Seated among other factories in the industrial area of Bugolobi along Old Portbell Road, is a haven for creatives. This haven colored with art is a sweet invitation into the world of talented artisans, craft makers, metal workers, product designers, fashion designers, photographers, performing artists, sculptors, carpenters, film producers, writers and other artists from all walks of life. MoTIV, as the haven is popularly called, strategically embodies an avowal to the importance of the creative industry and asserts it as a legitimate industry, worthy of space and consideration alongside traditional industries.
As Ivy Michelle Alwedo, a multifaceted storyteller and member of the MoTIV community talks, the sound of the haven’s significance is loud enough.
“MoTIV looks and feels much like the inside of my head. It’s a colorful place with so many characters and running over with potential,” Alwedo says.
MoTIV was established in 2020 with a focus of refining the ideas of creatives as well as scaling their businesses to meet local and international market demand. The interventions have been five-fold ranging from providing tools, training, a marketplace, value chain support as well as a community for creatives to cross paths with people walking the same journey.
As it was built during the first nationwide lockdown in March, its first task was to respond to the health crisis through the production of Personal Protective Equipment for Ugandans. The need to combat the pandemic made it necessary to have the Fabric District up and running.
Since then, The Mastercard Foundation has swung into action as an enabling partner for the various initiatives at MoTIV. From studio spaces for creative businesses, a spacious studio equipped with an infinity wall that accommodates large scale productions and a podcast studio, cutting edge machinery and tools for efficient woodwork, an expansive gallery space that plays host to diverse art exhibitions and trainings, a dynamic warehouse that is home to a diverse fraternity of fashion designers to the multipurpose centralized food and beverage kitchen lab that works in conjunction with foodpreneurs, MoTIV caters to the needs of an industry that often takes a backseat when the national discourse about key sectors occurs.
The sentiments MoTIV holds about the potential of the creative industry are shared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). To emphasize this, the UN declared 2021 the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. The agency noted that it was time to fully recognize the creative economy’s role in providing decent work, supporting entrepreneurship, stimulating innovation and reducing poverty.
A report by UNESCO indicates cultural and creative industries that generate annual global revenues of US$2,250 billion, nearly 30 million jobs worldwide and employs more people aged 15−29 than any other sector.
The cultural and creative industries in Uganda have existed for generations and provided avenues for jobs and revenue to the country. The sector directly contributes to accelerated economic growth, job creation, tourism export earnings, and social inclusion.
In 2016, a Creative Economy Outlook report by United Nations Conference for Trade And Development indicated Uganda’s exports to top ten partners for creative goods stood at $8.7 million. It also showed Africa accounts for 80 per cent of the total market and main trade partners were Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Rwanda, Sweden and the United States.
However, even with these notable revenues from the creative industry, there is still plenty of work to be done, before it can live up to its full potential. Inadequate policy environment including the infrastructural support, inadequate professional capacity in the sector to produce quality products and services with few players in the sector lacking formal training have a lot to do with the lag in the sector. Limited awareness of the importance of the culture and creative economy in general not to mention the disintegration within the sector are all to blame.
All these issues have only increased in magnitude since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic that has made the industry regress significantly. With limitations on travel and tourism, the ban on gatherings in Uganda, the cultural and creative industries have lost out on significant amount of revenue. While the most affected are performing artists, it is important to note that the creative sector relies on physical interactions and many run small businesses that have not been able to bear the shocks.
An Africa-wide survey of the economic impact of COVID-19 on cultural industries Associate Professor from University of Kishansa Ribio Nzeza indicates Uganda lost $134,360 in the second quarter of 2020. Many creatives are still out of touch with their markets and audiences.
“Artists especially musicians do not have money. It’s all I can tell you,” Asiyat Gamba, a young female musician from Mbarara, performing under the stage name “One Blood” says.
Prior to the pandemic, One Blood performed at concerts every Friday and took home between Shs300,00-Shs500,000. At least once every month, she performed at large concerts earning Shs1,000,000.
The sustained ban on recreational events in 2021, Gamba says has sunk artists in deeper financial trouble. These creatives continue to pay studio fees to record music, pay promotion fees for their art but do not make returns on their investment. She says 2021 has been mostly spent on working on her visibility and relevance to the public through promoting herself on Whatsapp and Youtube so that her name doesn’t fade off the musical map.
Gamba says government needs to lift the ban on concerts and enforce the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures.
“At least, let them give us a limit of people to host for the concert and let them ensure we wear masks,” she implores. She has also noticed that in Kampala big corporate companies are partnering with music recording companies like Swangz Avenue to host artists for online concerts. While these initiatives are great, she feels that Western Uganda where she hails from, and other regions have been left behind. Gamba’s song, “Amate” which is doing fairly well on Youtube, is affirming to her that digital platforms can enable creatives earn a living.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Creative Economy Programme Head, Marisa Henderson said when the resolution to make 2021 the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development was being negotiated and approved in 2019, no one could have anticipated that the intervening year would hold a status quo-shattering pandemic.
“More than ever, we need creative thinking, innovation and problem-solving to imagine ourselves out of the challenges of inequality and vulnerability that we face daily. The creative industries, the lifeblood of the creative economy is well placed to help,” Henderson says.
MoTIV Community Manager, Eugene Kavuma, says creatives lack opportunities to collaborate as a result of restrictions. This affects the quality and quantity of creative work. Amidst all this, MoTIV has led a wave of change out of the crisis by providing Omwoleso, an offline and online marketplace where creatives can set up their own shops while eliminating the hassle of securing individual payment systems and platforms for themselves. Up to 55 visual artists have been able to showcase their work through the Art Salon. Training programs such as the Creative Business Academy are honing the skillset of creatives as well as helping them to restructure their businesses to thrive in the current situation. Through its platforms, this makerspace has created over 500 jobs and linked over 250 businesses to market.
Now, the recent traction from the international community is to many a reaffirmation that Uganda needs to develop relevant policies, increase both private and public investment in the sector as well as support adoption of digital technologies. Out of 69 institutions nominated. MoTIV emerged winner of the UNESCO–Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman International Prize for the Creative Economy. The award is intended to recognize creative institutions globally for their outstanding initiative to promote the engagement of young people within the creative and cultural industries.
Acknowledging the award, MoTIV Team Lead Japheth Kawanguzi said the win belongs to the entire creative community. He said, “We believe that by supporting the growth and development of creatives, we will drive industrial growth and nourish local businesses within the ecosystem, as we strive towards transforming our socio-economic trajectory upwards.”
The Mastercard Foundation is MoTIV’s partner under the Young Africa Works strategy. Commenting on the catalytic work MoTIV is doing, former Country Head, Samuel Adela said, “The recognition they have received is well deserved and serves as a reminder that across Uganda and Africa, young people are charting unique pathways to opportunity and by getting behind their aspirations, we can create an unstoppable multiplier effect.”
Kavuma believes that the award is proof that creative ecosystems are versatile enough to create necessary opportunities not just locally but internationally as well. “It confirms how far communities can go when they collaborate and work together,” he says.