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Interview mit Sabrina Kamili

Sabrina Kamili
© Caroline Lessire

Bei der zweiten Halaqat-Expert*innenrunde im Dezember 2021 kamen 24 Experten aus Europa und der arabischen Welt online zusammen, um über die Zukunft der kulturellen Beziehungen zwischen den beiden Regionen zu diskutieren. In zwei Tagen intensiver Debatten wurden fünf Hauptthemen erörtert, darunter die Frage, wie faire kulturelle Beziehungen auf der Grundlage von Finanzierung und Austausch von Fachwissen aufgebaut werden können.
Im Vorfeld der dritten und letzten Runde am 23. und 24. Mai 2022 trafen wir uns mit Sabrina Kamili, um beide Themen ausführlicher zu diskutieren.

Von Dounya Hallaq

Dear Sabrina, as a cultural actor in Morocco, how would you describe the cultural relations and cooperation between the European Union and Morocco?
Sabrina Kamili: Cultural relations between Morocco and the European Union go back a long way. In fact, Europe remains Morocco's privileged partner in terms of trade in creative goods and services. However, for long periods of time, there was no formal cooperation framework between the EU and Morocco that specifically targets this sector. Which is quite surprising, given the history and intensity of cultural exchanges. This could change in the short term, with the new cooperation framework underway now, which could be effective as early as 2023. A very favorable framework for cooperation in this sector is therefore emerging, which bodes well. Morocco has also applied for the Creative Europe programme (after Tunisia, which was the first country in the region).

The political news is also favourable. At the end of January 2022, the Moroccan Head of Government presented the government's strategy for the "promotion of the cultural sectors"; this was such a precedent in the country's parliamentary history. Even more recently, the Royal Speech at the 2022 EU-AU Summit places culture as a top priority for national action within the framework of the partnership with the EU, alongside education and vocational training. We can also mention the “New Agenda for the Mediterranean” (2021) and the joint declaration between the EU and Morocco (2019) which includes cooperation in cultural matters among the areas of convergence.

The context is therefore favourable as you said, why is this decline in funding?
Sabrina Kamili: I’ll reply here out of my experience with my small business: we encounter many difficulties in accessing the market, due to the lack of local understanding of the nature of our activities. Financial institutions and banks certainly manage financial flows but also risks. However, in the cultural and creative sector, we work with non-material assets, i.e., creativity. Risks attached to this activity are difficult for local funding institutions to accurately assess. It is therefore not only a question of funding, but also of understanding the nature of the risk of cultural activities. It is perhaps also our fault, we actors in the sector, who have not made the effort to meet these institutions to better explain our activity and its repercussions.

Furthermore, there is a divide between very small structures and large SMEs, as we see in publishing and the audiovisual sector, which can be linked to networks, national funding programmes, chambers of commerce or export offices. This considerably facilitates the fact of connecting to international networks and in particular European ones.

At a more global level, the lack of structuring at the local level renders the sector less attractive for capital and investors. We are quite a few, and fragmented. We are having trouble getting access to attractive amounts. If some structures are capable of raising funds, this requires a lot of time and human resources, for a relatively minimal fundraising, compared to other sectors.
Finally, funding for international cooperation, including that of the European Union, is often granted in the form of donations. Not always, but very often. Therefore, the recipients of the funds must be non-profit associations. Very little financing is dedicated to private entrepreneurship. Yet, we try to encourage initiatives and the spirit of enterprise; Quite a paradox, isn’t it?

Hence, there are few options left for cultural structures: soliciting foreign donors, sponsorship or private corporate patronage for financing activities and project, despite the fluctuation that this implies. Our main difficulty remains the diversification of the source of financing.

On the other hand, from the point of view of sharing expertise and networking, it find that we do not seem to encounter too many difficulties at the moment. There is a strong desire among operators to network. In the knowledge economy, everyone benefits from being integrated, from being able to share expertise but also experiences and expertise. The main difficulty that remains is that of the mobility of people, of physical exchange.

What are the public funds you seek to raise the most?
Sabrina Kamili: At the level of the association, we work via 20% of our own funds, and 80% thanks to external funds, mainly via intermediary cultural institutes and international cooperation (AFAC and Swiss cooperation, Al Mawred (Culture Resource ), the British Council and locally based European cultural institutes).

