July 2013 saw a Malaysian and UK delegation embarking on a ground-breaking enterprise tour across England, UK to uncover opportunities to boost entrepreneurial sectors in Asia and Europe.
Launching at the House of Lords at London’s Westminster with a conference on economic prosperity through enterprise education, the demanding 4 day programme led the 20-strong group across England in search of best practice and opportunities for collaboration. Day two was spent at Oxford University, internationally renowned for its role in innovation and entrepreneurship, then the group headed North to Durham, Newcastle/Gateshead and Northumberland to explore social enterprise as a means to revitalising the economy.
A shared vision of supporting and promoting entrepreneurship and enterprise development
This inaugural ‘Knowledge Exchange Tour’ was the result of two years of planning by UK-based International Consultants for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise (ICE) and partners Corporate Capital Communications (CCC) of Malaysia. The two organisations set out to form a unique partnership in 2011 to drive forward their shared vision of supporting and promoting entrepreneurship and enterprise development in the Asia Pacific region, and the UK leg of the Knowledge Exchange Tour marked the beginning of their work together.
ICE founder, Dinah Bennett OBE, explains “ICE’s fundamental aim is to provide new insights into entrepreneurship and enterprise, so we are proud to have been able to welcome Malaysian entrepreneurs, together with delegates representing the Malaysian enterprise education and enterprise policy sectors, for a four day tour which has provided us with an abundance of opportunities to share experience and best practice, and to establish a strong foundation for further Asian-European alliances to develop.”
New trading opportunities were quick to emerge
The opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience, and to provide insights into enterprise and entrepreneurship, were key to the success of the Knowledge Exchange Programme. It is extremely gratifying, however, that by bringing together representatives of business from both continents new trading opportunities have also emerged. A market visit to Malaysia is now being planned for later this year as a follow-up, to further pursue discussions and take advantage of some of this new business potential.
Martin Kay, Managing Director of Northumberland-based Bespoke Concrete products Limited is one business owner that has benefited, believing that the tour was a brilliant opportunity for him and his company on a number of levels. “Having now made connections with Malaysian colleagues I have already been put in touch with a potential Malaysian partner! I’ll now be pro-actively seeking to develop work for the business in Malaysia and will most definitely be taking part in the market visit from the region in November”.
An enriching ‘single community’ approach brings two Continents together
Almost 50 North East businesses and social enterprises participated in the tour in all, giving each the opportunity to explain their own experience, and to gain insight into potential synergies between the Asian and European business markets. Ayesha Harben, one of two CCC Directors participating in the trip, said “The outcome of this inaugral Knowledge Exchange Programme surprised even the most sceptical among us. To me the relationships built, the sharing between participants on both a personal and business level was enriching. Most importantly we pulled together as a single ‘community’ working together to see how business models could be applied to achieve social benefit and development.”
Deb McGargle, Co-Director of innovative legal firm Particular Legal, who attended several events throughout the tour, described the synergies she identified, which she’s confident will lead to new opportunities; “The perfect symmetry between different regions, sectors and countries when it comes to business issues never ceases to amaze me. This was demonstrated yet again at this year’s Malaysia Knowledge Exchange Tour 2013 where round-table discussions and one to one conversations highlighted many of the same barriers to growth, options around exit and general start-up concerns. Far from being grumbles and complaints, the structure of this tour allowed for the sharing of key experiences, understanding how values and ethics can be integrated and offered positive solutions which have been adopted in Malaysia and the UK with representatives from both countries taking away a piece of advice or ‘food for thought’ which can be explored moving forward.”
The opportunities for learning and ideas exchange were undoubtedly two-way, explains Rebecca Howard, CEO of award-winning communication and events company Synergy. She believes that the UK Government has the opportunity to learn from Malaysia’s support for the SME sector, having observed a detailed presentation of Malaysia’s SME Masterplan delivered by Dato Hafsah Hashim, CEO of SME Corporation Malaysia (SME Corp). “They have a series of well thought out strategies, vigorously evaluated and monitored at every stage to ensure they work. They successfully support young people into the workplace and recognise the importance of social enterprise and its significance to the development of the economy. A great example is the star rating introduced in Malaysia that has proved to be a real motivator; SME’s strive to improve and be successful as the higher the star rating they get, the greater access they gain to a myriad of benefits such as investment and premium interest rates.”
In exchange, Dato Hafsah Hashim herself commented on how refreshing it was to have been a part of this Knowledge Exchange Programme. “I was delighted to meet people from more than 40 different businesses, who in a sense subscribed to the SMECorp principle of “what you cannot measure you cannot plan, and what you cannot plan, you cannot manage.”
Social enterprise is embraced as a vehicle for economic recovery
A key element of the Knowledge Exchange Programme was the exploration of social enterprise as a medium for economic recovery. Geof Cox, a social enterprise developer who has been involved in this arena for the past 30 years, set out the scale of the UK social enterprise sector during the first day of the tour. As an employer of more than 2 million people in the UK, Geof explained that it is estimated that social enterprises account for 688,000 businesses, with an estimated combined annual turnover of £163 billion.
Linda Rutter, Founder of The Social Economist, joined the tour in Durham to continue the delegation’s examination of social enterprise. Linda accompanied ICE on a visit to Malaysia two years ago to commence discussions with Malaysian Ministerial Offices to convey her ideas about how social enterprise can add value to local, regional national and global agendas using cross cutting themes such as unemployment, business start up, growth and expansion, social inclusion, job creation and product and service development. Linda recognised this most recent visit to the UK as a natural next step, providing delegates the opportunity to witness first-hand a variety of social enterprises action.
