…It’s all about jobs, stupid!

I am writing this month’s Postmark en route to New York, where I am chairing the Global Health Advisory Board of the World Economic Forum (WEF).  This twice annual meeting involves a cross-section of senior health, non-health and academic players who provide oversight and direction to the health-related activities of the Forum (more on this in next month’s edition!).  As I travel, I am nursing an in injury I sustained over the weekend playing my regular game of 7-a -side football with other dad’s from my sons’ school.  I had a calf muscle go “ping” on Saturday while stretching to miss another tackle.  This month has seen me celebrate my 52nd Birthday and I think I need to listen more to my body and forget trying to be the Gary Neville of Cranleigh!

Matt - playing rugby for school - just before he got knocked out in a ruck!

Even the young, though, are not immune from trouble – as my younger son Matt was knocked-out in a rugby match a week ago!

Other celebrations this month were Sandy’s birthday as well as the spectacular retirement party of my former colleague Diego Visconti at his castle in Italy.

The floodlit walls of Castello Visconti

This residence has been the stuff of legend for years and it was very exciting to finally see Diego’s pile on top of a Piedmont hillside – it was even more fun to meet so many Italian colleagues past and present, most of whom were involved in the kind of creative entrepreneurial activities which characterised their time in the firm.  Also present were Bill Green, Sir Vernon Ellis and Karl Heinz Floether amongst others to recognise Diego’s remarkable career at Accenture and his impact on the global firm. Sandy and I were entertained by our great friend Gianfranco Casati and his wife Maurizia in their beautiful home in Casteggi, near Pavia in northern Italy.

Gianfranco's home in Casteggi

We took advantage of being in Italy to enjoy the end of summer on Lake Como and we have just returned from a great half term break in the surf of Devon with my 87-year-old father.  Other retirement parties I attended this month (is there a pattern here?) were Royce Bell, held on the deck above the National Theatre, and that of Sir Christopher Bland who is stepping down as Chair of the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon.  I also participated in the AGM of the RSC in Stratford, where I was delighted to be confirmed for a further three years on the Board myself and enjoyed a fantastic performance of the Taming of the Shrew by the Young Persons Shakespeare group. Perhaps the performance highlight of the month though, was seeing Snow Patrol live at the intimate venue of the HMV Forum with Alex last week.  Standing just five or six rows back from the stage we heard them play a lot of old favourites (including Chasing Cars), as well as songs from the new album Fallen Empires due to for release in a couple of weeks – it sounds great!

Snow Patrol at the HMV Forum

Amid all this fun there has been a lot of work this month – with the work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact reaching a crescendo as we looked to complete the first four reports we are publishing in the coming weeks.  This first batch includes two specific programme reports on Heath in Zimbabwe (see last month’s blog) and Climate Change Resilience in Bangladesh, as well as two more overarching studies into Anti-corruption approaches being followed by the the UK Aid Ministry (DFID) and the Commission’s own perspective on Value for Money and Effectiveness in the aid arena.  This latter report includes the criteria which we have developed to assess the various programmes we will be looking at over the next four years.  We have been working hard to build on the vast body of material already existing in this space to produce something which is intelligible and differentiated and which which will work for both the more specialised development sector professional and our wider public and parliamentary stakeholders.  We will be publishing the first of the reports formally in the coming month and are expecting some controversy in what is already a highly-charged debate in the UK on the whole aid issue – I was interested to see that I have already garnered my first reference in Private Eye for our efforts in this space!

The Villa Balbiani on Lake Como

This has also been a big month for the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) of which I am Chair.  We have been working to create a new Leaders Council to tap into the best senior global business thinking on smart, inclusive and responsible growth and I have, alongside our CEO Clare Melford, been recruiting global leaders to the group.  I am delighted that we have gone from a standing start to 25 members over the past three months and are well on the way to the total of 40 we are seeking.  I have been particularly pleased by the representation from Indian industry that we have been able to draw aboard, with CEO’s and Chairs from Tata, Infosys, Eicher, Metro India and Goldman Sachs India joining.  We held the first pair of Leaders Council webinars – split across east and west timezones – and it was excellent to see the level of debate and dialogue we engendered on this inaugural trial of the virtual model we have developed.  The first theme was focused on the the role of business as proactive change agents in the midst of the current turmoil and how to redefine growth in this context.  The importance of focusing on business as the creator of jobs and wealth and taking a more confident stance on this in both the developed and developing world came through clearly.

