Why India Needs to Seriously Invest in its Cultural Economy
Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) are important for a country’s economy: they spur innovation, provide livelihoods, and catalyse overall economic development.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that CCIs account for 3 percent of global GDP, generate annual revenues of over USD 2.25 trillion and employ approximately 30 million people.
India’s incredibly rich and diverse cultural assets — tangible and intangible — span music, dance, art, craft, food and beverages, health & wellness, garments, experiential tourism, and many more categories. In spite of these incredible assets, India hasn’t been able to generate the economic value — livelihoods and wealth — or the soft power of “Brand India”. Over the years, multiple entities and individuals have made enormous efforts to preserve and protect these cultural assets by working on the supply side i.e., with artisan and weaver groups, providing them with much-needed training, design, manufacturing and other inputs. However, efforts to promote these assets by creating branded products, services and experiences through an understanding of trends, markets and customers, product design, materials, colours, technology and digital outreach, global supply chains, quality standards, branding, distribution, partnerships and legal issues have been wanting. Ultimately, it is this jugalbandi of the demand and supply sides that will create successful branded businesses. And branded businesses, run by entrepreneurs, corporations, and collectives are the ones that will create the required economic value and Brand India.
India produces 95% of the world’s handwoven textiles, is the second-largest producer of silk and a major producer of jute and cotton, yet there are no Indian fashion brands on the global stage. Similarly, while international trade in the art and crafts sector was worth $35 billion in 2015, India’s share was only $1.5 billion. The UN established June 21st as the International Day of Yoga in 2015. However, while Yoga originated in India as a physical, mental and spiritual exercise for the holistic development of its practitioners, India had a paltry 5% global market share of the worldwide global Yoga industry estimated to be worth over $80 billion! The same unfortunate story of not having any meaningful representation on the world stage is repeated in every aspect of India’s cultural assets: from fashion and accessories, home decor and furnishings to food and beverages, and even tourism. Comparing the tourist arrival numbers of India and France, in 2019, the total number of international tourist arrivals in India was 17.42 million. France, 6 times smaller than India, had 90 million visitors with the Louvre alone drawing over 9 million visitors! A robust travel and tourism sector alone can be a $500+ billion industry with over 50 million jobs created in India in the next 5 to 7 years. The Indian handloom sector employs over 4 million people and with the right interventions, many more higher paying jobs can be generated.
Recognising that CCIs hold both cultural and commercial value, governments across the world have sought to strengthen their cultural economy and soft power through focused policy interventions and investments in sectors such as cuisine, fashion, music, technology, and broader categories such as tourism and creative media. The enormous global rise of Korean music, food, fashion, gaming and media is thanks to the concerted efforts of the Korean government and the private sector. Thailand used culinary entrepreneurship as the arrowhead of its cultural soft power foray through a multi-year coordinated effort between multiple ministries, companies and entrepreneurs.
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, in Spain, has become a hub for researchers, entrepreneurs, chefs, tourists, and allied service professionals, turning the ordinary industrial town into a key cultural center in the country. This spillover effect of building a cultural site has been termed ‘The Bilbao Effect’ and serves as an international case study.
Similarly, building more cultural districts in India can drive more significant tourist inflows and create avenues for interactions between artists, content creators, consumers, and institutions. It would enable the inflow of requisite investments that can sustain and provide resources for cultural activities.
Catalysing cultural entrepreneurship through policy, market-side interventions, infrastructural support, and greater access to capital will enable the growth of the cultural economy. Cultural exports to foreign shores transfer the ideas, values, and knowledge traditions of a country and shape perceptions of a country and enable people-to-people engagement.
We must not just preserve and protect but also promote our valuable cultural assets.
Sanjay is the Co-Founder of Network of Indian Cultural Enterprises (NICEorg), a not-for-profit that nurtures cultural entrepreneurs. He brings over 35 years of experience as an active participant in India's entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem. He also writes and lectures on these, mentors entrepreneurs and advises funds. Sanjay is based in Bengaluru, India.