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A question of leadership and influence

 

The conversation around building effective collaboration between economic development professionals and universities is never complete without exploring the issue of leadership, including the question of who should lead and when.

In order to build purposeful and productive partnerships for inclusive growth we need to ask why leadership is often notable for its absence in these debates. Inclusive growth requires inclusive leadership. Inclusive leadership as a motto for various policies seems to be ever present in the public sphere of many businesses, local communities and engagement discourse. Underpinning these reforms has been a desire to create a diverse and inclusive leadership which reflects the society we live and work in.

We know that inclusive and diverse leadership is central to driving economic prosperity and, however contrary to such rhetoric, leadership continues to be detached from the debates. I think it is critical that we challenge existing thinking and practise, because economic, social and cultural recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for change in the role of leaders and leadership which enables us to be creative, innovative and entrepreneurial, which in turn would help us drive, influence and be the enablers of productive partnerships and productive relationships.

Take the principle of inclusive growth. This is an incredibly powerful term but you have to have inclusive groups, and you have to have inclusive leadership if you want to create inclusive growth. We have got to seize the opportunity and grasp the nettle to facilitate and convene conversations around what this means for the user groups in practise. At the end of the day we are all trying to drive through regional innovation, we want to develop skills, and we want to contribute to the productivity agenda. Individually we will make those changes, but collectively you create a movement for that transformation. It is not about consultation, it is about leadership and engagement for purposeful engagement, which involves working with a rich and diverse group of partners from business, industry, community networks and public services, who all have a part to play in the levelling up agenda as we move forward.

We talk a lot about building back better, and shaping a more strategic response, but we cannot lose sight of the effects of Covid-19 and its impact on jobs, health, and skills: this has inevitably had a greater impact on disadvantaged communities, and small and micro businesses have been disproportionately affected which has further compounded the patterns of inequality in our cities and our regions. These challenges open up different kind of challenges for levelling up and innovation which places a focus on revitalising our skills agenda by working with all our stakeholders and our communities to reimagine the kinds of skills and knowledge workers we will need in the future. This will clearly include digital, artificial intelligence and, in York, the bio economy, sustainability and rail will be key.

If we think about new skills, education has a vital role to play, but a one-size-fits-all approach for every region does not work. Economic recovery will require an integrated and holistic vision and strategy. We must also ensure we are putting enterprise skills and entrepreneurialism at the heart of innovation and growth. The work we are doing at the University of York with the LEP, the local authority and entrepreneurs on creating new incubation spaces and developing a York accelerator is a great example of partnership in action. We talk a lot about large businesses, but we cannot lose sight of that entrepreneurial talent and small firms that we have within university students and within entrepreneurial leaders in each of our regions.

It is really important that our universities, our colleges and our cross-sectoral partners come together as anchor institutions to seize the opportunities and potential for innovation and growth. It is only through inclusive leadership that we will be able to build an integrated and nuanced approach to innovation; and enable stronger pathways with our stakeholders to ensure that our research is utilised to create that thriving entrepreneurial business culture and meet the needs of our changing workplaces.

Underpinning this is leadership that is inclusive, entrepreneurial and resilient. By working together to combat inequality we have a genuine opportunity to re-think productivity, provide relevant skills training which is agile and responsive and broadens our capacity to close the skills gaps, inspire a collective approach, and create an environment for knowledge transfer and integration.

Professor Kiran Trehan is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Partnerships and Engagement at the University of York, and a member of the Institute of Economic Development. Professor Trehan was a panellist on the IED’s ‘How can economic development professionals work most effectively with Higher Education institutions to drive growth?’ webinar on 2nd February. Watch again here.

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