As the economy of resource-dependent Brunei Darussalam prepares for a future when its oil and gas reserves are depleted, policy makers are putting more emphasis on innovative areas of industry that aim to capitalise on the Sultanate’s heritage and culture.
In recent months, the country has launched several initiatives linked to “creative industries”, a term that encapsulates sectors such as architecture, visual and performing arts, film and television, computer animation, web design and music.
The focus on creative industries falls under the overarching national strategy Wawasan 2035, which sets out to diversify Brunei Darussalam’s economy away from national resources and help it become a knowledge-based one through improved education and enhanced opportunities for local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
This initiative has taken root in neighbouring countries as well. In Singapore, the government has invested more than $120m to facilitate its goal of raising the share of creative industries’ contribution to GDP to 6%, up from its share of 5.6% in 2008. China, too, is spending some $862m on a creative industry park in the north-eastern city of Dalian.
Talking to local media in May, Hazair Abdullah, the Sultanate’s minister of culture, youth and sports, said that investing in creative industries has worked well for both the US and the UK, contributing around $1.5trn and $120bn, respectively, to their economies.
Discussing visual arts, digital media and the performing arts, Hazair said, “research in these areas is considered critical, because it will help us to recognise the creative work that will promote innovative local and international markets”, noting the need for continued research and development.
“Creative industries can become one of the major players in driving the country’s economy, unlike other sectors of the economy, which may sometimes be hindered by borders. But with creative industries and new technologies, we can go across the globe,” the minister said.
Supporters say that with its “distinctive” culture and heritage, the country simply needs to create the right climate for innovation to grow, which will contribute to economic growth and help the Sultanate diversify away from the petrochemicals and energy sector.
“If Brunei Darussalam can create the right sort of environment for creative industries, and if it can identify those segments that present genuine potential to capture regional market share – such as in the software development and interactive content sector – then there may be scope for this,” wrote the National Policy Forum On Creative Industries in a May report.
The Sultanate has already made some headway with this in mind. The Creative Industries Research Cluster at the University of Brunei Darussalam (CIRC) was established in May 2011, and the Brunei Economic Development Board introduced the first creative arts facility. Such initiatives will benefit from the establishment of research and development clusters. For example, the Knowledge Hub, established in 2010, is a technology-based research and development facility that showcases the latest in information and communication technologies, as well as focuses on computer modelling and simulations. The Knowledge Hub is also home to the country’s first commercial green building and several innovative energy-efficient technologies. .
However, players in the nascent sector say better training and more “creative spaces”, such as the Knowledge Hub, are needed to nurture the creative industries and make them competitive on a global level. “[Bruneians] must have the skills in order to compete, and they must have good products,” said Zahari Hamidon, an artist and lecturer at the CIRC, told local media in July.
The Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) has pledged to identify and implement programmes that will develop SMEs in the creative industry, which would encompass funding, incubation and internationalisation programmes. In May, a forum on the National Creative Industry Policy also agreed to establish a governing body and a master plan that will strengthen and enhance the creative industry.
Another area identified as crucial for the sector’s growth is statistical data. According to Sasha Lennon, a partner at Australia-based SGS Consultancy, “There is some data but it is not detailed enough, as it does not tell us how many architects, urban designers, musicians or marketing and advertising executives there are working in the country. We need this information before we begin developing strategies for creative industries,” he added.
While the creative industries offer great potential to support diversification efforts, the Sultanate will need to improve conditions in its private sector, as well as modify existing policies, to ensure it contributes further to the economy.