Tuesday , February 20 2018

NUQAT – CONNECTING DOTS FOR AN ECOSYSTEM OF CREATIVITY … EXPLORATION KEY FEATURE

Nuqat, the foremost organization for creative education in Kuwait today, held a special edition forum at the Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Center on Jan 24-25. The Human Capital Forum highlighted the importance of investing in the creative economy with talks and discussions panels that brought together academics, investors, policy makers and the creative community, as well as revealing a new social index developed to provide various stakeholders in Kuwait with a common yardstick to quantify and measure social impact.

The non-profit organization was founded by Wakim Zeidan, Hussa Al Humaidhi, Sara Al Nafisi and Dana Al Hilal in 2009, and has since championed creative education. Over the past few years, Nuqat has been now working towards understanding and supporting the creative economy. Over the years, it has organized and developed workshops, seminars and cultural events for adults and children, and fostered open conversation and the promotion of new ideas through its flagship conference, that has over the last several years become one of the most highly awaited events in the cultural calendar, attracting participants not only from different strata of Kuwaiti society but across the region.

The first day of the forum included a keynote address by Bader Al-Kharafi, Vice-Chairman and Group CEO of Zain, who spoke about enabling a creative culture. He stated, “I believe that a successful business is all about creative teamwork. We believe that the employees are the ones who make the company succeed or fail.” He also stressed that Kuwait must support women, saying, “Countries must support gender equality because it’s not only the right, but also the smart thing to do”.

Other lectures included one by Alexandre Fernandes, a Cultural Entrepreneur from Brazil, on ‘Building Possible Tomorrows’, another by Reem Khouri, CEO of Kaamen, titled ‘From Personal to Organizational to Collective Impact’ discussing how changes can happen when it starts at the individual level, and sharing her lessons on the importance of failure in the business world.

Visual artist Dr Munira Al Qadiri, gave a lecture titled ‘Petro-Historical Complex’ on environmental issues and the well-known Swar Shuaib Show Host, Shuaib Rashed, was interviewed by Ali Khajah, on unconventional media as a promising industry. Two discussion panels on the topics of ‘Laying down the Foundations for Creativity to Thrive’ and ‘Measuring The Intangible’ were also held.

The second day of the forum was launched with a lecture from entrepreneur Mohammed Jaafar, CEO of Faith Capital, titled ‘Small Means Big: Investing in SMEs’. He remarked, “Success depends on effort, will, taking risks, setting examples and treating people, in addition to developing the right plan and setting a target. It also comes from perseverance and endurance, as well as investing in the team, maintaining it, developing it and cooperating with it in a family atmosphere. The success of a company is in the hands of the whole team rather than the individual.”

Other lectures included those by Interior Designer Farah Al Humaidhi titled ‘Unlocking the Chain of Creative Production’, Independent curator Munira Al Sayegh on ‘The Emergence and Development of a Cultural Sub Current’, as well as Rana Alkhaled, CoFounder of the Protégés, speaking on ‘The Role of Values in the Process of Personal and Collective Development’ and artist Manal Aldowayan touching on ‘Imagining Our Cities Through Public Art’, with Human Development Architect Eman Akbar Rafay discussing ‘Creativity, the Cornerstone of Development’. The discussion panels of the second day focused on the role of civil society organizations, and critical content for change.

In this interview conducted on the sidelines of the Human Capital Forum, two of the founders, Wakim Zeidan and Hussa Al Humaidhi, gave us an update on the organization, discussed pertinent issues of the creative economy in Kuwait, and provided us a glimpse of the road ahead.

Arab Times: The last time we spoke to Nuqat was right before your annual conference in 2016 on the topic of the Seventh Sense. What have you all been doing since then?

Hussa Al Humaidhi: First of all, as an organisation, it is always important to take a step back and reflect. After seven years, we needed to re-evaluate and re-invent what we were doing, in a way. The second thing we did was to look into the topic of the creative economy, understand how vastly important it is, research it and lay down the foundations clearly. The final one was the preparation for something coming up in 2019.

Wakim Zeidan: As an organisation, although we are based in Kuwait, our reach extends to the Arab world. So we are using this topic as a bridge to expand our presence as an organisation in different cities around the Arab world and at the same time as we are a community networking platform, we want to connect talents all around the region together.

