Andrew Human. Picture: SUPPLIED
Andrew Human. Picture: SUPPLIED

With jobs in SA’s manufacturing and mining industry under increasing pressure, there are fresh calls to focus more on the creative economy.

Leading the charge is Andrew Human, CEO of the Loeries brand awards festival, which starts in mid-August. He says more work needs to be done in explaining the benefits and value the creative industry brings to the economy, not only in terms of jobs but in coming up with new solutions to complex problems across a variety of sectors.

The SA Cultural Observatory (Saco) says the creative economy contributes more than R90bn to the country’s GDP and employs thousands of people, mainly youth, who make up 77.6% of the population. Saco recently released an employment report that found that more than 1m, or 6.72%, of all SA jobs are housed in the broader cultural economy.

Notes Human: "I think it’s a much bigger picture than just those employed. For every one designer sitting behind a computer, there is a whole community that is nurtured." But is there enough support for the industry from the private sector and government?

Time and energy

"Creativity is not well understood," says Human. "Education is the key to monetising ideas but schools don’t teach the value of the creative economy. Gold is a good metaphor: it’s economically useless 4km under the ground. Time and energy has to be spent on making it an economic asset.

"Similarly, it’s wasted having millions of aimless, uneducated and unemployed youth — their minds need to be converted into strategic assets through education."

Human is calling for a collective appreciation of the economic value of ideas to our economy. Ideas, he says, are the gold of the 21st century. In Bloomberg’s latest innovation index, SA is ranked 48th — third last, just ahead of Iran and Morocco.

Creative economy practitioners are also an exportable commodity. "Ideas have great economic value and that’s why the creative economy is so important in the 21st century. If you give young minds an education, and place them in a design studio behind a computer screen, that blank screen gets converted into something valuable — a logo, a brand identity, an ad campaign. Something of intrinsic economic value. Specifically, the brand communications industry is able to go from idea to solution all in the digital space — with no manufacturing. This is an extremely exportable commodity. A design agency, filled with computers and trained designers can service clients across the globe and rake in foreign currency."

SA has produced excellent creative leaders as well as great creative agencies, he says, adding: "I do, however, think we are not performing at our best right now and this is partially because we have become very nationalistic and are not embracing the global village. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that in the Loeries creative rankings Dubai came out ahead of SA last year."

He believes the Loeries play a valuable role in promoting the creative economy. "We want to get agencies and brands to do better work, to use ideas to market their products and to get ahead of their competition. The Loeries official rankings offer an index of performance across Africa and the Middle East, so this provides an unbiased measure of the state of the SA industry vs the rest of the region."

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