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Duong Bich Hanh

The Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) sector is seen as a driving force for economic growth in many countries in South-East Asia.

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Managing Culture and the Arts in South-East Asia (1)

by Duong Bich Hanh

Presentation Video



My name is Duong Bich Hanh (1), and I am the chief of the Culture Unit at the UNESCO Office in Bangkok. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizer for inviting me to share with you about our work in the area of Cultural and Creative Industries, often referred to as the CCI sector.

  • Background

The Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) sector is seen as a driving force for economic growth in many countries in South-East Asia. The countries in this region have a great diversity of culture and ethnicity, many creative talents, a growing middle class, and a dynamic and youthful demography. The sector is currently facing a number of challenges, but we also see many signs of innovation and motivation across the actors and we are optimistic for a bright future.My presentation today is based on the findings from a study commissioned by UNESCO Bangkok in 2019, within the framework of the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. (2)

The study aim to review and analyze the financial context of the CCI sector in SEA, with a focus on the sustainability of civil society CCI organizations. In total, 322 organizations from nine South-East Asian countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam) participated in the study.

  • The operational context of the CCI sector in South-East Asia

The business model that an organization follows has direct implications in terms of incentives and financing opportunities (e.g., tax relief and the ability to apply for government or international grants), but what we have found is many of the organizations surveyed in this study operate in a gray area - around 30 percent of the surveyed organizations identified as non-formal groups or collectives, thus not officially recognized by the system. Some are incorporated as private for-profit companies while essentially earning little income and functioning as non-profits; others try to balance entrepreneurship with a social mission.

Excessively bureaucratic government processes for the sector are key obstacles to the operations and sustainability of CCI organizations. Registration processes can be complicated and protracted, and the need to obtain permissions and permits in most countries adds to the administrative burden of CCI organizations.Government funding is inconsistent across the region. Some governments (e.g., Singapore) allocate significant funds towards CCI sector development, while others (e.g., Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar) offer little to no state support for the CCI sector. Even where grants and funds are available, respondents and researchers reported that access to these – including access to information about them – was often difficult.International funding is a major form of support to the sector in some countries, particularly in small and medium-sized economy countries. However, such funding is not always accessible due to specific registration requirements.While private patronage is a key enabler for many CCI organizations in the region, corporate and individual philanthropic support for culture is still underdeveloped in all the countries surveyed.

Many organizations display a deficiency in strategic business planning skills, and their market awareness tends to be low. Nearly a quarter of the organizations (23 per cent) stated they had no business plan, professing to ’live from day to day’, and 7 per cent reported not knowing how to do business planning.Many CCI organizations rely greatly on a part-time or project-based labor pool, and cultural workers often subsidize their organization’s activities through either free labor or very low wages (surviving on income derived from other sources).Another commonly-cited challenge is the difficulty of attracting and retaining skilled personnel as salaries in the CCI sector tend not to be competitive. As the skills required in the creative industries are easily transferable, staff often move out of the sector into related areas such as hospitality and tourism, which offer more stable and higher incomes.

Many organizations reported not having enough staff trained in business and administration skills, corroborating the findings of the UNESCO Creative Economy Report 2013 (3)  which observed that capacity-building within the creative economy sector was still in an experimental stage in developing regions.

A more intractable challenge however, may be the inadequate value placed on creative labor by society, which affects not only the earning potential of creative workers but the overall market. The responses to the survey indicated that the domestic markets for cultural and creative goods and services are perceived to be weak. Most organizations depend greatly on expatriate and tourist purchasing power rather than on local consumers. Even in countries like Singapore, where the appetite for arts and cultural events has grown significantly in recent decades, arts companies reported challenges in attracting ticket-buyers and expanding their audiences.The art market is in significant competition with the entertainment industry and other lifestyle attractions – a factor that is expected to be exacerbated with the growth of digital content and globalization pressures on the industry.

There is also a strong rural-urban divide.

In most of the surveyed countries, CCI organizations were found to be engaging in education, cultural preservation, audience outreach and sector capacity development – services that would normally be facilitated through government policy. These tend to be activities that cannot be scaled up as business propositions and cannot be supported by paying customers.



(1) Dương Bích Hạnh is an anthropologist with a strong commitment to gender equality, cultural diversity and human rights. She was leading the Culture Unit at the UNESCO Bangkok Office, covering the Mekong cluster countries and coordinating a number of regional projects in Asia and the Pacific. Now she works as Program Specialist and Chief of Culture Unit at UNESCO Office in Beijing. Her work involves supporting the countries to implement UNESCO’s six cultural conventions and promoting the role of culture and creativity in sustainable development. Before joining UNESCO in 2009, she worked with NGOs and research institutes on projects on issues concerning ethnic minority groups in VietNam and Southeast Asia.


(2) The cultural and creative industries are among the fastest growing sectors in the world. With an estimated global worth of 4.3 trillion USD per year, the culture sector now accounts for 6.1% of the global economy. They generate annual revenues of US$ 2,250 billion and nearly 30 million jobs worldwide, employing more people aged 15 to 29 than any other sector.

The cultural and creative industries have become essential for inclusive economic growth, reducing inequalities and achieving the goals set out in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.The adoption of the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was a milestone in international cultural policy. Through this historic agreement, the global community formally recognized the dual nature, both cultural and economic, of contemporary cultural expressions produced by artists and cultural professionals. Shaping the design and implementation of policies and measures that support the create, produce, distribute, and access cultural goods and services.

The 2005 Convention is at the heart of the creative economy.Recognizing the sovereign right of States to maintain, adopt and implement policies to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expression, both nationally and internationally, the 2005 Convention supports governments and civil society in finding policy solutions for emerging challenges. Based on human rights and fundamental freedoms, the 2005 Convention ultimately provides a new framework for informed, transparent and participatory systems of governance for culture. (

(3) The United Nations Creative Economy Report 2013 is a Special Edition that builds on previous reports (2008, 2010) examining the interactions, specificities and policies at local levels and how the creative economy is practically promoted in communities, cities and regions across the developing world. This special edition of the Creative Economy Report 2013 argues that creativity and culture are processes or attributes that are intimately bound up in the imagining and generation of new ideas, products or ways of interpreting the world that have monetary and non-monetary benefits that can be recognized as instrumental to human development.

The Report contains a portfolio analysis of projects implemented in the framework of UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) and the UNDP-Spain Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund (MDG-F) Thematic Window on Culture and Development. The Report explores the critical factors to take into account when making decisions and designing policy strategies and programmes to forge new pathways for local creative economy development. All these matters are explored in the Introduction and 7 analytical chapters of the Report. The eighth and concluding chapter summarizes the lessons learned, and makes ten recommendations to forging new pathways for development. (

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