Accelerating Creativity and Innovation in Africa
April 21, 2023
Every World Creativity and Innovation Day, we acknowledge the transformative power of creativity and innovation in driving human development and in unlocking opportunities for growth. According to UNCTAD, the creative economy is one of the world’s fastest growing sectors, creating employment and income for millions of people globally. Yet, Africa’s share of the global creative economy remains significantly low, accounting for only around 2.9% of global creative goods exports, representing $58.4 billion and less than 1% of the African GDP.
Africa's creative industry presents immense growth potential, driven by a growing youth population, increasing urbanization, and a rising middle class with changing consumption patterns. However, the sector faces significant challenges, including inadequate infrastructure, limited access to funding and markets, intellectual property issues, and lack of supportive policies and regulations.
Overcoming these challenges could turn creativity and innovation into an accelerator for the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement. Startups and small and medium-sized enterprises could be the engine for economic growth and job creation through the development of new and better services. Growing cultural and creative industries is another avenue for African entrepreneurs to leverage their local knowledge, skills, and cultural diversity to create innovative services catering to the diverse needs of African consumers and businesses.
Ways to accelerate Africa’s creative potential
In my previous article, I argued that despite appreciation of the social and economic value of creativity and innovation in Africa, both are undervalued in policy debates. I highlighted examples of young Africans who are leading the way in creative and innovative sectors, creating products, services, and revenue streams. I also discussed practical strategies for fostering creativity and critical thinking in young people, enabling them to realize their innovative potential. Building on this framework, I propose the following avenues for accelerating the continent’s creative and innovative potential:
Nurture innovative thinking and develop talent
Critical thinking, problem-solving, and valuing creativity are crucial in unlocking the potential of African students to solve 21st century development challenges. While more students across Africa have access to education at all levels, many students still face challenges in harnessing their creativity and innovation. Nurturing creative talent from an early age is the key to building skills and aspirations for long and rewarding careers in the creative sector. This calls for a revitalised education system with upgraded teaching methods, assessment practices, resource allocation, cultural attitudes, and teacher training to create an environment that fosters creativity and innovation in African classrooms.
It also calls for development of new spaces for talent growth. With initiatives such as UNDP Accelerator Labs and Youth Innovation Challenges, UNDP is at the forefront of accelerating sustainable development solutions through talent incubation and financing transformative innovations for young entrepreneurs and innovators on the continent. Funding for incubators and platforms to support talent development is woefully inadequate. There is need to attract more investors willing to provide longer term financing and a robust ecosystem to support young people’s talent and experimental ventures.
Harness Africa’s diverse culture and heritage
Africa's diverse population and rich cultural heritage have helped its creative industries gain global recognition. Entertainment giants like Netflix and Warner Music Group are recognising the potential of the African market as a source of talent and content and are actively seeking to capture a share of this market. Yet, the creative sector in Africa is not only an economic force but also contributes to preserving and promoting African cultural heritage and fostering social cohesion. African filmmakers, actors, writers, musicians, and other artists must seize the opportunity to promote African culture and heritage on continental and global platforms. Similarly, African countries need to do more to support local creatives and ensure that African audiences are more aware of and consume more creative and cultural products and services from Africa.
Protect intellectual property
To ensure the sector’s sustainable growth, protecting the ideas, creations and inventions of African creatives and innovators from unauthorized use or infringement is crucial. The African creative industries are already leveraging various digital technologies and platforms for creative production, distribution, and marketing, expanding their reach and impact. However, this exposes them to piracy and intellectual property theft. Strengthening intellectual property systems and supporting creatives to access and utilise existing legislation and policies is important. This should be complemented by awareness raising on the importance of intellectual property protection among fellow creatives, innovators, and the wider community.
As we commemorate this year’s World Creativity and Innovation Day, let us be reminded of the pivotal role that creativity and innovation play in shaping our world. Supporting youth to remain at the forefront of the continent’s creative industry gives them an opportunity to design sustainable solutions for all of us and create a better future for themselves and their communities. As African countries, let us amplify the spirit of creativity and innovation that fuels progress and propels us towards a brighter, more innovative future. Let us renew our commitment to harnessing the power of creativity and innovation for the benefit of all.
As African countries, let us amplify the spirit of creativity and innovation that fuels progress and propels us towards a brighter, more innovative future.Angela Lusigi
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