Sunset viewed from the house in Croyde, Devon

The ideas we discussed were also very resonant with a separate session that I had in Paris with Pierre Nanterme, the CEO of Accenture and his colleagues from Medef – the French business organisation – which has been charged with preparing the B20 meeting that is taking place alongside this week’s G20 meeting in Cannes.  We reviewed a very good paper which has been developed to integrate the perspective of business on solving the economic ills which beset the planet.  We talked a lot about how business and government can work better together to create the environment for more sustainable growth, as well as how business can take a more direct role itself.

These issues of employment and employablity are playing out at the very local level as well as the intergalactic level.  I went straight from these discussion to join a panel organised by the Basingstoke Consortium (a small town in southern England) on how to increase the skills of young people in the region and help to make them more fit-for-purpose for potential employers.  It was interesting to see local education bodies, agencies and businesses thrashing out the necessary interventions at a very local level, while keeping one eye on the macro issues of global competitiveness which are washing across this environment.

October surf and sun - UK style

This month also saw me, in my IBLF role, co-hosting with Gib Bulloch, from Accenture Development Partnerships, and Lord Michael Hastings from KPMG, a convergence seminar in London with business leaders and NGO’s on the changing models for partnership and joint development.  Some 50 attendees, drawn from all sectors joined us for great discussions with the CEO’s of Oxfam and Plan International as well as business perspectives from Barclays, Vodafone, Unilever and BG Group.  Many of the new models which are coming to the fore include co-investment in businesses small and large in the developing world as opposed to reliance on aid.  This is something I have been pushing in the Commission too.  Interestingly, the Under Secretary of State for Development Stephen O’Brien also addressed the group and referred several times to the importance of the new Commission (ICAI) as part of the new landscape of the aid and the government focus on effectiveness.  I have therefore found all my various hats connecting in different but related spaces.  Maybe I will be able to make some sense of it myself sometime!

Consultation Document for Peaslake School - must make sure we get the spelling and grammar right in this!

My other big activity has been working with several of the parents and Trustees of Peaslake School, the village school which I have chaired for the past 18 years, on a consultation document concerning the potential to apply for Free School status.  Government policy in the UK has evolved to encourage state schools to become more independent and be run by local groups of parents and communities.  Ironically our village has been doing this, providing free education for 3-7 years olds, with no government support, for nearly two decades. We do now see a potential opportunity to take advantage of the new policy to return back into the “system” and gain access to the funding available to allow us to develop the school over the next twenty years.  There are though risks to such a model and after creating a unique community spirit around the school over the years we are wary of the impact of becoming overly dependent on the state again.  So over the coming few months we will be conducting a consultation with the 400 households in the village and our supporters over which direction to take.

The amazing view from Diego's castle over a troubled Italy and Eurozone?

Meanwhile this month’s news has been dominated by the ongoing travails in the Eurozone.  As I write this there has been the latest of countless attempts to draw a line under the crisis surrounding the euro and the markets have bounced back somewhat.  And yet we all know that the current plan is no more than a plan at this stage and that, substantial though the sums involved appear to be, they will be sorely tested by any moderate further shock to a key European economy.  The lack of leadership which has been evident in Europe and the continuing weakness of the growth signals in the US do not bode well for the emergence of a robust industrial direction and investment strategy which could stimulate job creation in local, regional and global markets.  The demonstrations in Wall St and St Paul’s London, among others are ill-focused efforts to create a dialogue around “real” growth and the lowering of inequality – and yet they are onto something. As the Libyan crisis comes to its initial denouement and we see Tunisia hold their first truly democratic elections we should not forget that it is the lack of jobs and opportunity, especially for youth, which is the most dangerous of forces.  Political and business leaders will need to turn their minds from debates over improbable sums of phantom money to real actions to build economies soon.

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One Response to …It’s all about jobs, stupid!

  1. Luis Vassallo says:

    Hi Mark. I followed your link from your message in LinkedIn, and I am impressed with your level of activity, you seem busier than ever!

    I liked very much seeing Gianfranco villa, and Diego castle.

    Great beach, and sunset pictures too!!! Congratulations.

    Luis Vassallo

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