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    HSBC'S Cultural Exchange Programme: The Business of Engaging in Cultural Industries


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2009

    HSBC China Now campaign - 2008 Paper cut artist - Han Jing Advertising creative - JWT UK

    Through the example of HSBC's cultural exchange programme, Trade Forum looks at how corporate investment in the creative industries is driving business success and opportunity. For artists, producers and designers from emerging markets, corporate social responsibility and sponsorship programmes by multinational companies are opening the doors to global audiences.

    In 2008, London's Victoria & Albert Museum housed China Design Now - the first exhibition in the United Kingdom to explore the explosion of contemporary design in China. The first major display in the developed world of modern China's creative industries, it was also an attempt to understand the impact of rapid economic development on architecture and design in China's major cities.

    Sponsored by the banking and financial services multinational HSBC, China Design Now is an fexample of how such companies are engaging in and promoting the creative industries in emerging markets. While the advent of corporate social responsibility strategies in developed countries is part of the reason, the drivers are not only altruistic but also make business sense.

    Multinationals that have traditionally relied on developed countries for their business growth are shifting their attention to the emerging markets. With developed markets now saturated, the developing world's rural poor will account for most of the growth in coming years for many industries ranging from telecommunications and pharmaceuticals to banking. This means that multinationals, regardless of what industry they are in, need entry strategies that legitimize their place in and understanding of the emerging markets they are targeting as growth opportunities.

    A case in point, HSBC relies on the emerging markets for 60 per cent of its group profits. From a purely business point of view, understanding cultural differences is fundamental to the bank's engagement with existing and potential customers.

    HSBC believes that cultural exchange has important business benefits and knows first-hand how important it is to appreciate, and understand, different values in order to build successful relationships. In launching China Design Now, HSBC Executive Director, Peter Wong, said, "Cultural exchanges between China and the UK need to be intensified after economic ties have developed so quickly. Communication helps countries to develop their relationships. But real communication starts from cultural exchange."

    HSBC's involvement with China Design Now came at a time when China's fast-growing economy was recognized around the world, but the country's cultural side was neglected. It was the same year as the Beijing Olympics and the developed world was eager to do business with China.

    HSBC's insistence on understanding and promoting the local culture is at the heart of both its business strategy and its Cultural Exchange Programme. The strategy has certainly paid off. In 2007, a year before China Design Now, HSBC became the first non-Chinese institution to be granted a rural banking licence which opened the doors to microfinancing opportunities for small and medium-sized business entrepreneurs in rural China. In 2002, it was one of just two foreign banks to be granted an Internet banking licence in China.

    This is all well and good for HSBC and other multinationals taking advantage of the business opportunity in developing countries. But why, specifically, do companies like HSBC choose to invest in promoting the creative industries? Quite simply, it is good business.

    "The key objectives for cultural sponsorship are benefiting the business, deepening brand understanding, benefiting the communities in which we operate and using sponsorship as a vehicle to demonstrate HSBC's expertise in cross-border business," said Zarir Cama, Group General Manager-Continental Europe for HSBC Holdings.

    HSBC operates in 86 countries and territories, and integral to the bank's success is its ability to facilitate cross-border business. For example, 5 per cent of India's trade flows through HSBC trade services. Many profitable business relationships start and are fostered through HSBC's Cultural Exchange Programme. Taking into account the value of the Indian market to HSBC, a key customer segment for HSBC today are the "Global Indians" - companies, individuals and family businesses of Indian origin that live outside India. Through another of its Cultural Exchange Programme initiatives, Indian Summer (a season of exhibitions and events at the British Museum in 2009), HSBC had a viable way of connecting with its customers through an authentic engagement with Indian culture.

    The wings of the Indian Summer campaign spread across eight markets leveraging business events in Ireland, Canada, the UK, the United States, Abu Dhabi, India, South Africa and Australia. The sponsorship also included a partnership with the Financial Times to produce a New India magazine and related high-level business events that spanned the UK, New York, Abu Dhabi and Mumbai. These events looked at the business opportunities and challenges of the world's second biggest country and highlighted the role international businesses can play in the country. HSBC also worked with regional UK cities where there are strong Indian business communities and delivered workshops targeting small and medium-sized enterprises on how to do business in and with India.

    HSBC's Cultural Exchange Programme now includes projects in more than 22 markets and an important ingredient of the strategy is supporting local communities. One of the initiatives previously developed in this area was the HSBC International Residency Programme which gave creative individuals the opportunity to spend time in another culture to explore different ways of thinking and creating and, at the same time, share their knowledge with the host community. Under this programme, HSBC worked with local cultural groups to place a Chinese designer in the UK, a Kazakh poet in Canada, a Hungarian musician in Brazil and a Russian circus performer in Australia.

    HSBC, and other multinationals such as Nokia with its investment in Pangea Day (www.pangeaday.org), recognize that in many emerging markets the creative industries in themselves are driving strong economic benefits and there are great opportunities for benefiting both business and these industries.

    And what are the benefits for the creative industries in developing countries of capturing the imagination of multinational sponsorship? Corporate investment and sponsorship are opening doors for the creative industries in new markets across the globe. From Chinese designers being on show for the first time in the United Kingdom to developing countries being represented at international arts festivals, exhibitions and large-scale global events, the benefits of corporate sponsorship are a win-win for both big business and the creative industries.

    For more information about HBSC's Cultural Exchange Programme