Promotion of Creative Economy in SL through Development of Creative Industries


Changing the current economy model of Sri Lanka is being advocated by the present regime to avoid economic crisis such as the present economic catastrophe. The consultation with all the political parties is done currently to develop a common development programme to address the economic crisis.

It is expected that such a common development programme will pave the way for formulating an alternative new economic model, creative economy model.

There is no single definition for the Creative Economy as it is an evolving concept.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), ‘Creative Economy is an evolving concept which builds on the interplay between human creativity and ideas and intellectual property, knowledge and technology, it is the knowledge-based economic activities upon which creative industries are based’. 

In other words, the Creative Economy (CE) through Creative Industries (CIs) harnesses the economic potential of innovative products and processes developed through the creativity of people to meet the market demand for addressing specific needs of consumers, as CE is based on people’s creativity and not on the amount of money they possess.

It is interesting to note that Sri Lanka has shown a steady growth of CIs. The contribution from CIs to Sri Lanka’s GDP increased from US$433.62 million in 2010 to US$ 845.41 in million 2014.

Nevertheless, the policy makers hardly discuss the contribution made by CIs for GDP and the role played by CIs for economic development through job creation and export market development in the country.

However, it has been reported that Sri Lanka with 29 other countries passed a resolution in the UN General Assembly on 8 November 2019 for proclamation of 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy (IYCE) for Sustainable Development and with a view to addressing this resolution UNCTAD declared 2021, the International Year of Creative Economy (2021-IYCE).

Please note that UNCTAD has classified the innovative products and services developed and marketed by CIs under the Three Pillars: Arts & Culture, Design and Media.

The Arts & Culture Pillar consists of creative activities of Arts, Heritage and Crafts.

The Crafts covers Art Crafts, Traditional Cultural Expressions and Celebrations, Visual Arts, Performing Arts (Musical Shows, Theatre, Opera, Marionettes) and Literature.

The Design Pillar deals with creative activities of Architecture, Industrial Designs, Fashion Designs, Graphic Designs, Software, Advertising and Brand Development.

The creative activities of Publishing, Photography, Television, Radio, Digital Media, Films and Video come under the Media Pillar.

All those creative activities come under the purview of a number of Cabinet Ministries. There is a felt need to coordinate development activities undertaken by those Ministries for respective CIs. For this purpose,it is proposed that the Secretariat for Creative Industries (SCIs) may be set up in the Prime Minister’s Office.

As mentioned earlier, all those creative activities depend on the creativity of people, who obtain Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) for their creations;either a creative product or service. CIs commercialise such creative products and services and reward those who develop them.

SCIs in its data base should include the list of creative people obtained who have IPRs and initiate a registration programme for CIs to successfully commercialise creative products and services.

Similarly, SCIs also should include in its data base of geographical areas, wherein creative products become eligible to obtain Geographical Indication Mark (GIM)and maintain an area-wise record of creative products with GIM. Some examples are Dumbara Rata; Mats, Ambalangoda; Masks and Moratuwa; Furniture.

Raising awareness of those creative products and creative services is one of the prime objectives of 2021-IYEC,together with promoting cooperation and networking, encouraging sharing of best practices, and presenting related special programmes during the period. 

Sri Lanka has not yet designed a special programme for the IYCE, although it signed the resolution in the UN General Assembly referred to, while other countries which had signed the resolution, have designed, and implemented country-specific programmes for 2021-IYCE.

Hence, SCIs as a priority activity, may undertake the formulation of Sri Lanka’s Country Programme for the IYCE in consultation with Line Ministries dealing with creative enterprises that come under the Three Pillars of Arts & Culture, Design and Media.

But it has been reported that, very little attention has been given by the Government officials and representatives to support creativity in Sri Lanka, which considerably diminishes opportunities for creators to maximise their earning potential from the lucrative opportunity of the Creative Economy because, public officials are not having a clear understanding of CIs as published in the article titled ‘Opportunity Fraught with Challenges’ in Sunday edition of Ceylon Today of 10 July 2022.

