The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has posed great challenges to the worldwide economy and people’s daily lives and will have far-reaching consequences beyond the spread of the disease. The creative economy is one of the sectors most at risk from the COVID-19 crisis. Any lasting damage to the creative sector will drastically undercut our culture, well-being, and quality of life. At the same time, the crisis is also a strong driver of creativity and innovation.
It is against this background that Hivos Southern Africa undertook this research to identify how creatives can adopt new ways of working that will make them flourish in spite of ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. In Southern Africa, Hivos under the Resource of Open Minds (ROOM) project works with creative critical content makers to become more independent, sustainable and reach wider audiences with their online content while challenging repressive norms of the societies in which they operate.
“This research sought to explore effects of the pandemic on content creators with an analysis of emerging trends as well as offering possible solutions and frameworks under the ‘new norm,” said Kennedy Mugochi, Hivos Regional Director for Southern Africa.
“This research also seeks to examine broad linkages between past, present and future of critical content creation in the region,” he added.
The study makes a strong argument that for the three countries to play a role in the world’s fourth industrial revolution, creativity and innovation is central. Creatives need to engage in an ongoing processes of experimentation, rethinking of their ability to express themselves critically and responding to emerging challenges such as COVID-19 and other future crisis, ethically and creatively, adding value to society through critical reflection while being able to sustain themselves.
One of the key findings of the case study is that while COVID-19 has changed a lot in the way of life in the three countries, it has served to highlight longstanding inequalities and inequities. COVID-19 has served to amplify the disintegrations and fault lines in our societies, showing a lack of preparedness for calamities of such a nature on the part of governments and individual citizens in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
COVID-19 has been an accelerator for digital adoption by some creatives in the region and beyond. Unfortunately, these digital platforms are US-based Silicon Valley driven and out of touch with contextual realities in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The truth is that despite the assumption that creatives in the region have gone online and invested a great deal of effort, there has not been a lot of pay-off. In reality, just a few creatives have been able to generate meaningful remuneration online. This is not surprising because online access continues to be limited in the three countries. While globally going online has been the motto, it is important to state that mobile internet access penetration rate for the continent is just 24%. A significant part of the regional population has therefore been left out of the digital adoption and acceleration that has been spurred by COVID-19.
This study came up with key recommendations that include promoting the wellbeing of creatives; developing a creative economy and recovery strategy as well as developing localized technological solutions and platforms for creatives among others. In the midst of the challenges posed by the pandemic, the study also identified many opportunities.
“The COVID-19 era is now an opportune time for creatives in the region to start designing and launching platforms that can stand on their own against Silicon Valley-led platforms” concluded Kennedy Mugochi.
Conclusively, the research emphasizes on the importance of collaboration as well employing customized local approaches within the three countries – “going local.” According to the research, going local means going through a wholesome experience of local traditions, cultures, practices and histories because therein lie gems of heritage that creatives can re-appropriate, remix, refresh, redefine and reinvent.