Last update: Wed, 10 Feb 2016 01am
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Put the creative foot forward

Leadership and creativity have some common traits: not everybody is good at it and those who are, are often envied, ridiculed, or despised for their guts. The biggest similarity, perhaps, is the debate on, whether leaders and creative folks are born – as in God-gifted – or made, is still on.

Yet, in the case of creativity, at least one thing is certain: once creative reserves are proven, its success can be amplified using the forces of market and infrastructural development.

The fact that Pakistan has a positive creative trade balance might surprise many (See graph). It also feels nice to know that the country’s creative exports total about 6.5 percent of total overseas sales.

But compare the numbers with peer economies, and the un-harnessed potential, and the smiles are wiped off. Take for instance, the recent report on creative economy released by the UNCTAD.

Titled, “Creative Economy: A Feasible Development Option”, the report reveals that Pakistan is the tenth biggest exporter of art crafts amongst developing economies. However, the country’s $253 million worth of annual art crafts sales in 2008 is dwarfed by $10.7 billion of export by China (which tops the list) and the average of $1.5 billion of the top 2-5 exporters.

A look at the break up of Pakistan’s creative exports shows that it’s dominated by carpets, tourism, and computer software industries – though these too are working way below their potential highlighted in several studies.

The rest of the creative trade potential, for example in furniture, handicrafts, indigenous music, paintings and photography, archaeology, heritage, arts, media, functional creations, etc. are not being effectively developed.

The Planning Commission has presented a well-crafted plan in this context. Drawing lessons from the region, the Planning Commission has laid focus on the soft aspects of growth, which includes the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship, and market development.

It also rightly emphasizes the development of clusters of Creative Cities. “Creative cities enhance individual and collective productivity through exchange of ideas and easy access to information,” the Commission’s draft plan said in January.

While it also highlighted the need for education, training, and skill development, it didn’t specifically highlight the need to foster cultural industries. The next move, therefore, should be to come up with the specifics.

For instance, there is a need to boost tourism, both in the country’s north and the archeological tourism in the centre and the south. Similarly, cities and parks should be built around different kinds of Pakistan’s unique marketable elements like handcrafts, carpet, furniture, gems and so forth.

Likewise, players from the country’s traditional music scene have to be brought to the limelight; who knows how many Abida Perveens, Pathanay Khans and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khans are still unexplored.

For those obsessed with the brick and mortar and the tangibles, this may not be a top priority issue to be resolved. And their view makes sense, considering that creative exports are never the mainstay of any economy.  But let them be reminded that the biggest return from creative exports is not dollars: it is ‘positive image’ – one that is the most missing element of the country.