Young heritage entrepreneurs learning from experienced small business owners in Kyrgyzstan

by Harriet Deacon In October 2019, I joined ten young heritage entrepreneurs and colleagues from CACSARC-kg, a NGO based in Kyrgyzstan, on a six-day field trip between Bishkek and Issyk Kul. It was organised under a two-year Creative Spark programme funded by the British Councilled by Charlotte Waelde from Coventry University. The field trip participants had received some HIPAMS (heritage-sensitive intellectual property and marketing strategy) training in two initial workshops during January and April 2018, with the assistance of KyrgyzPatent, the local Intellectual Property Office, and the Traditional Knowledge Division of WIPO. In the field trip, ten of the workshop participants were selected to conduct interviews with seventeen experienced small business owners.
Salburun Federation display by apprentice falconer of AlmazAkun. Salburundo falconry displays for tourists and locals. There is a vibrant falconry tradition in Kyrgyzstan that has benefited from the publicity. They have established a small museum to raise awareness and registered a trademark
Field trip participants and CACSARC-kg staff having a traditional lunch at the yurt-maker SaparIsmailov in KzylTuu. This is a family business that passes down the skills between generationsand hosts visitors at their yurt workshop for lunches. The whole village is involved in yurt making, and they work together to fulfil large orders.
  The field trip gave participants an opportunity to develop stronger networks with experienced heritage entrepreneurs and with each other, helping to develop their skills of business analysis in this specific sector.After the field trip, the participants will mentor other young entrepreneurs within the network created by the project, and will present their own heritage business projects at the OIMO Festival in July 2020. The participants interviewed heritage photographers, artists, yurt makers, shyrdak carpet-makers, traditional clothing designers, a falconry business, folk musicians and a traditional epic song performer, and several tourism businesses based on heritage experiences. They asked how these experienced business owners started and managed their businesses, including marketing and intellectual property protection, and how their businesses fed back into the practice and transmission of the heritage. Interview questions included the following:
  1. What is the heritage underlying the business and how has it changed over time?
  2. With which communities is it associated, and how are they organized?
  3. What risks and threats are there to the continued practice and transmission of the heritage?
  4. What products are being made / what services are offered and how do they relate to the heritage?
  5. How are the products/services marketed and distributed?
  6. Who buys the products/services (how is the market segmented)?
  7. What opportunities and challenges does the business face and how could they be optimized / addressed?
  8. How can young entrepreneurs benefit from their experience? What could young entrepreneurs offer to such a business, e.g. in terms of digital skills or creativity?
  9. How does the heritage business affect transmission and innovation within the tradition?
Delicious traditional bread, fresh cream and spring-water tea at Cholok village, en route to Issyk Kul. This group of small but very successful tea shops employs most of the villagers nearby; they offer a simple traditional menu for passing motorists and pass on the skills and recipies within families.
BakytChoytonbaev at the Manzhyly Ata sacred springs, a spiritual pilgrimage site that he takes tours around. The site requires careful management of visitors while maintaining accessibility for local pilgrims.
Aidaiand NurjamalAsangulova with colleagues at KiyizDuino demonstrating the traditional art of headdress wrapping. The company has registered two patents on felt and silk-making technologies.
Experienced entrepreneurs talked about the value of networking with other businesses and seeking institutional support,personal motivation, determination and planning for the future. A number of them passed down their skills within extended families; others recruited non-family apprentices, sometimes through training workshops. Many entrepreneurs spoke about the delicate balance between meeting consumer requirements, exercising creative freedom, and practising their traditional art. Educating consumers on the quality, nature and value of traditional products was important even in the local context because much local Kyrgyz culture had been marginalized, undervalued or lost in the Soviet era. Photographer Erkin Bolzhurovs spoke about doing a calendar of traditional patchwork in the 1990s. Initially, people in rural areas were surprised that he wanted to photograph older designs, but their exposure in the calendar and at subsequent exhibitions made these older designs much better appreciated by locals and foreigners. Trade fairs, exhibitions, films, books, calendars and promotional materials are very important for marketing and consumer education. Many of the experienced entrepreneurs said they were actively using local networks, social media and websites for marketing purposes, but few had registered IP rights, such as trademarks or patents. There was sometimes confusion over whether a trade name had been registered, or a trademark. Participants in the fieldwork trip found that asking questions about the link between business and heritage gave them fresh insights for their own work, especially the importance of business planning, networking and marketing. They also realised the importance of raising awareness about the value of their heritage and planning ways of passing on the skills. For the HIPAMS project, the field workshop programme is very relevant because it brought the disciplines of heritage management, intellectual property protection and marketing in conversation with each other through examination of the practical considerations faced by experienced heritage entrepreneurs.Experiences in the Kyrgyzstan Creative Spark project will hopefully be relevant to HIPAMS being developed by three Indian communities in the British Academy-funded India project, and vice versa.Experiences from the October field trip in Kyrgyzstan could be particularly useful in this regard because they highlight the impact of marketing within business planning (which is just as relevant to communities of artists as to a small business). They also support the value of networking between different kinds of heritage businesses (e.g. developing a common tourism marketing strategy, just as Indian communities work to develop a common ethics framework). Finally, they show the benefit of exploring a wide range of national and international platforms to create visibility (e.g. not just UNESCO intangible heritage listings and international craft fairs, but also high profile art calendars,and nominating key areas of cultural heritage value as Global Geo-parks or Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) where relevant).

This research project, Heritage Sensitive Intellectual Property and Marketing strategies: India (HIPAMS - INDIA), is funded by the British Academy's Sustainable Development Programme, supported under the UK Government's Global Challenges Research Fund 2018-2021.