AT: Can you tell us about the exploration sessions you’ve conducted last year?

WZ: After the 2016 conference we laid down a plan to visit as many cities as we can in the Arab World to start the conversation on the creative economy. The reason for this is that the creative economy as a concept is very abstract and there needs to be a better understanding of what it means and how we can make it happen.

The second reason is that most of the governments in the region now have new visions based on the knowledge economy and we believe that the creative economy builds on it. So each country can have its own knowledge base that is relevant to it, yet the only thing that can utilise this knowledge, give it meaning and diversify the economy is creativity and innovation. So, on a larger scale, we see the creative economy as connecting the dots between the different knowledge-based economies and what each one has to offer and try to collate all of that.

We aim to visit as many cities as we can, building up to 2019, where we can have a Nuqat Regional to wrap up the conversations we’ve had in one big programme that brings together all the people we’ve met in the exploration sessions, as well as the knowledge, the ideas, the discussions, the challenges, in order to formulate the way forward for the creative economy. We still don’t know how it’ll exactly shape up but that is in our nature, we make it happen as we progress.

So far, we have visited four cities of Manama, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha, and conducted exploration sessions based on three topics of design education, architecture and urbanism, and funding the creative economy. These topics are being migrated across all cities so we have a report at the end that describes the understanding of each city under each topic.

As part of this tour, we held a special forum in Kuwait that also falls under that theme. Focussing on the human capital for Kuwait is a very specific topic that was derived from the exploration sessions we held in 2016 as part of the conference.

HH: Also, we know the importance of having this gathering and we did miss it in 2017. So creating a special edition two-day forum to bring the community back together and experience that vibe again while discussing substantial topics is why we’ve decided to do a forum in Kuwait and not just an exploration.

AT: I really like the term ‘exploration sessions’. What discoveries have you made so far across cities?

WZ: Exploration is the main point. It is meant to be a research but we want to keep it open and not make it solely academic. For each topic in each city we let the invitees discuss the challenges, the opportunities that their city has under that topic and suggest possible solutions to those issues.

HH: What is important, and what we focussed a lot of attention on, was creating a safe space for people to express their thoughts. We were very intentional in bringing people from different sectors together that had perhaps never sat on one table and discussed a topic before openly. We create a safe space of expression that’s also why we call it an exploration, there is a structure to it but there is also a free flow of conversation. It is a very human dialogue where real concerns and challenges are raised.

WZ: Individual inputs are kept private although we document everything and extract information that has been discussed to put it into a report that will be available for the public to look into in the near future.

AT: Were there any common challenges or overarching themes across the four cities?

HH: I think the key challenge is communication between different sectors. I think there is a big disconnect between the creative industries and the financial sector and even governmental, medical, and so on. I think this is a problem across all boards.

WZ: There was sometimes a disconnect even between academia and professionals. It was our intention to bring these people together. A lot of entities do roundtables but bring people from the same circle to talk about that topic. We did the complete opposite. We had a topic and brought relevant people from different sectors and different backgrounds, from universities, public sector, infrastructure, professionals, and so on. It was a good move because people from the private sector always had issues with the people working in the government sector. In many of the roundtables, once they conversed, we were able to establish empathy and they understood the challenges on each side. They decided to join hands in one way or another.

AT: Nuqat has always championed the philosophy of collaboration. Considering the political climate of the GCC today, was there any perceivable shift in terms of creative collaborating with other?

WZ: Quite to the contrary, there is a general sense of collaboration across most of the sectors, not just among the creatives, at least from our perspective.

HH: I think the political disconnect that is happening is very much political rather than social. I think that socially, people don’t want any divide. So far, Kuwait’s political position of being a neutral zone is also good to bring people together.

AT: Let’s talk about the Human Capital Forum. Can you tell us a bit more about the theme and how it all came together?

HH: We did an exploration session in 2016 and one of them was on funding the creative economy. We brought in people from the financial sector, investments, entrepreneurs, angel investors, accelerators, incubators, and creative professionals, all on one table, to discuss why the money isn’t going into the creative economy. Two issues were raised. Firstly, there isn’t enough awareness about the importance of the creative industry, the opportunities it provides and how that could be the core of an economy that is based on creative knowledge. Secondly, financiers at the end of the day want to see numbers, so how can we quantify investments in innovations or ideas that create social change. While we know that creativity and innovation creates a social impact, how do we measure the returns?

