Bringing India’s Cultural Enterprises to the Forefront at G20

With an exuberant display of colours, cultural performances and cuisine at the first Sherpa track meeting in the historic city of Udaipur, India commenced its G20 presidency in festive spirits. Besides convening multiple thematic discussions of global and strategic importance, the delegates also immersed themselves in Rajasthani hospitality and cultural heritage. This included the 300-year-old style of painting known as Jal Sanjhi, musical performances by folk artists from the Langa and Manganiyar communities, a visit to the Kumbhalgarh fort and getting a taste of the Rajasthani staple mangodi for dinner, with a twist of millets.

A similar experience was created in Bengaluru, where the world leaders met to initiate talks on the Finance track. During this two-day visit, delegates not only witnessed classical cultural performances but also got a chance to see the cultural treasures from the state including silk, crafts, coffee and other spices exhibited in grand setups.

These magnificent cultural projections throw a spotlight on India’s unparalleled cultural resources– both tangible and intangible–that are an integral component of the country’s cultural economy as well as its soft power.

Being one of the largest multilateral forums, the G20 provides us with an opportunity to not just merely showcase our culture, heritage and hospitality but also steer conversations on the role of cultural industries in achieving socio-economic growth. These discussions should inherently involve cultural enterprises as important stakeholders.

Cultural enterprises are successful businesses rooted in India’s cultural heritage, wisdom, and practices while also having a strong market and customer focus. These enterprises act as storytellers, conveying India’s achievements, artisanal heritage, indigenous knowledge and creative prowess in the form of branded products, services and experiences. Furthermore, using the right kind of branding, packaging and marketing strategy, these enterprises also position Indian culture in a manner that is respected and appeals to global consumer sensibilities.

In addition to this, cultural enterprises also have greater brand recall value. When presented with branded cultural products and services, the G20 delegates will not only learn and enjoy our cultural offerings at a particular moment but will also be able to purchase these products from the right cultural enterprise, even when they are back in their countries.

Moreover, cultural products labelled with the ‘Made in India’ or ‘Brand India’ tag, create positive associations with homegrown brands and in turn with India as a country of advanced manufacturing, design and high-quality standards. In this manner, cultural enterprises can also play a powerful role in evoking an emotional connection with their consumers who would take pride in taking a piece of Indian heritage back home.

Considering the potential of cultural enterprises, India must leverage its presidency at G20 to project Indian cultural brands through multiple channels. For instance, gifts, souvenirs, delegate kits, and conference collaterals can be prepared by artisanal brands in the fashion, crafts and wellness space. Similarly, chefs and food entrepreneurs should be brought together for curating gastronomical experiences, which include millets, Ayurveda-based recipes and heritage liquors using the finest quality products.

Besides offering a platform for cultural enterprises, India should also lead discussions on the importance of nurturing cultural enterprises through a conducive policy environment and growth opportunities. The Culture Working Group, under the Sherpa track, is mandated with the “aim to strengthen international cooperation and collaboration to support cultural and creative industries.” It also recognises the importance of culture and cultural industries as sources of socio-economic development, livelihood generation and wealth creation as well as the well-being of individuals. Concomitantly, the cultural and creative industries also contribute to international trade through the export of cultural products, services and experiences. This adds to the country’s wealth and also bolsters its soft power as well as the national brand value.

Further, cultural industries also lay at the intersection of various other G20 Working Groups including employment, tourism and development as well as Engagement Groups such as Business20, Women20 and Startups20. Taking into account the vast ambit of cultural industries, the Culture Working Group must have a long-term vision, a strong action plan and a multi-stakeholder approach committed to the growth of cultural industries and empowering cultural enterprises. Towards this, the following discussion themes are proposed-

  1. Countries should share best practices they have formulated and implemented at the national level. For instance, G20 countries including Canada, South Korea, Turkey, and Mexico have elaborately documented national strategies and plans for the growth of their cultural industries, which can offer insights into some of the success models, policy actions as well as common challenges for other countries to learn and work upon.
  2. The member countries should create a ‘cultural enterprise network’ which fosters knowledge-sharing and exchange programs for cultural entrepreneurs, chefs, artists, policymakers and practitioners in this field. This network should also create more market linkages as well as invite international investments. In addition to this, there should be visa relaxation norms and greater avenues for cultural entrepreneurs to set up their businesses in foreign countries for at least a set duration of time.
  3. Discussions on policy measures, market opportunities and regulatory frameworks that enable the development of cultural and heritage cities should take place. The shared benefit of such a theme would include boosting the tourism economy, providing opportunities for travel entrepreneurs to venture into the experiential tourism sector, creating local employment, reducing employment-related migration to other regions, increasing the participatory role of women and having a sustainable model of growth.

The G20 presidency serves as a hallmark of India’s growth story and an opportunity to position India as a leading soft power. To achieve this, we must harness the potential of our cultural industries, create branded and curated experiences and share our achievements, values and ethos in ways that create a long-lasting legacy for the world to remember.

Arunima Gupta is a scholar of soft power and creative economy. She is currently working as Principal at Network of Indian Cultural Enterprises (NICEorg). She tweets at @ArunimaGupta03. Views are personal.

The article was originally published in News18 on 27 December and can be read here

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