For the company, it is exactly the opposite! We have selected a structural arrangement that includes two companies and an association, which allows us to juggle through the constraints. We have opted for this arrangement because locally, we could not set up income-generating activities that would yield dividends with the association, nor create non-profit projects with the company. So we have blended the structures to reconcile two logics: the logic of impact and societal commitment and the commercial logic.

During the last session of the round tables, one of the problems identified on the subject was the unsustainability of funding.
Sabrina Kamili: This is the most prominent problem that prevents us from sustaining projects and having real impacts. This results in a double problem at the financial level: on the one hand, a problem of cash flow, treasury, and on the other hand, the inability to build stable working capital. When we build a working capital and we manage to keep it proportional to the activity, we can then measure its variation, which is an important indicator of our self-financing capacity. This determines our ability to self-fund our operating cycle, as well as the potential cash surpluses.

The main problem is that we often fail to do this in culture. Why? Because when we finish a cycle and we approach deadlines, we are already limited on the end of budgets. Then, you have to count the time to close narrative and financial reports, to maintain relations with partners, to start again on a cycle of assembly of files, reflection on the development of programmes, fundraising, etc... Along this time, there is no funding. From my point of view, the real solution is to support structures to become autonomous and therefore to build working capital to support salaries and activity in transition periods. It is a logic of financing but, if we had structures capable of managing their own flows, their own investment capacities, that would allow us freedom of choice of funding, we can accept or decline bids. Sometimes, we have to accept offers because we lack this structural autonomy. We are completely dependent on external funding.

Which actors could be solicited in order to share the expertise and the conditions that would enable more independent structures?
Sabrina Kamili: From the point of view of local governance, the priority is to launch the normative reflection at the national level. Regulatory and fiscal frameworks need to be updated so as to give more incentives, and to become attractive and inclusive. This necessarily involves the public authorities. Local government must do its share. In Morocco, the announced increase in budgets dedicated to culture gives hope for improvement. We have two departments within the ministry: culture and heritage. In 2022, the institutional framework has not taken into consideration the empowerment of structures to emerge as independent entities, or the concept of cultural entrepreneurship.

International cooperation actors can also play an important role. We are not going to switch overnight from a model of dependence on external funds to a model of full autonomy of structures. It is therefore necessary to support the transition phase. Calls for projects and support programs could help support this transition phase. Like Mawred's Abbara programme and the support programs of the Drosos foundation, which are very significant in this respect. The objective we are seeking now is to increase, not only the amount of funding, but also the percentage of budget allocations truly dedicated to the structure and its consolidation. This is not the case today. It is rather noted that the share of budgetary allocations dedicated to the structure is decreasing from year to year, particularly in European funds. When we look at calls for projects and look at the levels of funding authorized for salaries and operating costs of the structure, they have decreased from 30% to 10% or even 5% on certain call…There is a paradox between the discourse that targets the structuring of CCS in our regions, the operationalization of this objective and its translation into clear budget lines.

Are the Arab States capable of developing the sector and having a role in its financing?
Sabrina Kamili: Yes, but the question is tricky because the framework for action is quite ambiguous, especially when we include several very different countries in a more or less changing geographical area. (Rather than "Arab world", we should also speak of "Arabic-speaking majority territories", as several participants in the Halaqat programme reminded us. There are non-Arab cultures in our territories, who are not necessarily a minority).

Furthermore, are we talking about States that act out of a sovereign individuality on their territory? Or in a collective and concerted way? What is the right scale for reflection and action? Your question raises others. But one thing is certain, cultural development is linked to the development of territories. It is a matter of centralization. From there, we could undoubtedly define several possible scales of intervention. Cooperation between cities is sometimes more interesting and more successful in terms of cooperation than those created within state or regional frameworks. I am undoubtedly quite radical, but outside the EU, thinking about the question of cultural development on a multi-state scale seems rather chimerical to me.

During the round tables, this question of the links that may exist between diplomacy and culture has long been addressed, with examples of funding conditional upon adopting a political position, especially in the Mashreq.
Sabrina Kamili: It is a fact. Let us say at the outset that all countries use their cultural relations for the achievement of not only cultural but also political objectives. Cultural diplomacy is not the exclusive prerogative of funding countries. That said, the unbalanced relations between the North and the South of the Mediterranean mean that this cultural diplomacy is not exercised on equal terms.