The tour included a visit to the incredibly successful Kenspeckle, a social enterprise housed by the Lynemouth Community Trust which has recently formed a partnership with Selfridges with a view to supplying them with Chocolate Coal. Dato Hafsah Hashim recognised this visit to be a key element of the diverse experiences the tour presented to delegates. She said “During this intense four-day tour which took us from the House of Lords in Westminster to the economically disadvantaged North East of England, we experienced the metamorphosis of businesses and the fact that Social enterprise has the ability to lead economies out of recession. Entrepreneurship-with-a-conscience has given rise to new business models that put the community into the heart of their operations. I saw, for instance how an imaginative social enterprise has helped the community at Lynemouth make that quantum leap from rustic chocolate factory to producing fine confectionary for London’s West end shops.”
Linda was delighted with the impact on the delegation and is excited at the potential impact of the visit. “The delegates on this mission really embraced the concept and could see the value of supporting such enterprises particularly as social enterprise is currently being seen as a recession-led industry and a solution to public sector reform”. This enthusiasm was matched by the Malaysian delegates, and no more so than by Sharifah Najwa Syed Abu Bakar of SME Corporation Malaysia who on return from the trip discussed its potential with an associate and subsequently wrote “I am sure you were as awed as I was in embracing the newfound concept (…to us at least) of Social Entrepreneurship with excellent branding which promotes enterprises to thrive for profit but utilise it responsibly for greater multiplier effect for the community or social causes.”
New approaches set to drive forward entrepreneurship in education
Through a combination of powerful presentations during the day one Symposium on the subject of economic prosperity through enterprise education, followed by an enlightening visit to Oxford University on day two, delegates took the opportunity to absorb themselves in the UK enterprise education agenda during the tour. It quickly became evident that best practice exchange and future collaborations would emerge from early discussions between delegates, and that these are likely to lead to new approaches within Malaysian Universities which, as in the UK, have a pressing need to adapt to the challenge of economic, global and domestic uncertainty.
Two approaches emerged as significant opportunities for knowledge exchange, to drive forward entrepreneurship in Universities: the development of entrepreneurial leadership to accelerate and enable change; and the need to engage more purposefully with business than has been traditionally been practised in the past.
In Oxford, delegates met with Paul Coyle and Gay Haskins, Co-Directors of the highly respected Entrepreneurial University Leaders Programme (EULP), a pioneering executive development programme for senior university leaders. The programme was developed by Allan Gibb OBE and is delivered by NCEE and Universities UK, in partnership with Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Vice Chancellor/President Universiti Teknologi of Malaysia, Tan Sri Dato Sri Prof Ir Dr Sahol Hamid Abu Bakar, believes that the programme is highly relevant, particularly as his University won Entrepreneurial University of the Year in Malaysia for 2013, and he is now intent on developing strategic alliances to enable delivery of the EULP programme to build on this success. As a first step, he will be presenting a case study of the Universiti Teknologi via a live video link on the 2014 UK programme.
As well as his key role in initiating the EULP, Professor Allan Gibb OBE, Emeritus Professor of Entrepreneurship and Small Business at Durham University, spoke during the House of Lords Symposium of the need for Universities, and other organisations such as banks that aspire to support the growth of business, to understand more readily the practice of enterprise and entrepreneurs and ‘where entrepreneurs learn’. Professor Gibb explained that this change of approach will improve Universities’ ability to engage with, and support, entrepreneurship. To read more about Professor Gibb’s presentation on ‘the challenge of working with SMEs’ please click here.
Vimala Sundram, Co-Director of CCC and joint organiser of the tour, reflected that the SME Masterplan for Malaysia was making huge steps to ensure they too don’t make the same mistakes which had been made in the past by Universities, as set out by Professor Gibb, in particular through making way for a dynamic, personal method of engaging with business in preference to a more traditional corporate approach. She explained that “all the learning form this tour supports what Dato Hafsah Hashim spoke of on the first day – especially as we are moving from a focus on manufacturing to the service sector. Lessons and best practice and the speakers that we have heard from have been eye opening and have given us a great deal of food for thought.”
Leigh Sear, Chief Executive of SFEDI Solutions, also expressed satisfaction at how much he had gained from exchanging experiences with Malaysian delegates on the theme of embedding businesses into the development of enterprise education, observing a number of synergies; “It is clear that there are similarities in the challenges and opportunities associated with bringing together businesses and enterprise educators in both countries, for example in developing networks and relationships for both the learners and businesses. To this end, the Chair of SFEDI Group and I will be visiting Malaysia in the near future to continue our initial discussions and explore opportunities for joint-working”.
Adding to these obvious successes, discussions are also now underway for ICECAP to co-host an Enterprise in Higher Education Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia during the Spring of 2014 to bring together specialist and practitioners of entrepreneurial learning to build on the key components of the Knowledge Exchange Programme.
Participants are left “craving for more”
In preparing for the Knowledge Exchange Programme IceCap partners were keen for this to represent the beginning of a journey which would provide ongoing opportunities for learning. Vimala Sundram believes that this mission was accomplished, summing up her thoughts as follows: “Preparing for the Knowledge Exchange Programme was like trying to cook a really special curry that would whet the appetites of all who tasted it and satisfy completely. We wanted to achieve a culinary catharsis of sorts. Our ‘ingredients’ were people, programme and participation. We tried to interest and engage the right people, we developed an inventive and organic programme and we created many opportunities for engagement in symposium and in one-on-one discussion. The result (based on feedback), is a group of decision-makers and entrepreneurs craving for more. People willing to take a fresh leap of faith to savour the sweetness of entrepreneurial knowledge and the redeeming power of social enterprise to energise economies.”
For a daily summary of the Knowledge Exchange Programme activities and outcomes please follow these links: