What does entrepreneurship have to do with cultural diplomacy?
By Fernando Berdion Del Valle
Jean-Luc Goddard’s protagonist in Le Petit Soldat famously observed that “the cinema is truth twenty-four times per second.” What he failed to mention is that this cinematic truth does not come free. As any filmmaker (especially any independent filmmaker) knows, capturing a story with a camera is only half the battle. Films must be pitched, financed, marketed, and distributed. Teams of creative and technical experts need to be recruited, managed, coached (and paid). After the whole film production cycle comes full circle, investors, institutional backers and concerned family members continue to ask questions about the film’s impact and ultimate success. Did it return a profit? Did it resonate with audiences? Did the outcome justify the cost of production?
In short, contemporary filmmakers, especially independent filmmakers, are as much entrepreneurs as they are artists.
This dual-role has long been a fact of cinematic life (whatever midcentury, continental theories of the auteur suggest), but it is especially relevant for young storytellers seeking to navigate a highly fragmented and rapidly changing global media landscape. Coincidentally, these are exactly the types of media professionals that the US Department of State seeks to support through several of its cultural diplomacy programs.
Put another way, the success of several American cultural diplomacy programs depends, in large part, on conveying entrepreneurial knowledge and skills to emerging media professionals around the world. Many regions in which American PD programs work lack either a culture of independent filmmaking or a media market robust enough to support emerging talent working outside the “traditional” filmmaking path (e.g., attending the national film school and then working within a hierarchically organized national filmmaking guild).
Success in this context might require adopting alternative financing models that are better suited to local contexts or founding entirely new non-profit organizations to supplement the support provided by national governments and international organizations. Without these types of innovations necessary to create more vibrant media ecosystems, it is difficult to see how, over the long-term, American cultural diplomacy efforts can take firm root.
Considering these challenges, how can American public diplomacy learn from the field of entrepreneurship education?
The first step involves policymakers globally recognizing the connection between these two areas. Thankfully, the past few years have seen several initiatives designed to bring entrepreneurship education under the umbrella of American PD practice. The State Department currently sponsors the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Global Entrepreneurship Week, and the Mexico-United States Entrepreneurship Innovation Council - all well-established programs that promote mentorship and capacity-building among emerging professionals abroad, much as cultural diplomacy programs currently do.
The Obama administration was particularly bullish on the possibilities of so-called “startup diplomacy” seeing it as a tool to promote American ideas and promote economic development simultaneously. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department described the public diplomacy potential of entrepreneurship in this way:
Indeed, entrepreneurship, as a channel for young men and women to express themselves, is a compelling weapon in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. It is an outlet to build and add value rather than destroy it. This is especially important in the Middle East, which is, as the Brookings Institution has noted, experiencing “an unprecedented ‘youth bulge.’”
Replace “entrepreneurship” with “storytelling” or “film making” and the point stands.
Yet, even if policy makers continue to recognize this key area of potential convergence, how do other, non-state actors move towards greater collaboration?
Should film education and mentorship programs simply place a greater emphasis on teaching the business of media making? Should supportive non-governmental organizations create accelerator or incubator programs specifically tailored to startup business in the independent media space? Or is a more formal collaboration needed, perhaps between the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB), where entrepreneurship-related programming is centered, and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), where cultural diplomacy efforts are housed?
All these options are possible, of course, but perhaps the greatest opportunity for the film diplomacy community is to adopt some of the data collection practices that have emerged among non-profits.
One striking example is the Kauffman Index – an in-depth measure that captures the rate at which new ventures are created, the durability of startups over time, and the contribution to local economies, all mapped geographically. The Index is not only helpful for entrepreneurs and investors to gauge where new opportunities may exist, it also facilitates the work of policy makers looking to assess and communicate the impact of entrepreneurship education to other stakeholders. Also, the Kauffman Institute’s reputation as an effective non-partisan and non-profit organization adds to its credibility as an honest-broker of entrepreneurship related research, especially within the United States.
Another organization whose work has a more global focus is Endeavor, a non-profit that promotes mentorship to entrepreneurs globally, mapping the country-by-country (and sometimes city-by city) landscape of the local “ecosystem” for new firm development. What is intriguing about the Endeavor model is that by operating as an independent non-profit it can gather with a range of constituencies – venture capitalists, universities, policymakers, and entrepreneurs – and disseminate that accumulated knowledge broadly with the goal not merely of supporting individual entrepreneurs, but more importantly, the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole.
Granted, film diplomacy and cultural diplomacy programs are not resourced in the way that many entrepreneurship education programs currently are. Even so, the potential for an initiative analogous to the Kaufman Index or Endeavor Insights is promising.
Imagine a global media landscape map comparing the national or sub-national environments for local film and media makers, highlighting particular areas of growth and opportunity. Or imagine an independent repository of best practices in the field of global media entrepreneurship, available to partner NGOs and independent filmmakers all over the world? Now that would be entrepreneurial.
Check out our annotated bibliography on public diplomacy evaluation