 I also agree that some countries, especially in the Mashreq, suffer the consequences even more. Political instabilities generally weaken the negotiation powers, and cultural exchanges are no exception. The news show us that everything can change quickly, depending on the present state of diplomatic relations between two territories. (Winds of change can blow all of a sudden, then everything is altered).
In Morocco, we have the advantage of having a stable political context. Yet, some turbulences can happen. It should also be said that in the case of cooperation between Morocco and the European Union, culture is seen as a lever for economic inclusion. It is undoubtedly a more “neutral” field of dialogue. Youth unemployment is the pain in the neck for the country, despite the fact that culture and the creativity sectors have a strong power of attraction for this segment of the population. There is therefore a great opportunity to develop bilateral programs.

Culture funding necessarily remains linked to more global cooperation agendas and frameworks. When we consulted professionals in the sector, during our research work, it was clear that the question of political agendas is not necessarily the first cause of frustration. The difficulty is not so much political as it is operational: the actors do not have access to funding, and they do not have the possibility of setting up complex files with the European Union.

If we complain of the European agenda forced upon us, why not define our own roadmap? This, in my opinion, is the role of exchanges between countries of the South. If we want a more balanced relationship in financing relations, we have to come up with a roadmap as clear and precise as that of the European Union and say: “Here are our challenges, what are the areas of convergence?”

Let's shed light on bilateral programmes that have proven a success, match competitive groups to stimulate creation and innovation, and see if there is a logic behind networking that works within our territories and the continent. There is no need to wait for external support to launch these projects, nor for major UNDP-type projects, etc. We often end up realizing that we have injected a lot of money and that it has not yielded the expected outcome.

Another recurring point on the issue of funding is that of defining the role of the expert in funding programmes and the allocation of funds.
Sabrina Kamili: It is a title that the institutions came up with. I wonder how you become an expert in a territory overnight, only because you receive an email that defines you as one. The programme allowed us to discuss this, even if it was not on the agenda we were supposed to discuss. It was exceedingly interesting to see how aligned we were on this issue. How to think about expertise in more vernacular terms, more in tune with the variety of contexts? Those at the end of the line, artists in particular, can also be experts because they can testify to the impact of the programmes. The pooling of knowledge and experiences is also part of expertise.

Upon our sharing experiences, a milestone has already been reached. Today, in meetings and seminars like Halaqat, we hear about the bolstering of local expertise, and not so much about the transfer of skills from North to South. I believe that institutions have understood this - an achievement in itself, even if there is still room for improvement for full recognition of local expertise.

In some cases, local management expertise or capacities are undervalued, hence an expert is imposed to supervise or train the local workers. It's quite sad. We should rather identify the fields of expertise that would be really relevant. It is necessary to renew the banks of experts and to blend foreign and local expertise. For instance, a firm in Brussels can be matched with a firm established in Algiers. We can cooperate in the field of expertise.

The exchange of expertise is of great value, especially when it is difficult to find niche expertise (impact assessment, intellectual property, etc.). It is therefore useful to have funding possibilities and to gain external technical support. For example, in Morocco, we have little experience on how to train advisors of cultural project management, or intermediaries. External expertise is therefore welcome! There are very successful exchange experiences, such as those offered by the Erasmus + and Horizon Europe programmes, which work extremely well in Morocco.

Interview by Dounya Hallaq

Biography Sabrina KAMILI
Cultural actor / Co-founder, K&Co (Morocco)
Cultural entrepreneur based in Casablanca, Morocco. Co-founder of K&Co, a consulting firm specializing in cultural strategies and innovation. Alongside a network of collaborators with cross-disciplinary expertise (cultural engineering, socio-anthropology, development economics), she assists local companies, public authorities and civil society organizations in designing and accelerating innovative cultural projects. Sabrina is attached to Economia, a multi-disciplinary (social, economic and managerial) applied research center. Previously, she was in charge of development and partnerships at the Moroccan NGO "L'Observatoire", which designs participatory projects that aim to bring together artists, researchers and citizens, with a focus on rural locations and city outskirts.