North East Initiative on Business Ethics

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Hello! I’m Caroline. You’re probably wondering why on earth The Journal has asked me to write a column, particularly because they then said ‘it could be about anything!’ Maybe it’s because I’m an ageing import from the South East who had the good luck to marry a commercial fisherman and bring up his children? Or perhaps it’s because I’m a non-executive director who’s set up a couple of businesses encouraging entrepreneurship and angel-investing, and not for profit initiatives promoting internationalism, education and business ethics? That’s why I was awarded a CBE and a Queen’s Award for Enterprise by Her Majesty. Or even in this age of Brexit it’s because I’m an honorary diplomat (Sweden)? Or there again it could be because of my determination to do everything in my power to create and promote opportunity (particularly for young people) so that they can achieve their potential. Whether it’s one or any of these (or something else altogether) you’ve got me until they stop me.

So, to start with I want to talk about the future and the role I’d like to see our young talented young people play in it. As we know from Durham and Northumbria Universities’ recent report ‘Who runs the north east now?’ they certainly don’t have much visibility or input at the moment! How can we begin to think we can become a powerhouse (or even contribute to one) if we don’t link the dynamism and creativity of youth and difference with the ‘pale, male and stale’ world – the report’s words not mine – of today’s regional governance?

Linked to this is a conversation I had recently with one of my bright young nephews. What, I asked him, would be the one thing he’d like to leave the education system with? Confidence he replied. Did he know that education came from the Latin educare – to draw out? In my interpretation that is to provide an opportunity for people to become the best they can be. We have students in schools in our Colleges and in our Universities wanting to be the best they can be. Shouldn’t we be doing more (much more) to engage them along with our young entrepreneurs, leaders and professionals with the governance of the place they want to live in?

Wearing my North East Initiative on Business Ethics (NIBE) hat I challenged economics students at Emmanuel College to tell us what they wanted their city and their region to be like in the future. What would make it a responsible and ethical place where they’d want to build businesses, enjoy life and bring up their children. Tolerance, inclusion, diversity, safety AND opportunity were recurrent words in a survey participated in by students from all year groups. That was step one. Having read Gratton & Scott’s ‘The 100 year life’ the Emmanuel students have self-organised and want to hold an inter-school debate on whether longevity is a blessing or a curse. It’ll be the students research and arguments of course, but I have a strong feeling that ‘a blessing’ will be the achievement of a fair and responsible place in which all citizens can live, work, play and achieve their potential. A curse – well that’s the frightening option I’m sure we all want to avoid for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

As a start, Emmanuel College students are setting an example by sharing their vision of a fair and inclusive society. I’m confident there are many other initiatives out there led by young people in the region. Can we engage, listen and let them help us build a region that’s a force to be reckoned with? It might even give us a usp – a responsible and ethical north east – a good place to do great business and have a fantastic quality of life. I hope so for our sakes, our children’s future and for the next 100 years.

Caroline Theobald

October 2017

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