Building an inclusive society
12 July 2018 |
There are lots of things that make the UK great, but what does it mean to build a country that’s great for everyone?
What is the best of British? To Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor CBE, it’s fish and chips.
A good answer. But when Business Reporter presses him on the subject, he explains that Britain’s people, not its businesses and institutions, are its greatest asset – regardless of their origin. “We live in a country where 300 languages are spoken,” he says. “We have fantastic innovators. We have blue-sky thinkers. The focus needs to be on people first and businesses and institutions second.”
Allesch-Taylor has co-founded or invested in more than 40 companies across 15 countries over the past 25 years, and now his focus is on mentoring others who want to do the same. In 2016 he was appointed Professor of Practice at King’s College Entrepreneurs’ Institute to help entrepreneurs bring successful business ideas to market.
But he is no Sir Richard Branson, Professor Allesch-Taylor stresses – his role at King’s College, he jokes, was afforded him not because of the number of successful companies he has created but the amount of mistakes that he has made and survived. Though he does recommend that growth rather than mere survival should be a company’s first priority.
British values are about being inclusive
Allesch-Taylor believes British people are innovators of change for the better. What he cares deeply about is making society more inclusive.
“People quite rightly talk about diversity and inclusion,” he says. “They [also] talk about positive and negative discrimination, and there is a lot of conversation about women in the workplace, equal pay, colour, creed and religion.
“There have been huge alarm bells going off for the last five years about the need to be more inclusive across the board. That is one threat that we face as a nation that is not quite going right, in terms of bringing people into the slipstream of the country’s success the city’s success in London’s case.”
The threat of opportunity poverty
The real threat Allesch-Taylor sees in UK business is what he calls opportunity poverty – not “being given the opportunity to fulfil whatever it is you want to”, as he defines it.
“We need to start looking at eliminating opportunity poverty,” he says. “Opportunity poverty is the biggest single threat to continued British growth. We have to start looking at making wealth, training and nurturing more universal across the whole country, not pocketing it in central cities – notably, obviously, London.
“I am not saying [we should] diminish London’s involvement. I am saying, let’s bring everybody else up to the same kind of local standard. We are a big economy. We need to spread it about a bit. The Northern Powerhouse concept is there, HS2 is there, but at the end of the day not enough is being done on the ground, in my view, to eliminate opportunity poverty. It affects you no matter what.
“We fail too many people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. It is a borderline crisis and no one is talking about it.”
Why having a social impact is important
Allesch-Taylor’s own businesses are focused on changing things for the good in this area. In 2010 he started up the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, with the goal of balancing social impact and commercial success, and in 2017 he was named as one of London’s most influential people in the London Evening Standard Progress 1,000 list for his work in the UK and Africa.
He would like to see companies have a more positive social impact, and believes the more businesses – whether they are small or large – share the values of people, the better the ecosystem of business and society will be. “If thousands of businesses begin that journey, the impact will become pretty clear,” he says.
A place for international companies
Important though nurturing British companies is, Allesch-Taylor thinks it is important to make sure the UK remains a welcoming place for soundly run international ones too. “There are fantastic international companies here that employ British [staff]. We really need to make sure that those companies have reasons to be here,” he says. “If we create the right regulatory environment and have a stable currency, then the organisations we want to be here will be here.”
He sees the work international companies such as BMW and Rolls-Royce have done here as staggering. “The British workforce should take great pride in being part of those brands, irrespective of whom the shareholders are,” he says.
Universities encouraging inclusiveness
To continue to make Britain a more inclusive place, Allesch-Taylor believes the UK should be looking at its universities for guidance.
“Universities have fantastic infrastructure, with fantastic cultures of cross-collaboration of intellectual property,” he says. “We are world leaders and best-in-class in many of our universities. They attract fantastic people across the board.”
Universities, he explains, are the starting point where our attitudes to inclusivity can be nurtured and changed – and if more companies share these values, “doing something socially impactful will be seen as the new normal,” rather than the exception.