these industries under the umbrella of CE.

It is a country of skilled-workers—take a look at the ancient temple designs and architectural marvels—yet today when Indians talk about innovation and startup, we only talk about IT. But, to be honest to ourselves, how many global IT products have come out of the labs and incubation hubs in India? An Indian may be heading Google today but how many Googles have emerged from India?

Every year, thousands of engineering graduates end up in the sprawling IT parks and special zones in the major metros across the country. How many of them are creatively involved in an IT product? How many of them actually come up with a design solution? How many of them dream of taking homegrown products to the global market?

Very few.

Every year, we are losing thousands of young, energetic engineers to the lure of the instant financial windfall in terms of comparatively high pay packages and an illusive corporate ambience. How many young architects are dreaming of becoming a Thomas Heatherwick or a Zaha Hadid? If the trend of making our young engineers foot-soldiers to run the backend BPOs for Western firms, in the long run India will not have engineers to build its own infrastructure.

(141014) -- TOKYO, Oct. 14, 2014 (Xinhua) -- A model displays a creaction designed by Hiroko Koshino during the 2015 Spring/Summer Collection at the Fashion Week in Tokyo, Japan, Oct. 14, 2014. (Xinhua/Stringer) ****Authorized by ytfs****

The report by MPI says:  “Widespread corruption, regionalism, and outdated bureaucratic structures have created a leadership vacuum at the highest levels of government which in turn has placed much of the responsibility for economic growth and innovation on individual entrepreneurs.”

Since most heads of IT behemoths are focused only on their profits, it is the responsibility of the country’s leaders to distract the young engineers from committing professional hara-kiri and inspire them to think creative and dream big by setting up for them an ecosystem for growth.

But is easier said than done.

It takes sound vision and committed efforts to turn culture and creativity into tools for sustainable, organic growth. You just can’t piggy ride on someone else’s efforts for long. In his book The Creative Economy, Howkins says: “What are the developing countries doing? They are trying to hitch a hike on the creativity express but many lack a sustainable creative ecology and business mindset, let alone one attuned to foreign markets.”

Countries like India are trying to market their cultural heritage rather than creating cultural products. “Many turn inwards to their traditional cultures and arts and want to promote these for reasons of national pride and hoped-for economic gain, but it is not easy…It is a high risk strategy. The evidence that a country’s cultural heritage can provide a base for commercial expansion is very slight. We are seeing a new creative divide, not in people’s wish to express themselves, but in their ability to make marketable products,” adds Howkins,

Creativity does not grow in infrastructure but in ecosystems. And, that’s where India as a country lags behind in this creative race. We are yet to hear a leader—be it the globetrotting and seemingly tech-savvy and tweeting prime minister or any of the parochial chief ministers—talk about taking the country forward using culture and creative industries as engines of progress.

It takes more vision than parroting the PR gimmick. It takes bold, daring decision-making capacity, foresight (like President Park) and commitment to people to tap into the skills and talent of the common man rather than preparing honeymoon chambers for tycoons.

For that, policies and systems encouraging innovation and creativity have to be in place with a socio-economic support system. For that, corruption has to be minimised, if not rooted out.

Moreover, the recent spate of violence and attacks against writers and the increasing incidents of intolerance and fascist tendencies do not augur well for the creative industries in the country.

When creative economy is making its steady sweep over global economies, shifting focus back to individual creativity and skills, a country like India with its milling young population and cultural prowess can only ill-afford to ignore it.

It is time, India looked inward to inspire its own creative talent to come up with globally marketable products.

Before the boy, David, killed the giant, he knew that there was an opportunity to prove to the armies on both sides that his rural weapon was better and more efficient than the mighty armour of Goliath.

And, for that, the scales blinding us now have to fall off.

(Sabin Iqbal is a journalist and co-founder of Middle East-based consultancy, Synergy International)