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Heritage and Cultural Entrepreneurship – A Study in Value Creation

Jul 20 2017

Heritage and Cultural Entrepreneurship – A Study in Value Creation

In our last post on Cultural Entrepreneurship we introduced the concept as a way for history and heritage practitioners to meet their mission through employing creative and innovative business approaches to resource development.  In this post we will specifically explore Heritage Entrepreneurship as another aspect of Cultural Entrepreneurship. Heritage Entrepreneurship focuses on the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage resources, while identifying market opportunities to create value for those resources. Since all of this may sound a bit notional, we thought it might be simpler to take a look at a specific example to better illustrate the idea.

The Case of Turquoise Mountain

Turquoise Mountain is a British non-governmental organization founded in 2006 at the request of HRH The Prince of Wales and the President of Afghanistan. Although the project started in the Murad Khani district of Old Kabul, it has since expanded to communities in Myanmar and Saudi Arabia. Its stated mission is to “invest in historical areas and traditional crafts, to provide jobs, skills, and a renewed sense of national pride.”

Since 2006, Turquoise Mountain has trained over 5,000 artisans, generated over $5m in international sales, and restored 113 historic buildings.

The Freer|Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute currently has an exhibit on the artisans of Murad Khani, so even though the organization may operate half a world away, its work can still be experienced through a quick trip from Annapolis to Washington, DC.

Considering its growing impact, we thought we’d explore six critical components of value creation that make Turquoise Mountain an effective example of heritage entrepreneurship.

  1. Placemaking

Placemaking means strengthening public spaces and creating shared value within a community. Murad Khani was once one of the poorest areas in Kabul and on the World Monuments Fund’s Watch List of the world’s most endangered sites.  Turquoise Mountain focused its efforts on one community before scaling to other countries. They were able to help that community utilize their own inner resources to contribute to economic regeneration and development, establishing  pride of place starting at the local level.

  1. Community building

Entrepreneurs can play an important role in community building, and Turquoise Mountain provides an example of how this can be achieved. Their efforts go beyond heritage promotion and preservation as they find ways to support the community as a whole, investing in education, healthcare, and improving local infrastructure. People living in the area who are not directly involved in the organization can still benefit from its economic impact, creating a sense of inclusion and community buy-in.

  1. Storytelling

We all know that storytelling is a key component to a successful marketing campaign. Consumers don’t only want to know “what” they are buying, but also the “who,” “where,” and “why” behind a purchase. Turquoise Mountain lets us know the backgrounds and journeys of its artisans, putting a face to their craft and moving us to connect with their story on a more personal level.

  1. Cultural capital

It’s not enough to create a product, there also needs to be a demand. Consumers buy the handicrafts of Turquoise Mountain not only because they are beautifully made, but because they believe in the organization’s mission. Through their purchases they know they are able to help improve the lives of people in Murad Khani and similar areas. In this way, Turquoise Mountain is able to blend product with purpose.  

  1. Partnerships

Forming partnerships with recognized brands can bring attention to products on an international level. It also helps guarantee the quality associated with the products, raising value and therefore price. Through partnering with brands such as Bloomingdales and Kate Spade, Turquoise Mountain products not only reach global consumers, but are endowed with a certain status.

  1. Skills and training

It’s all about sustainability these days. Turquoise Mountain supports the sustainability of their organization through vocational training initiatives, reviving old arts (woodwork, calligraphy, ceramics, jewelry, and painting) within a modern context. Creating a pipeline of skilled artisans also means both the quantity and quality of handicrafts will be ensured and heritage preservation projects sustained.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any favorite examples of Cultural or Heritage Entrepreneurship? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].