New research explores the value of the UK’s support for creative industries in emerging economies.

The ‘creative economy’ is one of the global economic success stories of the last 20 years, generating $2,250 billion annually and creating around 30 million jobs. A new study conducted by the Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy (TFCC) looks at the creative economies of several emerging countries and how the UK is assisting them by acting as broker and enabler. The study undertook detailed analysis of the ways the creative sector is understood, positioned, and supported in each country. It then scoped the role of the UK in shaping a creative economy agenda in those countries - supporting local talent and ultimately helping to enable sustainable and inclusive growth.

The ‘creative economy’ is one of the global economic success stories of the last 20 years, generating $2,250 billion annually and creating around 30 million jobs

The research took a close look in particular at four large, diverse, and fast-changing countries: Vietnam, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Colombia. The research process provided privileged insights into how the UK’s engagement is understood and valued in those countries, how its role is changing as the countries change, and how it might adapt its approach - especially with regard to championing a more socially impactful creative economy. The findings are presented in an overarching report, with wide-ranging case-studies provided on each country: from cultural hubs in Vietnam and festivals in Indonesia, to creative entrepreneurship in Nigeria and education and skills in Colombia. 

Economic benefit and sustainability 

The study found that the UK has played (and is continuing to play) a pivotal role in shaping the strategic and policy agenda for the creative economies of these countries. Major successes include a lead role alongside UNESCO in developing the first National Cultural Industries Strategy for Vietnam (recently ratified by the Vietnamese Prime Minister); a central role in Colombia’s ‘Orange Economy’ agenda (the name given to that country’s creative economy); and a hugely influential role in building knowledge, capacity, and commitment for the creative economy in Nigeria - resulting in the country’s first ‘Creative Industries Fund’ and policy change at both local and federal level.

The study found that the UK has played (and is continuing to play) a pivotal role in shaping the strategic and policy agenda for the creative economies of these countries

The research looked in particular at the ways in which the UK’s relevant creative and cultural organisations can act as valued facilitators and enablers across the creative economy. They can support partners such as municipalities, civil society organisations, and creative networks to recognise the value of clusters and hubs as critical drivers of the creative economy and essential ‘safe spaces’ for cultural dialogue, collaboration, and innovation. For example, it found that the British Council has played a pivotal role in the development of ‘Bandung Creative City’: a grassroots and sector-led movement which has mobilised multiple creative activities in this major Indonesian city, with a commitment to inclusivity, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. 

Tangible economic outcomes are hard to assess, because the precise role of up-stream British interventions in the growth and performance of the overall creative economy of such large and fast-changing countries cannot be viably measured. However, the research does clearly demonstrate significant impact on the career trajectories of creative talent, and of the influence the UK has had on policy and investment that targets creative growth. For example, the ‘Creative Entrepreneurship Toolkit’, an advice programme delivered by NESTA, is shown to have provided support and guidance to multiple creative entrepreneurs, helping them to build effective business plans, understand markets, and generate sustainability.

Social and cultural transformation 

The UK has long been seen as a champion of inclusivity and openness in the creative economy. In recent years, the study argues that the social impact of creative economy activities has been more targeted and purposeful. For example, inclusive arts and creative practice has been promoted via the Indonesia / UK programme (a curated programme of events based on cultural exchange and mutuality). This included a 2018 focus on disability that helped kickstart the first disability-focused arts festival in Indonesia. 

The study was limited to the development of the creative economy in four countries over the last decade. During this period, it found that British organisations have contributed a range of advocacy, knowledge gathering, and relationship and capacity building programmes that have ultimately served to change perceptions, raise awareness, and foster dialogue. Most significantly, it suggests that the UK can claim significant responsibility for inspiring new policy developments and for supporting hubs, networks, and individual careers to flourish. 

These activities have not just made a difference in the countries in question. There is also a major indirect benefit of such activities to the UK. Interventions like the ones considered in the report generate significant good will amongst individuals, organisations, and governments in beneficiary countries. They also help with the growth of a large rising demographic of new globally-orientated consumers in these emerging countries, who represent an increasingly large potential market for British creative industries and for the UK as a whole. 

According to recent research by the British Council, the two biggest drivers of trust in the UK government amongst young people overseas are perceptions that the UK is ‘aiding development in poorer countries’ and ‘working constructively with other governments around the world’. Furthermore, involvement with cultural relations with the UK, which includes the sorts of collaborations investigated in the TFCC study, have been shown to lead to significant increases in both perceptions that the UK supports important values well (from 31% to 50%), and to trust in the UK in general (a rise from 32% to 50%). In turn, those who trust the UK are roughly twice as likely to want to do business or trade or study, visit as a tourist or experience British arts and culture, as those who do not. Indeed, a 15% increase in trust in a country has even been associated with a nearly 1% rise in that country’s economic growth (see Zak and Knack (2001), Trust and Growth, Economic Journal 111/470: 295-321).

In general, then, the research suggests that the sorts of activities aimed at supporting the creative industries in emerging economies are of substantial mutual benefit to those countries but also to the UK. As the UK looks to protect and improve its relationships with emerging economies, policymakers would do well to focus more on creative industries collaborations in the future.

With thanks to Dr Tom Fleming, Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy