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How cultural and creative industries can power human development in the 21st Century

Cultural and creative industries and inclusive sustainable growth.



Thangavel Palanivel

Deputy Director of the Human Development Report Office, UNDP

Cultural and creative industries, which include arts and crafts, advertising, design, entertainment, architecture, books, media and software, have become a vital force in accelerating human development. They empower people to take ownership of their own development and stimulate the innovation that can drive inclusive sustainable growth. If well-nurtured, the creative economy can be a source of structural economic transformation, socio-economic progress, job creation and innovation while contributing to social inclusion and sustainable human development. It is thus not by chance that the 2004 UNDP Human Development Report makes a case for respecting diversity and building more inclusive societies through policies that recognize cultural differences and multicultural perspectives.

Cultural and creative industries (CCI) are generally inclusive. People from all social classes from the indigenous to the elite participate in this economy as producers and consumers. Work in the sector tends to favour youth and women compared with other sectors. For example, a 2015 UNESCO publication highlighted that CCI sectors in Europe typically employed more youth than any other sector. The study also highlighted that though women account for only 47% of the active population, they accounted for more than 50% of people employed in the United Kingdom’s music industry in 2014. A recent UNDP/HDRO paper also shows how women play a dominant role in making creative products in the developing world. In countries such as Rwanda and Uganda, for example, women sustain the practice of making baskets, mats and other craftwork. In Turkey and South Asia, women have been playing a major role in making carpets and other ancient crafts for millennia. Another UN report pointed out how creative industries offer eco-friendly solutions to sustainable development challenges, giving examples such as eco-friendly fashion, including jewellry, handicrafts and interior design products as well as protecting biodiversity by marketing natural health and cosmetic products that work in harmony with nature.

Though these examples show the cultural and creative sectors help achieve inclusive development, the intensification of the creative economy is also exacerbating existing income inequalities and marginalisation of certain population groups. For example, Richard Florida in his new book, The New Urban Crisis: How Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class – and What We Can Do About It highlights how the cities that have the most innovative and creative economies are often associated with the worst social and economic inequality. The book shows a strong correlation between the presence of the creative class in metropolitan areas and income inequality. This is because the creative industry generally employs skilled workers which led to a rise in the relative wages of more educated workers.

Yet, the creative industries have become an increasingly important contributor to GDP growth. Data show, over the past 15 years, that the creative economy is not only one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the world economy, but also transformative in generating income, jobs and exports. According to UNESCO estimates, in 2013 CCI generated $2.3 trillion (3 percent of world GDP) and 29.5 million jobs (1 percent of the world’s active population). An Oxford Economics study estimated that CCI account for over 10 percent of GDP in Brazil and the United States. Global trade in creative goods and services is also increasing rapidly. Globalization and new technologies have accelerated cultural interactions among countries and the export of creative goods has been growing at about 12 percent per annum in the developing world in the last 15 years or so.

However, these gains are not equality distributed across the globe. Asia and the Pacific, Europe and North America are seeing rapid and unprecedented growth in the creative economy. These regions account for 93% of the global CCI revenue and 85% of jobs. By contrast Africa, the Middle-East, and Latin America and the Caribbean have not yet capitalised on their potential. For these regions, the CCI represent untapped economic potential, and a chance to contribute to the innovation economy and other sectors through supply chain effects.

This is an opportunity for policies that accelerate and sustain a dynamic creative economy that contributes to human development progress. Growing a dynamic creative economy depends in part on how proactive countries are in grasping opportunities and tackling challenges across many areas—including technology, education, labour markets, macroeconomic policies, gender issues, urbanization, migration, and more. Cultural and creative activities are usually diverse and multifaceted. And while no “one-size-fits-all” solution will work in this sector, we advocate some policy options as follows.

First, in line with the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), countries need to integrate the opportunities and challenges related to CCI into their national development plans, strategies and budgets. Second, greater effort needs to be devoted to protecting intellectual property rights. Failing to properly reward creators is holding back growth. Legal frameworks that protect the rights of creators and secure fair remuneration for them is key.Third, culture often transcends borders. And so improved international, regional and South-South cooperation is important. Fourth nurturing talent is vital for CCI. The cross-fertilization of ideas, leveraging new technologies and learning from mistakes are important for any economic sector, but these play a fundamental role in the cultural and creative sectors. Governments and higher education institutions have an important role in attracting, developing and retaining talent. Fifth, a sound understanding of the challenges and opportunities is vital for planning and policy making. Collecting and analysing CCI data should be a priority to support better policies.

The UN has made a concerted effort to promote the cultural and creative economy in the last decade, through a series of joint UNESCO, UN Convention on Trade and Development and UNDP knowledge products and meetings. The United Nations will continue to provide a platform for governments, business and others to consider long-term goals and partnerships in an area that can make an important contribution towards achieving sustainable development for all.

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Photo: UNDP Nepal