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Creativity is cool, but the numbers matter

I’ve got to admit, I was never particularly interested in maths at school. Even today I’m not one of those people that gets excited at the sight of a pivot table in an Excel spreadsheet. But one thing I have learned as chair of The Ideas Foundation is that the numbers matter.

Small numbers can be just as powerful as big ones. This was underlined on Monday evening when I saw the effect that a number can have. In this case the number was 11. By itself it may not seem significant, but when followed by the words ‘Downing Street’, the effect was dramatic.

As the chancellor of the exchequer, I’m sure George Osborne understands the power of numbers more than most. So when he agreed to allow The Ideas Foundation to celebrate our 11th anniversary at Number 11 Downing Street, I suspect he knew what an impact it would make. For one thing, it practically guaranteed a full house. It also demonstrated that even the most high-powered professional is not immune to taking a ‘selfie’ outside of his front door.

Founded in 2004, by WCRS president Robin Wight, The Ideas Foundation started in Hackney with the simple goal of nurturing creative talent amongst inner city children. It has grown from a borough-wide project to a national programme and in the last academic year alone has supported almost 2000 students.

On Monday night George Osborne welcomed marketing leaders from the UK’s top 100 companies, chiefs of global creative agencies, students, teachers and Ideas Foundation supporters to Downing Street. Unsurprisingly his speech featured some big numbers. He said: “The UK is home to a vibrant and growing creative industries sector, which contributes over £76bn every year to the UK economy. It is driving growth, creating jobs and generating tourism and that’s why the government is ensuring that supporting it, through measures such as tax reliefs, is a key part of its long-term economic plan."

He added: “It is right that the sector ensures that it is truly representative of the whole of the UK and I was delighted to welcome the Ideas Foundation to Downing Street and hear about the fantastic work they are doing to develop career paths for people from all backgrounds.”

I had the honour of speaking straight after the chancellor to explain why I am passionate about the work of the foundation. I highlighted the importance of creativity for young people, and the need to help those who lack access to the industry to overcome the barriers they face by developing their creative skills, building their confidence, and plugging them into supportive networks.

As employment opportunities in the creative industries are growing quickly year on year, we need to ensure as an industry that we are attracting the best talent from the varied backgrounds that best reflect our audiences. Not only is diversity a morally important issue, it’s an economic one too.

Robin Wight issued his challenge to the marketing leaders, asking them to commit to sponsoring an Ideas Foundation brief for £15,000 when setting their 2015/16 budgets. Each brief gives young people involved in our I Am Creative programme an opportunity to respond. The students get to work alongside creative agencies on a real brief. Brands get actionable insights and creative ideas generated by young people, a vitally important consumer group.

Fortunately the response to this appeal from those present was overwhelmingly positive. Many people intuitively know that increasing diversity matters, but recent research by the consultancy firm McKinsey underlines why. Their findings reveal that the most ethnically diverse companies are up to 35 per cent more likely to outperform the national average for their industry. Similarly the most gender diverse businesses outperform industry benchmarks by up to 15 per cent. McKinsey’s study demonstrated that every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity at UK Board level saw an equivalent 3.5 per cent increase in earnings before tax. By increasing diversity, everybody wins.

Make no mistake, creativity is cool, but those numbers matter.

Jonathan Akwue is a partner at Engine London and chair of The Ideas Foundation

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