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The creative economy has become a powerful transformative force in the world today. Its potential for development is vast and waiting to be unlocked. It is one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the world economy, not just in terms of income generation but also for job creation and export earnings. But this is not all there is to it. A much greater proportion of the world’s intellectual and creative resources is now being invested in the culture-based industries, whose largely intangible outputs are as ‘real’ and considerable as those of other industries. Human creativity and innovation, at both the individual and group level, are the key drivers of these industries, and have become the true wealth of nations in the 21st century. Indirectly, culture increasingly underpins the ways in which people everywhere understand the world, see their place in it, affirm their human rights, and forge productive relationships with others.

Unlocking the potential of the creative economy therefore involves promoting the overall creativity of societies, affirming the distinctive identity of the places where it flourishes and clusters, improving the quality of life where it exists, enhancing local image and prestige and strengthening the resources for imagining diverse new futures. In other words, the creative economy is the fount, metaphorically speaking, of a new “economy of creativity”, whose benefits go far beyond the economic realm alone.

Based upon the creativity of individuals and groups, this sector also embodies in full measure the spirit and vision of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which recognized “that people are at the centre of sustainable development and, in this regard, we strive for a world that is just, equitable and inclusive, and we commit to work together to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection.” The cultural and creative industries, while not providing a quick fix for the achievement of sustainable development, are nevertheless among the most powerful sources for “new development pathways that encourage creativity and innovation in the pursuit of inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth and development” that the United Nations System Task Team on the Post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda has exhorted the international community to take.

The creative economy is not a single superhighway, however, but a multitude of different local trajectories. Many of these pathways are to be found at the subnational level – in cities and regions in developing countries. Notwithstanding the importance of nationalscale policy interventions, it is clear that the next frontier of knowledge generation rests on understanding interactions, specificities and policies at local levels, and how the creative economy might be practically promoted in communities, cities and regions across the developing world.

In uncovering the relationships between the economic and the non-economic benefits, this special edition of the Creative Economy Report will focus on local settings in developing countries, while also drawing on contexts of socio-economic disadvantage in the developed world. In doing so, it will seek to grasp the realities of the creative economy not as a unified logic, to be imported wholesale, but rather as an invitation to rethink – creatively – what its flourishing might mean, tangibly, in the everyday lives of people in diverse circumstances.

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