This article by Shanuka Kadupitiyage was based on interviews with five leading CIs- Bhagya Madanasinghe (Moving Doodles), Sachi Ediriweeera (Graphic Novel Creator), Kalath Warnakulasuriya (Film Maker, Artist and Animator), Hirushan Maddumaarachchi (Provider-Music for Trailers and Promotion Campaigns), Randy Chriz and Portia (Meraki United)and Dual Weerakoone( Creative Entrepreneur).

All those creative industrialists emphasised the need to setup infrastructure; to create stronger support for creators in order to capitalise on the next market growth cycle when it comes for maximising their income.

Whilst the Government is taking steps to setup new infrastructure facilities required for the creative industries, SCIs should undertake a marketing campaign to promote the existing infrastructure facilities like Ranminithenne- Tele Cinema Village located in Hambantota.

Without depending on the Government, there are entrepreneurs like Nisahanthan Niruthan who built the infrastructure facilities required for creative enterprises. As reported in the Sunday Times on January 10, 2021, he developed the Vattraoalai International Institute of Art and Film (VIIAF) in Mullaitivu to foster creativity and address the need for reconciliation.

According to N. Niruthan, VIIAF will help out ‘anyone who wants to create something but does not have the means to create it.’

The Government should assist such entrepreneurs to develop infrastructure facilities required for creators.

For this purpose,SCIs may request the National Enterprise Development Authority (NEDA)to develop and arrange entrepreneurship development programmes for such entrepreneurs.

In another Article: ‘Artistry in Creating History’ published in Ceylon Today of Sunday 17, July 2022 and presented by Ama H. Vanniarachchi, Artist Sithum Sudhara Ranjithpriya had also suggested to improve the current infrastructure facilities, to meet the requirements of artists.

He has observed that, “Our school education is not supporting and encouraging enough to give birth to great artists as it is mainly exam-based competitive education system.”

Having noted that suitable environment is not created for artists,he has proposed that,       “Children should be exposed to classical arts at an early stage and guided to improve their good taste in art. Our music literature is unique and art students should be taught about classical music. Also, an art student should study and enjoy classical cartoons, films and literature.”

He had also suggested that “the Government should have programmes to support and encourage artists”.

With a view to address this need, it is proposed that SCIs may organise ‘Annual Awards Competition for Creative Products and Services Providers’ to reward outstanding CIs.

When SCIs are evaluating the applications for the proposed Annual Awards Competition, preference has to be given to applicants who possess IPR for their creations and to those who have won the Guinness Book of World Records for their creative products and services, if any.

The ‘Cup and Saucers’ which has won the Guinness Book of World Records for the most beautiful designs can be taken as a model by SCIs for evaluating the applications for the Annual Awards competition in Sri Lanka.

Also, SCIs should give preference to CIs who have won Regional Awards including the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Startup Awards.

Through its Startup Awards scheme, SAARC celebrates the spirit of entrepreneurship and promotes bridging boundaries through innovation in its region which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

It has been reported in the Ceylon Today of Sunday 7 August 2022 that Rootcode, one of Sri Lanka’s leading Tech companies took home the ‘People’s Choice Award’ in addition to being bestowed with the ‘Startup of the Year’ title at the SAARAC Startup Awards-2022, and this is the first time a Sri Lankan Tech Company has made a name for itself in a regional competition.

Rootcode offers innovative solutions to businesses in 29 industries worldwide, impacting over 79 million people by providing solutions in mobile apps, web apps, data analysis, Ut/Uk design, machine learning, AI and Cloud.

Accordingly,Rootcode comes under the Design Pillar of Creative Economy.

All the needs of CIs highlighted by those six creators have been identified by The British Council when it undertook a survey of Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs) in Sri Lanka in August 2019 with the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPSsl) and engaging the staff of the National Enterprise Development Authority (NEDA) to conduct the field visits to CCIs to verify the data furnished by the short-listed CCIs.

