The creative sector in Kenya is a wide, vibrant and encompassing industry that links to value chains in other sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, import/export and technology
HEVA Fund is an East African company that believes in the transformative social and economic potential of the creative economy in the region. With prospects of new creative products and new cultural experiences in the region, HEVA wants to be in the forefront of helping producers of cultural goods and services to build high-value, profitable businesses where new ideas will come to life. Twice a year, the Fund accepts applications from creative startup businesses in the fields of fashion, crafts, commercial photography and interior design looking for financing and capacity development. Most recently, HEVA hosted a creative economy dialogue during the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development that sought to amplify the contributions of the creative economy and industries towards the achievement of equitable, inclusive and sustainable development in Kenya and East Africa. Edge Magazine interviewed George Gachara, managing partner at HEVA Fund to understand how creatives can shape Kenya’s economy going forward and the Fund’s role in making this a possibility. The following is an excerpt of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Do creatives have a space in Kenya? If so why?
We believe creatives have a place in all societies. Creativity informs design thinking and innovation, sets a tone, maps out identity − it is basic expression. It is essential for societies to learn to make use of, trade in and effectively monetise such a precious commodity. The real question, therefore, is not whether creatives have a space. It is “how do we value creativity”? What can we do to make the working environment for creatives an enabling one? Like all worthwhile pursuits, this is an on-going process. This is HEVA’s focus − artist livelihoods.
Financial theorists argue that lack of access to relevant financial support is the single most predicaments affecting the survival of creatives in Kenya. Do you agree with this? What are your reasons?
The creative sector in Kenya is a wide, vibrant and encompassing one that links to value chains in other sectors such as agriculture, manufacture, import/export and technology. In this sense, the sector does not operate in a vacuum and faces both shared and unique challenges. Financial inclusivity is definitely one obstacle to the growth of creative businesses which for a long time have operated on a small scale – particularly businesses targeting local markets. There are very few financial products specifically tailored to creative businesses. Financial support also includes the training of the business for investment preparedness. This is lacking within the sector. However, financial support is not the only impediment to the growth of the sector.
We at HEVA have found through empirical and anecdotal research that the challenges the sector faces are more than just financial. This is why HEVA offers a holistic approach that integrates capital stimulation, capacity building, network linkages and growth support strategy.
How do you engage creatives in helping them actualise their mandates?
HEVA’s evaluation process pre-investment allows the financial and creative panels to pin-point the strengths and weaknesses in each business that applies for investment. The process involves a one-on-one discussion with the business owner and legal and financial consultants who come up with recommendations and a time-line for implementing business boosting interventions for smooth operation and scaling.
These include company incorporation, human resource checks, retail opportunity identification, business model development, production optimization, digital and marketing strategy, intellectual property consultations legal and tax obligation sensitization.
Do you have any successes that you can point out to in view of the above?
We have had amazing success stories in the last two cohorts that we have invested in. Successes indicated by the growth of the businesses, the personal and professional development of the creative professional, the change in perception of other investors have all been something that we are really proud of. Capital stimulus can be the push to open a retail store or boost production capacity. Training workshops can be the place one goes through their business plan and develops marketing strategy. Networking sessions can link players within the different value chains that they would have not met otherwise to discuss collaborations and partnerships. HEVA works from all these angles to grow the businesses that we invest in.
What happens if creative industry lacks access to affordable financial support?
Without accessible and affordable financial support, creative businesses will continue to grow but at a slower pace. A dynamic enabling environment that offers a range of financing options allows a business to make leaps that they may not have previously done, in a shorter space of time.
Are the current government policies and regulations favourable to the growth of the sector?
The government has made steps in developing policy and legislation that should enable the sector to formalise, have better representation and more of a voice. Although there is a lot left wanting, the developments promised such as the creative sector lottery, the new film academy, the artisan village, the leather and textile centres are eagerly awaited.
What does the future holds for Kenya’s economy with a vibrant creative sector? And what would be HEVA’s role in shaping these projections?
We at HEVA are very optimistic that the future is bright for the Kenyan and East African creative professional. There is a shift in the way the industry is being perceived by financial institutions, investors and the government. The creative professional is increasingly aware of merging their art and digital tools to market better, create better, collaborate and expand networks. Access to new technologies, distribution and production solutions are the next step to growing the sector.
Any other pertinent issue?
One strength of the sector that can be capitalised on is strengthening partnerships, co-sharing space, outsourcing and diversifying capacity for the growth of the business. It takes teams to build success stories and in each value chain there is space for specialisation to heighten quality production. In fashion for example, it is not just the designer that makes the brand but also the pattern cutter, the social media operator, the public relations ractitioner, the retail manager, the production house, the fabric sourcing partner, the editorial photographer, the quality controller and the buyer. HEVA encourages and works to help creatives bring these components together.