Eva Maria Naher:

Eva Maria Naher:

“Creative industries inspire hearts and minds”

The German Development Corporation Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has been working within its EU-cofunded project towards developing small and medium enterprise in Armenia (SMEDA) for about a year now. We spoke to the head of the project, Eva Maria Näher, to discover what has been done, what SMEDA plans to do, and most importantly, why everything is the other way around with Armenian startups.

Text: Karine Ghazaryan

Why do you think it is important to support creative industries?

- This is one of the fastest growing economic sectors worldwide. Take Germany for example: creative industries are playing more and more of an important role in an economy which traditionally has had a strong engineering field. The manufacturing of goods is moving towards more creative and mind-based production. At the same time, in Armenia there exist certain limitations due to the geographical setting with limited transportation routes. Instead, mind-based products would be way easier to transport across borders. Additionally, we at GIZ actually see a great creative potential here: you have many painters, musicians, composers, and filmmakers of an international standard. Moreover, people are typically well-educated, and for creative production you need a base of knowledge and expertise.
What is also notable is that creative industries inspire hearts and minds, but the importance of this is not seen in Armenia yet. Often people do not see any chance of Armenia developing its resources. This is where the creative industries may be helpful indeed.

What is the long-term goal you aim to achieve by supporting creative production?

- The overall aim is to build a whole sector of the economy, so that companies and individuals can make a living out of it. I personally think that the creative industries have the economic potential, and their entrepreneurial aspect is often neglected. Artists frequently refuse to sell or commercialize their work, as they do not refer to a piece of art as a product. It is important to show that one can do both: be a great artist, a creative mind, and at the same time being an entrepreneur. In addition to this, we see an essential link between other businesses and the creative sector. Even if you have a precision engineering company you still need to advertise your goods, you need graphic design for supporting products, i.e. you need creative people. This is why we decided to focus on four areas where we see the strongest links between the creative sector and other economic sectors: advertising and marketing; film production; design; software and games. Compare these areas to a dozen of subsectors such as performing arts, which is much further away from other enterprises.

How exactly do you support SME?

- There are multiple approaches, and it really depends on the needs. We always try to find the solution that will have the most significant impact. For example, we now cooperate with the government and film producers to support the development of the first film law in Armenia. We bring international expertise as there exists a rich experience on this topic, and we have to use the knowledge of other countries. At the same time, as a result of our round table meetings held in March, an association of fashion designers is being formed - called the Fashion and Design Chamber - who applied for one of our action grants. This project was selected as one project as we recognized this unique consolidation of artists and the potential within this sector. The one-year grant will be used to provide training and workshops for their members, as well as to organize the first fashion design forum in Armenia. In general, we support initiatives which in our opinion may have a long-term impact, as sustainability is a key principle for GIZ.

In which sectors of creative industries do you see the biggest potential of this long-term impact?

- There are actually many of them. Like music with internationally recognized young Armenian talents; or cinema, or software and games – as there are many activities in Armenia strengthening IT. I personally think there is huge potential in design, not only fashion, but product or interior design. This is a quickly developing field both in Armenia and Georgia, different from mainstream trends that one sees in Europe or the US. You have a different history and environments, and this of course influences the creative process. However, unlike Georgia, Armenia I think is more technology-oriented. But many benefit when you bring together technology and creativity. This is what big corporations do - like Apple with its huge design department. This is precisely why we provide design-thinking training, promoting the global trend of the user-centered approach. This vision came from 1960s architecture, and it's basically looking at what customers need while designing a product.

What are the most common obstacles that you encounter?

- The creative sector is often not perceived as a “real” economic sector. Parents are usually reluctant when their child decides to become an artist as they do not see how he or she can make a living from it. This is not Armenia-specific; it's a global cultural and social problem. In some countries, creative groups are additionally seen as people who question things, and not everybody is happy when certain things are questioned. In Armenia, such an approach is not existing, and I was very glad to discover this. A person needs to be independent to be able to create a painting, or a software application, or a movie. Of course, in addition to this, access to quality education is essential.

Do you work with educational institutions?

- Partially yes because education is a key factor in many aspects. In universities, we provide start-up boost weekends, skills trainings for lecturers and coaches as well as the design-thinking training, I mentioned earlier. Higher educational institutions are not our key focus, but we try to integrate them.

You mainly work with government and professional associations. Why do you target them rather than individuals?

- An individual speaks for a company; an association speaks for a whole sector. Interestingly, during the round tables we organized in March, many of the individual participants mentioned the need for close networking and exchange. At that time, our experts from London presented the also concept of creative hubs. On the one hand, it can help facilitate the creative process by providing services like marketing and an opportunity for live communication. On the other hand, hubs are usually established in old industrial buildings, and this can make a great location for exhibitions, concerts, fashion shows and other activities. So, it's a great concept, but it can only work if the space is lively and animated every single day, not just during major events. At the beginning of 2018, we plan to organize a roundtable to discuss this topic and see whether we can make it happen.

What are the other plans for the near future?

- Well there are many – SMEDA will continue until 2019. It has only been a year since we started our main activities, but some aspects of entrepreneurship are discussed in a different way, so for many companies there are new options now. When you bring Armenian startups to Europe everybody is typically impressed by the technology: these are often not pure applications but there are more fundamental technologies behind the products. Yet marketing and entrepreneurial skills are quite low. You see, usually when someone presents an amazing new invention you ask a few questions and realize that the technology is a mere theory. However, with Armenian developments, it's the other way around: you have great products but there is not good presentation or business skills. Actually, this is very interesting for us as it is difficult to teach creativity, but entrepreneurial skills like developing a business plan, doing proper marketing, finding potential (international) partners - one can learn all of these, and we help with this.