Where art meets global development

30 March 2012
ITC News

Many small and developing countries have a rich cultural heritage and a living tradition of craftsmanship that their populations can draw on when creating artisanal products that will appeal to buyers abroad. Growing commercialization of the arts has created an opportunity for more of these artisanal products to be sold around the world. That said, while the creative industries sector accounts for 7% of global GDP and is growing by 8.7% annually, developing countries account for a mere 1% of total exports. ITC is at work in many countries to address this disparity, removing the barriers between artisans and buyers abroad.

Raising the profile of Jordanian handicrafts abroad

ITC started the Enhancing Arab Capacity for Trade (EnACT) programme in 2009 with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency and the aim of developing a more diversified export base in North Africa and the Middle East for goods produced in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia.

One of the first areas of focus was Jordan’s handicraft sector, in part because of the high proportion of women involved in creating artisanal products, largely in rural workshops spread across the country. In spring 2010, ITC conducted a survey to determine the productive capacity and export readiness of the sector, gauge potential demand and understand the buyer requirements to which producers would need to adapt. The study revealed that, while traditional Jordanian crafts are seen as beautiful and marketable objects, they suffer from a lack of innovation that restricts the product range to a limited number of traditional forms and designs. In addition, products are not competitively priced in comparison to equivalent goods produced in Asia.

Nevertheless, the potential for developing the sector is recognized by the Jordanian government. It established a National Strategy for Tourism Handicrafts 2010-2015 with a focus on preserving Jordan’s cultural heritage, generating income for producers and increasing the country’s attractiveness as a tourist destination.

One area where the EnACT programme team determined it could make an immediate and positive impact was in increasing the exposure of Jordanian handicrafts to international markets. In September 2011, EnACT arranged for three companies – Silsal Ceramics, Jordan River Foundation (JRF) and Nadia Dajani Jewellery – to take part in the international handicraft fair Maison & Objet in Paris. This created a great deal of enthusiasm and momentum through new business contacts and an understanding of design adjustments and pricing that would be required for export products. A meeting arranged with the purchasing department of the Louvre museum also led to an order for Silsal Ceramics and an interest in products from Nadia Dajani and JRF products for future buys.

Nadia Dajani manages a group of 30 women from less privileged backgrounds and trains them in the skills needed to make jewellery. She says, ‘We really need to expand into more international markets. The more work we give to the ladies, the more they can upgrade their standard of living. Confidence levels are growing and they are thinking about their future and about what their daughters should be doing as the next generation comes along.’


Promoting CARIFORUM creative industries

Caribbean countries are characterized by creative and cultural expression. They do, however, have untapped potential to expand their exports, generating wealth and jobs in creative industries. ITC recently completed a one-year project with the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Caribbean Export Development Agency to develop the creative industries sector across Caribbean Forum of African, Caribbean and Pacific States member countries.


The goals of the project included:

• Improving product design and marketing skills among targeted producers;

• Enhancing the performance of trade support institutions in providing marketing services;

• Increasing awareness among a wide range of stakeholders, including policymakers, of the potential of the CARIFORUM creative industries sector.


The project provided more than 15 training workshops and seminars on design, export marketing, data collection and business support organizations. The results of these interventions included a Web-based toolkit for export marketing and a study of the contribution of the creative industries sector to the economy of Trinidad and Tobago. The project also premiered a new line of collections, Contemporary Caribbean Design, that was exhibited to high acclaim at Design Caribbean, a trade fair launched by Caribbean Export in 2011 to promote the region’s creative products.

Margaret McGhee lives in Jamaica and worked in advertising for 10 years before turning her creative skills to ceramics. She says, ‘Cultural industries are definitely not given the same sort of treatment as other major industries.’ Caribbean Export recognizes this problem and also proposes a solution. Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton explains, ‘We need to begin to look at [creative] things as an economic venture rather than as a cultural venture. We need to look at them as foreign exchange goods, as possible economic turnarounds for all of our countries.’


Bringing the work of Mexican jewellers to the United States marketplace

Mexico boasts a large population of jewellery makers, predominantly women, operating at the micro level. The group is highly fragmented, yet shares a heritage of craftsmanship and design, especially in silver and bead work. In 2009, following ITC’s commitment during the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum to contribute to the promotion of intra-regional trade among APEC countries, ITC’s Women and Trade programme identified Mexico as one of the countries where women-owned businesses could be more effectively linked to buyers in the United States.

ITC’s engagement in this sector divides jewellery designers into two groups: women whose work is export-ready, or nearly so, and women who are in earlier stages of product development and business preparation. For designers who have established themselves and are already selling their collections domestically and abroad, ITC aims to give them knowledge and resources to successfully enter the US market. Success in this objective will then trickle down to other women, as designers often employ people to sell or manufacture their collections. In 2011, ITC arranged for a group of these jewellers to attend a jewellery trade show in New York to gain insight into marketing their goods, build contacts and better understand the competitive landscape.

For designers with less experience in producing work for export, ITC has engaged Mexican consultants to run a series of training sessions covering design and quality, as well as American consultants to train artisans in pricing and market-access requirements. The initiative also targets trade support institutions, empowering them to better support jewellers in extending their reach to markets abroad. The initiative was developed in collaboration with the Mexican Ministry of Economy and is supported by the British government’s Department for International Development.


These projects are a few of many initiatives taken by ITC to develop creative industries. They prove not only the power of putting knowledge and resources in the hands of artisanal people, but also the commitment of those people and the trade support organizations they work with to generate employment and create high-quality goods that can open the door to international markets.