By Gerardo Patacconi
Very soon, the population of Egypt will surpass 100 million, with an overwhelming majority of its citizen under the age of 25. How do you harness such a population growth? How do you ensure social cohesion and inclusive development when unemployment, especially of the young and of women, is already one of the country’s main challenges?
One solution could be to channel the many individual talents of Egypt and bundle them into collective actions in sectors that are conducive to job creation – like we are already doing in our project on developing pilot cluster initiatives in the Cultural and Creative Industries.
If you look carefully, Egypt has all the premises for many success stories to come: the country has an illustrious history and its culture reflects upon many different influences; as such, Egypt has accumulated an enormous cultural wealth, which is also reflected in a large number of production techniques and traditional products. It is strategically located in the Southern Mediterranean, at the crossroads of Africa and Asia, and it can further take advantage of its strategic position to reinforce its position as a regional trading hub. And, of course, besides being known for their legendary hospitality, the Egyptians are also renowned for their craftsmanship and skills, as well as for their entrepreneurial spirit.
If you want, consider that Cultural and Creative Industries already contribute to as average 5% of Gross Domestic Product in industrialised countries, and that this proportion is expected to further grow in the years to come. Also, take into account that, around the world, the overwhelming majority of jobs are created by artisans, small entrepreneurs and medium-size companies, but that these individual talents often lack the strength/resources/capacity to solve major problems by themselves.
Now, does it make sense to you to provide support to these talented artisans and craftsmen by helping them collaborate – through the development of clusters – so that they can improve their cooperation, develop better products and have the “weight” to jointly conquer new markets? This is the approach we have chosen, and so far we have had very encouraging feedback. It should be noted that development of clusters and industrial districts is been recognised as a key industrial development tool by both government and private sector institutions in Egypt that are calling upon UNIDO to share its long-lasting and successful experience in promoting the cluster approach in the developing world and in emerging countries like Egypt.
Yes, Egypt is very strong when it comes to the creation and production of certain types of goods, such as leather goods, basketry, jewellery, textile, furniture, natural stone and carpets. The most advanced sectors are in fact totally consolidated, especially in the design-based industries, and are quite successful in reaching foreign markets.
But what about the smaller realities, the ones that so far failed to obtain support to work together, to improve their product design, to learn about branding and marketing, to conquer foreign markets together? They need our collective assistance, so that they can, as individuals, shine together within a cluster! Besides, if you can transform the rich Egyptian creativity, especially that of women and youth into businesses, then new jobs and income will increase.
Another important factor is the very high degree of informal artisans, entrepreneurs and companies in the Cultural and Creative Industries; it is very important to allow them to earn more over a longer period of time so that the perceived costs of becoming formal will, with time, become negligible as opposed to the benefits of working together in a structured manner, with the support of an entire value chain – that ranges from the providers of raw material, to business support institutions, to training and learning facilities, and so on.
This is by no means an easy process: for an artisan/entrepreneur, the ideal market is the one where he/she is in a position of monopoly! And artisans and entrepreneurs alike are very fierce about their intellectual property, and seek to prevent others from “freely” benefitting from their creativity and hard labour. However, people working in the same sector often face the same strategic challenges, and already the understanding that some challenges can only be overcome as a group, as a cluster if you will, helps trigger that change of mentality that is so important to move from an egoistic perspective to a collective vision.
The European Union and the Italian Development Cooperation, which fund the project activities in Egypt and in the neighbouring countries, have made the development of clusters in Cultural and Creative Industries one of their main tools for the development of the Southern Mediterranean.
Our stakeholders in the region agree, and we have been blessed with extraordinary cooperation and partnerships in the seven countries where the project is being implemented. We have just started our first interactions with the two clusters that were selected by the project’s National Steering Committee in Egypt, namely a habitat design cluster and a leather cluster in Cairo, and look forward to helping these individuals become a collective success very soon!
Gerardo Patacconi is a senior industrial development expert and chief of the Cluster and Business Linkages Unit at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)