Enhancing Egypt’s creative economy

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Hisham Basha, Azza Fahmy and moderator Ahmed El Attar discuss Egypt's creative economy. (Images via Eman Mostafa)

Creative industries that fall under the sector of arts in all its forms (painting, music, acting, weaving, embroidery, jewelry, furniture, and graphic arts etcetera) represent the success stories of the UK.

Just over 5 percent of the British economy comes from creative economy, and this sector is growing three times as much as the other sectors in the UK. It employs nearly three million people, which sums up to 8.8 percent of jobs in the UK.

Jeff Streeter, director of the British Council in Egypt, announced those numbers during the event that launched the creative economy program for the next three years in Egypt. Their aim is to support entrepreneurial projects in the creative industry as well as create employment opportunities and stimulate the demand of creative Egyptian products.

Streeter clarified the plans to reach these objectives. "In order to support the efforts of the British Council in turning Egyptian creativity into profitable sustainable projects, some key organizations in the entrepreneurial field will visit the UK in the first week of March, to study the strengths of the UK in creative economy, especially in the field of urban development and creative centers."

What is the creative economy program?

The creative program operates directly on two axes. "The first is with the Egyptian government and the institutions related to the industrial field. The other is with entrepreneurs looking to launch small to medium business in this field," Cathy Costain, head of the art program at the British council, told Wamda.

"We decided to work on creating a resource base in the Arabic language that supports people working in creative economy, providing them with statistics, reports and digital references, entrepreneurs can rely on in their entrepreneurial journeys," she said.

In order to achieve these goals, the British Council is cooperating, as of February, with the Industrial Modernisation Center (IMC) and the UK innovation charity Nesta, to exchange information. This cooperation lies in training a group of trainers on the use of a Nesta toolkit for creative entrepreneurship.

Creative discussions
Beatrice Pembroke, and Sonja Dahl with Basha, Fahmy, and El Attar.

The toolkit includes four booklets translated into Arabic on the subject of setting goals, starting a creative business, determining the track to be taken, marketing, financial planning, communicating with customers and ensuring the sustainability of the project. The toolkit comes with a guide explaining the curriculum and the syllabus of the training.

Once training is complete four-day workshops for the entrepreneurs will be held throughout Egypt in 2016 and 2017. They will also gain access to networking and guidance.

The video gives more info on the Nesta Creative Enterprise Toolkit.

Creative discussions   

The event included a roundtable discussion with Beatrice Pembroke, director of creative economy work at the British Council; Sonja Dahl, manager of the first Nesta program; Hisham Basha, national policy business development expert at the IMC, representing the government's initiative towards stimulating the creative industry, and Azza Fahmy, a jewelery maker representing the efforts of the private sector to encourage the creative economy.

Fahmy explained that labor shortages are the main threat to this sector in Egypt. "People in the creative industry must differentiate between the artist and the craftsman,” she said. “I hope the government plays an effective role in building schools and academies to develop the skills of both designers and craftsmen, because right now craftsmen are not from Egypt. We also face lack of skills when it comes to designers as well."

Fahmy also addressed the lack of training centers financed by the government in the creative industry. "I started The Design Studio by Azza Fahmy to train and empower designers and jewelry makers in Egypt.” So far she has graduated five classes.

In reply to those demands, Basha promised to continue the journey of the IMC that started less six months with the objective of supporting the creative industry in Egypt, despite the challenges they face.

"We have faced many difficulties locally in convincing the craftsmen that they need to enhance their approaches to create a more sustainable market. We have also faced international difficulties when it comes to high quality handmade crafts at lower prices, which was a competitive burden. However, we managed to launch our brand and achieve satisfying numbers in such a short period of time," Basha explained.

Basha noted that the Creative Egypt brand had indeed contributed to taking 50 craftsmen from the informal sector and placing them in the formal sector. “It increased employment from 68 to 850 craftsman joining the program.” He said they also raised the number of suppliers working on the project to 106, and that average sales went up to EGP1 million per month (more than US$100,000).

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