BUSINESS & ARTS
Michelle Constant looks at public-private partnerships and the conversation about social cohesion.
The value of public-private partnerships should be flagged and, if done correctly, rigorously defended. BASA is a successful public-private partnership, which is supported by, and supports, both the public sector, i.e. the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and around 130 private sector members including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and other big hitters. While it provides a partnership space, which is sometimes fractious, slow-moving and challenging, the value of the different sectors adds enormously to the conversation of social cohesion in society.
BASA is currently working with two of its stakeholders – the DAC and the FirstRand Foundation – on a project that seeks to address greater governance and the growth of fiduciary skills of Schedule 3A Boards in the creative sector. The project has been a long journey, taking over three years, but the first phase is now coming to a closure. The knowledge gained during the process has been as great as what the final outcome aims to be. The original award, which was described as an ‘innovation award’, aimed to develop a stronger partnership between sectors, with the goal of strengthening the sector (in this case the arts sector). Political shifts, unexpected changes in the original goal, research challenges, diverse needs from diverse partners (both stakeholders and service providers) saw the project changing shape like a hydra. What it required, and received, was a flexibility to include change, sometimes failure and reimagining. What was successful was the desire of all parties to make a difference in our sector.
As we come to the close of the first phase, the anchor and ballast has been the FirstRand Foundation. Their insistence that we all keep returning to the process of ‘design thinking’ – the need to reiterate the different goals of the project, to accept the failure of some, and then rework the process. Design thinking is extremely valuable as a problem-solving process, not simply for entrepreneurs, but also for the creative sector. The design thinking process includes the following stages: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn. It accepts failure as simply a part of the process and, more importantly, as the space to transfer one’s gaze to other, often less visible, wins. It also highlights iteration and reiteration. Working with an excellent team, which included the Wits University Cultural Policy and Management team, and former Market Theatre CEO, Annabell Lebethe, as well as the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IoDSA), saw some real rewards in the process. Direct engagement with a team from the Department has also been extremely valuable, allowing us to constantly frame the project in relation to the real needs.
Perhaps what became most striking for me was the challenge for board members to balance absolute governance, the rigours of the Public Finance Management Act, or the PFMA, and the need to drive the mandate of the organisation – its ability to create change, equality, social cohesion, and work creation in the creative sector. It’s a balance that needs to remain equally weighted in the board education process. Indeed, we should uphold the creative minds as, ‘creativity will become one of the top three skills workers will need. With the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, workers are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes,’ according to the World Economic Forum.
What strikes me too about this process, and I pull on my SA Tourism Board hat here, is the real need for us to start crossing sectors more deliberately. There is no doubt that culture, in particular, is both a progressive enabler and an opportunity to diversify – the need for it to cross sectors, to be active on diverse boards expands opportunities in education, tourism and more – promises to change the shape of our society.