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Taking Stock(holm)

Matthew Rugamba | The Africa Channel   in 
July 28, 2015

It all started with a breakfast –Maria Håkansson, Chargés d’Affaires, Embassy of Sweden in Rwanda, invited myself and other locally based Creatives to discuss a new initiative that Sweden wanted to start in Rwanda. As I looked around the table I could tell I wasn’t the only one with questions. “Why Sweden? Why Rwanda? What exactly are they trying to do that hasn’t been tried before?” As if on cue, Maria started telling us about how Sweden is one of the most innovative and creative countries in the world and how they felt that there was potential to use this as a foundation to strengthen ties between Sweden and Rwanda. Over the next hour or so, we brainstormed our visions of Rwanda’s future creative sector – its possibilities and potential.

It was great to be surrounded with such passionate individuals who want nothing more than to make sure that our respective crafts and industries grow throughout the country. I knew most of the people around the table by name, I had been to their events but haven’t really been in the same room with all of them at the same time. I was excited to finally meet and to have a deeper, more substantive conversation with them. There was a collective feeling that this initiative by Sweden was very important for our growth.

Following that breakfast, I was selected to be part of a visitors program to Sweden along with a group of 13 other people who work in the creativity and media sectors of Rwanda. The team was made up of people from television, theatre, music and education (arts and creativity), and I represented fashion. Our journey to Stockholm was quite eventful. Apparently, with Ethiopian Airlines, it always is (as per Trip Advisor discussion forums). While we were waiting for our connecting flight from Addis to Stockholm, we were having drinks and cracking jokes saying that “Everyone has an Ethiopian Airlines story.” Deep down I think we tempted fate with that comment, because our flight was cancelled and the next flight to Stockholm was the next morning.

Thankfully, from here on out, our trip was great. Eight hours later than we should have originally landed, we arrived in Stockholm. One of the most eye-opening experiences we had actually happened on the first day. We visited the Stockholm School of Economics— and it made me actually feel like I could – wanted to – go back to school. We met with associate professor Emma Stenstrom. Her focus has been the relationship between the arts and business. She was able to communicate something that had been frustrating many of us for so long – how can we communicate to the private sector and the government (to people in power) that the creative sector can have a huge, significant impact on the economy? Emma told us about a class she taught that brought together her MBA students as well as circus students from the Arts University, and her hope was that the business students would learn the art of presentation and communication from the circus students, and the art [circus] students would learn more about entrepreneurship. These are things that seem almost borderline ridiculous, but these are the exchanges and interactions that stimulate innovation—case in point, this absolutely genius presentation on the Stockholm economy by one of Emma’s former students who also happens to be a trained magician.

On the third day of the program, we went to The National Museum of Science and Technology (Tekniska Museet). Peter Skogh, Head of the Unit at the Museum, explained to us how they are responsible for the preservation of the technical and industrial heritage of Sweden. It was great to see and funny to simultaneously relive my childhood, being surrounded familiar video games, while also feeling old due to the fact that they were on display like relics from centuries ago. Seriously, how can the PlayStation One be in a museum? I feel like it was just the other day that I was getting one for my birthday. One of the more remarkable things we saw in the museum was a radio keyboard; each key was programmed to a global radio station, meaning you could literally play a chord and listen to whatever was playing on a radio station somewhere in the world. The museum is made accessible to ages as young as three or four, and it’s designed to inspire kids to wonder (imagine), question their reality, and explore their creativity. I never realized the weight of the importance of museums until this point; it made me understand the importance of nurturing creativity among young minds at their youngest ages.

On our final scheduled day of the program, we met Fredrick Wilkholm – Founder, Creative Director of Uniforms, for the dedicated. UNFD has such a strong ethos and purpose, which is the essence of their appeal and uniqueness. They use recycled fibers to create their collections, and they aim for 100 percent usage—so sustainability is at the core of their identity. One of the key things I took away from the meeting was that you don’t have to compromise your values to be successful in the industry – instead, learn how to harness and optimize your values by making them your differentiating factors and unique selling points.

Next up was Stocktown Films. They are more of a “cultural movement” than a production company. The founder, Teddy (Swedish, Ethiopian/Eritrean), gave us a presentation of this new platform that they are creating – Afripedia: visual guide to contemporary urban culture – the proposed Wikipedia of African culture and arts. They started this venture with a five-part documentary of Creatives in five different African countries, and are now raising capital to build this venture into a website platform. I have to say this is the one of the coolest projects I have seen in the past five years.

I left Stockholm buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm. It was truly an eye-opening, inspiring trip. I felt rejuvenated. While I set off with a plan to see what I could pick up to grow my business, I returned with greater understanding of the important steps that need to be taken to grow the industry. Education is a huge component, providing a space for the youth to be creative and experiment. Create and nurture talent. I cannot wait until we reconnect with the great people we met in Sweden for a conference we are organizing this September. Stay tuned. To find out more about the program: https://eng.si.se/areas-of-operation/events-and-projects/swedenrwanda-open-up-for-a-creative-society/

Be sure to check out Matthew’s series, House of Tayo, by clicking here!

Photos Courtesy of Matthew Rugamba

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