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1 April 2014

What can creatives learn from a funeral company?

Creative Economy’s Erin Bunting blogs about Vietnamese creative hubs, entrepreneurs, street food and the funeral business

© Erin Bunting

I was asked last week in a workshop where I would choose to live if I could live in any city in the world, on a whim I surprised myself by saying Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). When I arrived back here at the beginning of the week I remembered why. Saigon is fizzing with energy, enthusiasm, amazing street food (snail soupanyone?)and what seems like a billion motorbikes, according to some estimates there are over four million! I’m here for a four day creative enterprise workshop for emerging (and some quite established) Vietnamese creative entrepreneurs.

The British Council has been running this programme internationally, in collaboration with Nesta, for around two years now and has trained entrepreneurs and trainers from Brazil to Lebanon and Nigeria to Turkey. This is the first time we’ve run the programme in South East Asia, but Vietnam seems the perfect place to start. The place is brimming with entrepreneurs; from the musical sweet sellers (girls who travel with a microphone and amp attached to their motorbike and stop to sing you a song in the hope you will buy the sweets they are selling, we did!); to cutting edge fashion designers like Ho Tran Da Thao of Tsafari who was one of our Young Creative Entrepreneurs and who is attending the course in preparation for a re-launch of her brand.

© Erin Bunting

Percy reveals the secrets of successful creative businesses

The four day course, led by Percy Emmett and in partnership with the International Trade Promotion Centre in Ho Chi Minh City is an intense interactive mix that takes the entrepreneurs from understanding the values of their business (Day 1) to a detailed step-by-step business plan to realising their idea (Day 4), via relationship building, business finances and visioning.

So what can creatives learn from a funeral company? Quite a lot apparently! For the visioning exercise the entrepreneurs were given an unusual case study, a natural burial company, located in a remote valley, that offers customers burial under a tree without any of the usual funeral rites. The burial company is at capacity and needs to think about diversifying. The entrepreneurs unpicked the company and then illustrated a vision for the future business. The result; some imaginative, creative and frankly bizarre suggestions and pictures; double decker burial sites, Anthony Gormley-style caskets to be hung from the trees, a natural manure company (!) and a Valley of Eternal Life theme park with gravediggers transformed into park attendants and musicians. But unpicking the exercise with Percy afterwards what did the entrepreneurs think they’d learned – a huge amount – from how exchanging ideas helped them fine-tune and be more creative, to the importance of articulating your ideas to the customer. So perhaps the question really is, what can funeral companies learn from creatives?

© Erin Bunting

Creative hubs have also been on my mind, the Creative Economy team has been starting to map creative hubs globally, the interim results will be published online in the next couple of months. We’ve been thinking about the role of creative hubs in supporting entrepreneurs, ensuring visibility for the creative sector and in making cities more creative. We’re keen to look at how we can support and better connect hubs globally. In Vietnam I was inspired by ADC Academy, recently set up by a group of established visual artists and designers it provides co-working space and industry-specific training for students and young people. They’re morphing into a studio taking on projects from real clients, which will both fund the Academy and provide students with experience of working on live projects. We visited at dusk, the Academy has panoramic views over the Saigon River, as we sipped apricot wine over ice (home-made by Academy founder Trai’s mum) and watched a live digital drawing class I reflected that creativity and enterprise is alive and well in Vietnam. I just hope I can be part of telling that story internationally.

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@UK_CE @vnBritish