Over the last two years, the team at Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy (TFCC) has been working on research looking at the long-term role of the British Council in the creative economies of four countries which are eligible for ODA (Official Development Assistance) funding. 

In 2020, TFCC undertook a further study to explore in more depth the impact of the British Council’s work in ODA funding eligible countries on the UK creative economy. 

Building on over a decade of collaborative work with ODA eligible countries, there is much to play for, with the British Council capable of brokering and delivering fresh relationships with ODA funding eligible countries based on genuine equivalence and mutuality. 

Parachuting in expertise, or simply showcasing UK talent, are no longer an option. 

Regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and South America are driving innovation and transforming market potential in the global creative economy. 

They are also re-framing the value proposition for culture and the creative economy, pioneering ethical and inclusive growth and environmentally sustainable practice. 

The UK can play a formative role alongside increasingly dynamic ODA eligible countries, co-developing new approaches to the creative economy in ways that ensure significant economic, social and cultural value is generated and shared.

Headline findings of the study

The British Council has proven to be a vital enabler of UK/global cultural relations with a Creative Economy twist: a broker of trust and an effective tool in cultural diplomacy; a market-maker and catalyst for collaboration. 

Without the British Council, many relationships would not have blossomed, many incredible arts and creative projects would not have taken place, and mutual understanding would be a lot weaker.

With the COVID-19 crisis, the Cultural and Creative Industries will play an absolutely critical role in recovery and in reframing the type of economy we have in the future. 

This research demonstrates that small interventions and programmes can make a big difference and that with some reform and an ongoing aptitude for change, the British Council can be a global force for good in a post-COVID world, helping to stimulate new UK/ODA country collaborations with the potential to thrive. 

The study is centred on desk-based research and testimonies from partners to and participants in British Council Creative Economy programmes with a focus on ODA eligible countries. It provides multiple case studies on how the British Council is delivering value to the UK creative economy. It does this by traversing four main areas:

  1. Creative People

The British Council has been a champion for creative entrepreneurship for over a decade. Building on the many success stories of UK creative entrepreneurs, this topic has been prioritised in work with ODA eligible countries. 

This is because creative enterprise provides a way for the British Council to directly reach young, diverse and emergent talent; to show success stories from the UK and inspire new types of creative entrepreneurship in ODA countries; and to build new relationships between UK and ODA country partners.

Activities such as the Creative Enterprise Programme, Fashion DNA, Crafting Futures, and a range of tailored collaborative projects in ODA eligible countries from Brazil to Indonesia, have combined to support creative talent to thrive. 

In the UK, it has exposed creative talent to new markets, enhancing entrepreneurship capacity and export readiness, as well as facilitating knowledge exchange. 

This has enabled a portfolio of UK creative businesses and cultural organisations to build their business through trade and exchange with ODA eligible countries.

2. Creative Practice

The British Council has played a vital role as spark and connector, facilitating collaborative practice within ODA eligible countries, regionally, and with the UK. 

This has accelerated research across the UK creative economy and provided a breeding ground for some of our best and most diverse creative talent to generate new work in collaboration with peers in ODA funding eligible countries. 

Examples include:

Festivals, in particular have been catalysts for talent development and exchange, with the British Council’s Festival Skills Programme facilitating professional exchange, building audiences and growing capacity across the UK and ODA festival sectors. 

3. Creative Places

The British Council Creative Economy programme has featured creative hubs as both anchors and catalysts of the Creative Economy. 

The Creative Economy team has worked with over 1,000 creative hubs globally, since 2014. Hubs have featured as partners, collaborators, producers and researchers. 

Hubs are particularly valued for the ways they converge economic and social agendas and outcomes – e.g. as safe spaces for a diversity of cultural expressions; as impact-facing habitats which encourage creative solutions to systemic challenges; and as interdisciplinary platforms in which innovation thrives. 

Knowledge exchange activities, study visits, mapping exercises and a creative hubs toolkit have helped build exchange between hubs and their communities, and to generate strategic policy response in, for example, cultural planning and creative city-making. 

In turn this has raised the exposure of UK creative hubs, fostered professional relationships and connected the UK to a global network of talent which is driving innovation across the creative economy.

4. Creative Policy

The British Council has worked for over a decade to promote the Creative Economy as a provider of inclusive growth and driver of innovation. There are two main ways the British Council is building trust and shaping policy:

  • Through programmes of awareness raising, sector mapping and strategic policy support. This often takes place directly with Governments and their agencies and involves commissioning UK expertise to deliver services to ODA eligible countries and for UK organisations to share their expertise as well as benefit from exposure to expertise in those countries. 
  • Through programmes of knowledge exchange and technical assistance facilitated by the British Council – such as in festivals development. There have also been several large-scale partnership programmes at a national and organisational level.

These approaches have helped leverage the perceived policy maturity of the UK Creative Economy (and wider cultural sector), introducing the UK as a preferred partner for advice on policy development, mapping and partnership. 

A changing and challenging context

Through the research we found that the British Council is:

  • an enabler of UK/global cultural relations with a Creative Economy twist
  • a broker of trust and an effective tool in cultural diplomacy
  • a market maker and catalyst for collaboration. 

The British Council is working in a complex post-colonial context and one in which new paradigms are being created. For example,in looking to balance the merits of international travel against environmentally responsible behaviour.

There is a driver to re-align growth toward a more inclusive and ethical creative economy. A balance is also needed between promoting elements of the UK Creative Economy for which demand already exists from ODA funding eligible countries, and the need to open access to new, diverse and exciting talent from all corners of the UK.

Post-COVID-19 and post the UK’s exit from the European Union, the British Council can play a hugely vital role in re-building trust and re-framing the creative economy narrative toward inclusion, tolerance, environmental sustainability and mutuality. 

The last ten years have seen huge progress in building a diverse portfolio of exchange, collaborative practice and mutual development in the global creative economy, delivering value to ODA eligible countries and the UK. 

The next ten can deliver greater value back to the UK if talent from all backgrounds feels genuinely involved in the design and delivery of activities, and if ODA eligible countries are recognised as equal partners in the process.