This year the Africa Digital Media Foundation undertook an ambitious research project, to find out what are the needs, challenges, and ambitions of Kenya’s creative entrepreneurs.From May to July 2020 we undertook this research, through surveys, focus groups and interviews, and we’re delighted to share the results here.
Some of the highlights of the report below.
Solidarity and collaboration:
One of the biggest findings from this study was the willingness of Kenya’s creative entrepreneurs to share, to discuss, and to make time to make things better for everyone. At no point did anyone express reticence to answer questions in the focus groups, despite being informed that they could refuse to answer any questions they were uncomfortable with or chose not to answer for any reason. We were also overwhelmed with many individuals referring us to other creative entrepreneurs who they thought might be willing to take part in the survey. We take this as a true sign of solidarity, and we cannot even begin to fully express our gratitude to all involved. It was also clear that the financial incentive was not the main reason for individuals to take part in the focus group, as the incentive was insignificant compared to what they typically earn from their creative work. Those who were invited to take part in the focus groups but were unable to make it on the given date offered to make themselves available at another time, or help in another way.
We also found a distinct desire for increased sharing and collaboration. As opposed to feeling competition or rivalry, creatives were keen to exchange, and even share contact details, keep in touch, and explore ways to work together. There was a consensus that collaborations can be fruitful and financially more viable, due to bringing together different skills, contacts, and most importantly financing. There was a notable desire for more opportunities for collaboration and networking.
The ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’:
There is a sense, amongst the less-established creative entrepreneurs (those who may have few years of experience, or have had little commercial and financial success) that the creative population is divided into two: those that have made it, and those that have not. They believe that this is due to unfair perpetuation of success: once you get a client, you will have that client for life, and they will refer you to other clients because you have a name and a brand. In other words: success breeds success. Therefore, they think, when new jobs or clients are up for grabs, the same people will always secure the job, because they have a big name. This is a self-perpetuating cycle, as those who consider themselves the ‘have-nots’ think that they will never be a ‘have’ and that the outcome of their efforts is out of their hands. At the same time, they admit that they still need more experience, more technical training, better networks, more guidance on pricing and contacts, and that all of these might help them overcome this division, and become a ‘have’ themself. In the same way, they also admit that those who have ‘made it’ may have better business skills, and know how to market, brand, and position themselves in the market in order to attract more clients and work.
The Gender Gap:
It comes as no surprise that there is a big gender gap in almost all of the data we collected for this survey. We know from our experience of the gender ratio at the Africa Digital Media Institute (where young women account for less than 25% of students), and data from the industry as a whole, that women are vastly under-represented in the digital media and creative technology space. However, our findings go deeper and highlight other differences between men and women, and the way that they work and study in this space. We will explore this further in the report and present the numbers that illustrate this. Where possible, we will analyse data as a whole, and then disaggregate by gender. What all of these gender-based findings suggest is that we need to invest particular attention in conducting activities that have a focus on working to involve more women in the digital media space.
Thirst for Learning:
In general, all of the respondents we spoke to, however young or old, established or startupper, wanted opportunities for continuous learning. They are conscious that to remain at the top of their technical game they need to engage in ongoing learning, especially as technology evolves and new products require new skills. There is also a thirst for learning more about business, marketing, and how to sell yourself as a brand. A lack of these skills is widely recognised by participants of this study as being one of the major factors holding creative entrepreneurs back from greater commercial success.
The banks don’t understand:
When an entrepreneur is starting a small business, one of the first things they may consider is accessing credit, in the form of a bank loan or a SACCO (Savings and Credit Cooperative) loan. Though it is not easy to get a bank loan, and you need to be a registered member to access a SACCO loan, it is considered an option for many small businesses. For almost all the respondents we spoke to, however, such formal credit and financing options aren’t even considered a viable option because banks ‘don’t understand’ or ‘they have such strict requirements we can’t meet’, therefore options for financing are limited to friends and family. There is a huge gap in the market for financing to creatives, to finance creative projects such as long-form feature films, photography equipment, and music production.
Where do we go when we want to know…?
There exist a number of professional networks and representative organizations (Photographers Association of Kenya, Creative Society of Kenya, Association of Animation Artistes), and yet still, a number of the young creative entrepreneurs involved in this study do not know they exist, or do not know what value-add these organizations can provide to them. When they struggle with setting rates, interpreting a contract, accessing networking opportunities or learning opportunities, they do not know where to turn.
One the biggest struggles that Kenyan creative entrepreneurs face is cashing out on the work that they do. Across the board, almost everyone has stories about doing work and not receiving payment as agreed from the client. This is part of the heartache of having their work undervalued and misunderstood, so they find themselves going through a constant rigmarole of having to negotiate down to a price that the client is willing to pay, and then struggling to get the client to pay even at the newly negotiated rate.
For almost all of the issues raised, a solution was volunteered, which we will explore in this report. All this is to say that whilst much of this report highlights challenges and issues with the current situation of Kenyan creative entrepreneurs, they, and we, offer concrete solutions to these which are all realistic and feasible. We need to work on solid, meaningful partnerships, and pursue change from top to bottom, investing in long-term progress, not short-term fixes.
Read the full report here and reach out to us if you’re interested in discussing this report and research, working with us on the to-do list, or doing more research on these topics with us.