Based on the findings of the survey, The British Council made the following recommendations in its report- ‘Creative and Cultural Industries in Sri Lanka’; Position Sri Lanka as an ethical and sustainable creative hub; Support Sri Lanka’s position in global value chains; Improve data on cultural and creative industries; Develop a Strong Professional Association for Cultural and Creative Industries; Strengthen knowledge and access to Intellectual Property (IP) Rights; Value Creative Education, Strengthen the Teaching of Creative Skills across the curriculum.

It is proposed that programmes may be developed by SCIs for each of those recommendations and included in the Sri Lanka’s Country Programmes for IYCE.

Another country-specific issue to be addressed in the Sri Lanka’s Country Programme for IYCE is the deteriorating International Trade Balance of Creative Products and Services.

As mentioned in the Table: Country Profile- Sri Lanka- Creative Industries Trade Performance 2005-2014 appended below, Sri Lanka whilst exporting US$ 217.5 M worth of creative products in 2014 has imported US$ 523.3 M worth of creative products causing a negative trade balance of US$ 305.81M.   

It is observed that Sri Lanka’s exports of creative goods mainly confine to two products- art craft and design.

Hence, I proposed in my article: Creative Industries and People Centered Economy published in the Ceylon Today of Monday 11, May 2020 that ‘we have to formulate a programme to develop creative industries to reduce the trade deficit and increase the range of creative products exported as a priority task.’

Since such a programme has not been developed, it is proposed that ‘Pro- Creativity Trade Exhibition’ be held to display the Products and Services of Creative Enterprises to facilitate the formulation of a programme to promote trade of those displayed items following the best practice of the Pro-Foods Exhibition held annually.

The Pro-Foods Exhibition is organised by the Sri Lanka Food Processors’ Association (SLFPA). Accordingly, Pro-Creativity Exhibition has to be organised by an Apex Association of Creative Industries. Requirement of such an association was identified by the British Council and made a recommendation to form a Professional Association for Cultural and Creative Industries in their Report- Creative and Cultural Industries in Sri Lanka referred to.

It is suggested that Associations of Creative Products mentioned in the Three Pillars listed above may have a meeting with the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) and obtain their guidelines for forming a Professional Association for Creative and Cultural Industries.

The proposed SCIs in Prime Ministers’ office,may facilitate the formation of Professional Association for Creative and Cultural Industries (PACCIs) and extend its assistance to organise the Pro-Creative Exhibition as it contributes to the three purposes (Raising Awareness on Creative Products and Services, Promoting Cooperation and Networking, and Encouraging Best Practices)of the IYCE for Sustainable Development.

SCIs may seek assistance from UNCTAD to organise the Pro-Creative Exhibition and to extend invitations for leading CIs worldwide to participate.

Financing CIs is another issue to be addressed by SCIs as the Debt Financing facilities offered by Banks in Sri Lanka for industries to develop new projects will not meet the requirements of CIs. The Venture Capital Financing is the funding mechanism used in other countries for financing CIs.

The Venture Capital financing mechanism is not used by Bankers in Sri Lanka; SCIs have to develop this mechanism. NEDA initiated a dialogue with the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC) to develop the Technology Development Fund (TDF) in Sri Lanka. MTDC effectively utilise venture capital funding mechanism to commercialise innovations. Hence, SCIs may ascertain the progress of establishment of TDF to facilitate the development of CIs in Sri Lanka.

Besides the formulation of the Sri Lanka’ Country Programme for IYCE discussed above, another national issue to be addressed by SCIs is the formulation of National Policy on CIs. It is suggested that SCIs may seek technical assistance from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) for this purpose.

With a view to obtaining approval for both Sri Lanka’s Country Programme for IYCE and for National Policy on CIs developed by SCIs, it is suggested that the National Council for Creative Industries (NCCIs) be set up at the Presidential Secretariat. NCCIs will be consisting of the Cabinet Ministers dealing with products and services of CIs. The President of Sri Lanka will chair the meetings of NCCIs.

Establishment of NCCIs will pave the way to Develop Creative Economy model as alternative economic model for the present economic model, which is subject to review by policy makers to prevent future economic disasters. 

(The writer is an Industry Strategist & Specialist in Development Planning and Ex-Secretary- Ministry of Industries)

By W.C. Dheerasekera