These two topics were a base for us to create new projects and one of them was the forum and the second was an index that we are developing in this regard. The forum this year leaned a bit towards the financial, investment and governmental sectors but our creative professionals and those interested in creativity and inspiration are still the main target. We wanted to widen the scope and have a larger conversation.

When I mean investing, it is not just money but also investing time, and investing in education. It is really about putting the effort into it and looking at the human mind, as human capital because that’s our asset. The human mind is the source of sustainability. You can pump oil and the reserves will keep decreasing but if you pump the mind, it will keep increasing. It is pure economics, investing in the human capital and how it will create an impact. It was a very heavy two-day programme of bringing together investors, researchers, writers, activists, designers, artists, entrepreneurs, TV hosts, cartoonists, musicians, policy makers, all under one roof to discuss a new future.

AT: How would you assess the current state of the creative economy of Kuwait?

WZ: Kuwait’s creative economy is still at a nascent stage.

HH: It has dispersed components but it needs to come together as an ecosystem. There are many missing components. We do believe that Kuwait has a very creative energy. It is something that we can’t really explain, it is something that you feel. Historically, Kuwait was built on entrepreneurship and creativity and we were and hopefully will be a centre for the arts and culture and theatre and music. I think Kuwait is having a renaissance now.

AT: What are the factors that need to be involved in this renaissance?

WZ: Many have to be involved and there have to be certain functions that connect them together. Those functions range from putting in the right policies to the civil society playing its role to bring them together. Individuals have to be willing not just to aim to make money but on top of their profits, do something to serve the community at the same time.

HH: When you trickle it down, it is an invitation for each individual to look at what their passion is about. If you want to excel at something, you excel at what you’re passionate about. The problem is that we have been packaged to work in a systemised economy and no one was able to explore what they are good at and excel in it. With the creative economy, will create the opportunities for each person to excel at what they are good at. When you do something you love you are happier and when you are happier you become more productive. We always encouraging people to be curious and look for what you want to do and have the courage and confidence to do it.

AT: How do you define the creative economy? Are specific sectors involved?

HH: The creative industry is that which produces more of the cultural and creative, art and design content. It includes theatres, museums and cultural centres, advertising agencies, art studios, architecture, visual and performing arts.

The creative economy, on the other hand, is a system where the main resource depends on creativity whether you are creative as a doctor and you innovate in medicine, or you innovate as an engineer or even as a police officer. It is an economy dependant on a way of thinking other than a tangible resource. To have a creative economy your values need to be asserted and this is also something we are addressing – in order for you to be creative you have to be empathetic. You have to understand the other, be accepting and open-minded.

AT: Can you tell us about the toll you are developing to measure the social impact of investing in the creative economy?

WZ: Out of the exploration session, there was an understanding that all investors need to measure creativity if they want to invest in it. Creativity, in itself, cannot be measure. So we decided to measure the elements that it affects. Creativity is closely related to any social development. If you look historically at many countries, those who had creativity and innovation at their core evolved positively. So we thought that this could be a way where we measured the healthiness of the creative economy and quantify returns.

Even if we have the tool, there needs to be an education for it. Company should be made aware that investing in the development of ideas that improve human creativity not only make them more profit but also have a social impact.

For the index currently now, we signed an agreement with an international consultant, Strategy& who have the expertise in developing indices and together we have developed the framework for it and now we are at a stage where we are defining the elements that creativity has an impact on. We held a session and brought in community members and different stakeholders, providing them metrics that we collated from indices that already existed around the world, which worked as a base for them to assess and to see what is missing and what we need to add to it so that the index is relevant to our society.

This process is ongoing and by December, hopefully, we will have the tool ready to be launched and the companies will be able to start measuring themselves on that index.

