How to Connect Creativity to Enterprise and Sustainable Business

Laura Callanan shares how creativity is pivotal to sustainable development

A group of Syrian refugees — who are professional actors — are touring their adopted country of Germany, sharing their assimilation experiences, and raising awareness about immigration. A global collective of artists and designers working with plastic debris have formed Project Vortex to partner with environmental organizations. In Afghanistan, the children’s television show Sesame Street introduced a new muppet as a role model for girls’ empowerment. These are just a few examples of the role creativity can play in addressing global issues.

The framers of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) believe creativity and culture will help the world meet its goals in Education, Economic Growth and Employment, the future of Cities, and sustainable Consumption and Production. How? Through appreciation of cultural diversity; decent job creation, entrepreneurship, and innovation; protection of the world’s cultural heritage; and sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture.

Artists understand and communicate in a way that hard data alone just can’t. That’s why the Gates Foundation — after investing billions in vaccine research and development — engaged 30 writers, painters, filmmakers, sculptors and photographers in The Art of Saving a Life to put into context the importance of vaccines. Because if decision-makers are not convinced to buy and distribute them, vaccines are useless.

The field of entrepreneurship is also recognizing the need to tap individuals with diverse perspectives, skills and experiences in order to unlock creative solutions. Philanthropist Jean Case eloquently describes this in her TEDx Talk, emphasizing the need for diversity among entrepreneurs to get the benefit of all good ideas.

During a career at the United Nationals Development Programme, McKinsey & Company and The Rockefeller Foundation, I have sat in rooms with people working towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and, now, the SDGs. Frequently, our conversation move to how to bring more creativity to solve pressing problems. These people — like me — have MBAs, or are trained as doctors, lawyers, agronomists, economists. No matter how many countries we represent, we all speak the same language of policy and programs.

Last year I launched Upstart Co-Lab, a collaboration connecting artists, impact investors and social entrepreneurs. We create opportunities for artist innovators to deliver social impact at scale. When we see artists missing from conversations about sustainability, we work to close that gap.

It’s crucial we find a way to engage creative problem-solvers. Not as the entertainment at a convening. Not to paint a mural in the headquarters lobby. Not to compose a poem for the occasion. But as colleagues, consultants, and experts.

Creative people gravitate towards solving problems, and they care about the human condition – which makes for a powerful combination when the goal is sustainability.

Report on artists as innovators in business, government,
and society: http://www.upstartco-lab.org/great-minds-dont-think-alike/

Upstart Co-Lab Website: http://www.upstartco-lab.org/

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