by Thabang Leshilo (@Thabang_Leshilo) Encouraged by creative-industry heavyweights, more and more of my peers seem to have extended themselves beyond the traditional ‘advertising’ and ‘marketing’ routes when it comes to a career choice.

This has given rise to a generation of young individuals with real talent looking for additional avenues to express their creativity.

Thabang Leshilo by Jeremy Glyn in June 2014 a doubt

But those very same employers who’ve cultivated these opportunities for us are having to think harder about how they retain young creative entrepreneurs because, without a doubt, they intend on doing their own thing someday.

Policy consultant and author John Howkins defines creative entrepreneurs as people who “use creativity to unlock the wealth that lies within themselves. Like true capitalists, they believe that this creative wealth, if managed right, will engender more wealth.”

Howkins goes on to say “[t]hese people instinctively think for themselves, instinctively network, instinctively keep several balls in the air at once. They are the shock troops, not only for new ideas about our culture but for new ideas about working in it.”

Creativity translates into economic value

According the British Council, at the heart of the creative economy are the cultural and creative industries at the crossroads of arts, culture, business and technology. What unifies these activities is that they all trade with creative assets in the form of intellectual property (IP) — the framework through which creativity translates into economic value.

The UK has the largest creative sector of the European Union. In terms of GDP, it is the largest in the world and, according to UNESCO, it is in absolute terms the most-successful exporter of cultural goods and services in the world, ahead of even the US.

The British Council’s Cultural and Creative Economy programme builds upon the UK’s position as a world leader in the development of the creative and cultural economy, and the UK Government’s aspiration to support further growth. This is an economic agenda but it also has a deep social and cultural-relations purpose.

Increasingly recognising its importance

Governments and creative sectors across the world are increasingly recognising its importance as a generator of jobs, wealth and cultural engagement that promotes social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development.

But what of the South African government’s recognition of the importance of the creative industries and economy? With a growing population of optimistic youth, faced with poor educational and economic prospects, should arts and culture not be an imperative avenue to support South African youth and their natural talent?

Mzansi’s creative entrepreneurs see themselves as more than just freelancers. In reality, they are the creative, cultural and thought leaders of our generation, from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. They own companies, and are investors in up-and-coming talent that’s either their own or other people’s.


These are bright and resilient individuals who value their independence above all else. It is the freedom to manage their time and abilities that makes up for the unpredictable nature of their working environment, and the irregularity of their income that makes their work meaningful.

A prime example of a creative entrepreneur, who has defeated many odds and led a movement in SA dance music, is the world-renowned and multi-award-winning record producer and DJ, Black Coffee, as documented by Resident Advisor and Sonos. He and other creatives from all walks of life — such as documentary film makers, photographers, youth culture specialist and many more — are leading this cultural wave, promoting our talent abroad and moving SA forward.

You may not see it, but young South Africans all over the country are working together to create magic and push boundaries by continually asking themselves “What if?” or “Imagine if we?”. Whether it be meeting up in a coffee shop, corner store, or their mother’s kitchen, these creatives are talking, connecting and collaborating to bring their ideas to life.


There has also been a rise in a co-working culture, where other creative entrepreneurs have created environments where people can brainstorm ideas and work together. Many of those places have been featured on Between 10 and 5 (another SA creative venture that seeks to showcase creativity through a digital platform).

Interestingly, there are a few brands out there that are acknowledging the significance of the creative economy and are immersing themselves in this space — and they are doing so in order to remain culturally relevant:

Grant’s whiskey recently collaborated with photography trio, I See A Different You, in its #StandTogetherMzansi campaign; Bobbi Brown has also acknowledged young creative women in its #PrettyPowerful campaign; and Levi’s Pioneer Nation seeks to share hundreds of stories of inspiring local and international creative Pioneers. [On a slightly different tack, Coca-Cola South Africa recently announced a formal partnership with the Creative Circle “in a bid to refresh the way the South African business community views creativity” — ed-at-large.]

Be prepared

A word of caution to all brand managers: not all brands can do this credibly. But, if you do, ensure that your brand’s positioning, big idea and intent are well-aligned with that of the creative entrepreneur, and be prepared to allow him or her to be the creative director of your story.

Thabang Leshilo (@Thabang_Leshilo) is a project manager (brand) at strategic marketing consultancy Added Value South Africa. As a ‘next-generation’ marketer with fresh and curious eyes looking into the industry, she has a keen interest for brands that are culturally in tune with and able to integrate and immerse themselves into the everyday realities of the consumer. She contributes the monthly “Tuned” column, sharing marketing insight and analysis, to MarkLives.

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