A lot of research has shown that companies who create products and services that have larger impact on society tend to sell and profit more. If we take the example of the mobile phone, it is an invention that sells many units but at the same time it has a huge social and empowering impact. It has helped people who live in remote areas have access to the world, it has helped decrease illiteracy and at the same time it has helped create new businesses built on mobile applications and numerous job opportunities. There needs to be that kind of thinking incorporated in all companies. Not just about having a Corporate Social Responsibility programme and giving money back but integrating the values within the company itself. Companies should cancel CSR and work to make themselves more relevant to society.

AT: Can you give me an example of one element or indicator?

WZ: One indicator could be as simple as research and development. Is the company really investing in R&D or is it just seeing what projects are there outside and migrating that to the market here. Another factor would be, training of employees and in the right direction. Is it investing in new ideas continuously and encouraging its staff to come up with new ideas?

HH: These are more internal elements but you also look at external things such as does a product solve one of the social indicators that we are looking to solve in a sustainable manner. So if we take the environment, did the company just organize a beach clean-up, as part of their CSR or did they create a product that encourages people to pick up their trash. Companies have to consider if they are changing behaviours, if they being more sustainable with how they spend money. That would score higher than just a one-off event.

AT: What does 2018 hold for Nuqat?

WZ: We have started 2018 with the In.Dig.Go programme which is focused on creative and alternative education for children, in strategic partnership with Zain. The objective of the programme is to instill in children the four C’s of Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking and Collaboration. While they go to school and learn a specific content, we want to equip them to making use of that content or subjects in life. So the programme aims at making use of their learning and complementing it by doing projects based on specific themes such as textile, furniture, film production and gardening. We hope to build a good case study based on the documentation and evaluations and reported so that the Ministry of Education can be receptive and try to integrate it into the private and public schools.

This programme has been designed as a collaboration between creative professionals and school teachers from the public and private sectors. It is a whole new dimension of collaboration that we hope we can progress forward to us developing the workforce and human capital of the future that is able to cope with its requirements by being innovative and good critical thinkers.

HH: As part of what we do when we say cultural development, we facilitate the environment for these things to happen. For the In.Dig.Go programme, under Maha El Essa, we have created a structure of how the content will be developed but we didn’t develop it ourselves. We held workshops with school teachers and creative professionals to come up with the content together. I think for us it is the first of a kind, the activities and fun are conducted by professionals and teachers assist in the background.

WZ: Aside from that we plan to continue visiting other cities, and aim to complete the GCC as soon as possible and move into the MENA region, with multiple cities in KSA, and move to Amman, Beirut, Cairo and hopefully Marrakesh and Tunis.

AT: What is the secret behind Nuqat’s ability to expand and scale up so tremendously and consistently while many other similar initiatives have been less successful?

WZ: It is not always easy. We have moments when we quit, give up. It’s normal. We have had so many sit downs where we question why we are doing this.

Asking why continuously when we’re so exhausted and tired is very important. We have been persistent and with every questioning of why something is being done, we get a different answer and that is what keeps it going. There is also the factor of responsibility. Every time you do something, it sets a benchmark and people are expecting you to outperform yourself. This really adds to the pressure.

HH: The constant feedback of the people who come to Nuqat is crucial, everyone is genuine about how they feel, how it affected them or how it brought people together. Those genuine responses feed us to keep going. Another important factor for us as a team is that we really communicate openly with each other and we don’t take things personally. Whenever we are down, we are down together and we talk about it and when we celebrate, we celebrate together. It is this idea of being open whether through communication or emotionally, and to be able to have that internally as a team really reflects on the work that you provide. So we provide a healthy space for each other.

WZ: We focus a lot on content and that is the most critical element. We don’t just tackle it for the people, we tackle it on a personal level. It is important for us too. It is not just about bringing in a topic that everybody is clueless about just because it looks nice. It is something that you are really facing and you want to solve it together.

HH: I think it is content, the team, the community and the fact that we always respond to the feedback we get. At the end of the day we are not doing this for ourselves. In 2011, we were criticized for having the talks in English and we responded to that and shifted our talks to Arabic. Every year, we send out feedback form and also pay attention to any responses we get on social media. We listen and take them into consideration. It is important to know what the user wants, how can we provide that, accept criticism to help us build ourselves.

WZ: All of this, without compromising on quality or content. We’ve had fights with others who have tried to suppress the content and we just refused to give in because having an open conversation is as important as anything else.

By Cinatra Fernandes – Arab Times Staff

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