Tuesday, November 21, 2006

If Whoopi can do it for Lewisham arts, why can’t it be done for Lewisham business?
Angie Le Mar, the Choice FM DJ and comedian has recently succeeded in getting top American star Whoopi Goldberg to be patron of her new performing arts school in Lewisham, due to be opened in 2008. Great news but where is the equivalent excitement in Lewisham business education?

Lewisham girl Angie has known Whoopi since 1998 after interviewing the comic and actress on the release of her book, called…well…Book. The two got on very well and this development of their relationship can only be a good thing for Lewisham. Bravo! Wouldn’t it have been nice to see a similar development in the area of business education in Lewisham? Why business? Well, last year Lewisham businesses contributed £80.3m to the borough’s coffers in rates, just £2.5m behind the amount raised via council tax (the largest contribution is £221m from central government). If local residents rightfully claim for key support, our businesses should also get some too. A major business success helping to develop the entrepreneurial spirit of the borough would be a good story. The country is already switched on to exciting primetime business shows like `The Apprentice’ and `Dragon’s Den’ so it wouldn’t be a difficult idea to sell. True, there already is a Junior Greenwich, Bexley & Lewisham Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce teamed up with the Greenwich Education Business Partnership (EBP) to promote this concept. The Junior Chamber will resemble the Adult Chamber with a focus on Fair Trade. Participating schools are invited to send up to four students to represent them on the junior board. The idea calls for meetings each half term with support from both the Student Chamber and the Adult Chamber. The aim is to enable pupils to understand how to run an effective and profitable business but with due regard to acceptable moral standards. Yawn.

It seems to me that while it is good for the Chamber to get involved with schools, it could do a lot better. And it need not reinvent the wheel. When I was at school in Jamaica in the mid 1980s, that country’s Chamber of Commerce introduced the American Junior Achievement Programme to the country. For some 15 weeks each year, students in schools across the island started, ran and wound down companies in a big contest against each other. Awards were given for profitability, innovation, professionalism etc. I picked up one after presiding over a school company that made rock cakes. We returned JA$2 investments to students with JA$18 on top…those were the days! And Junior Achievement has a presence in the UK. The British office is called Young Enterprise but there’s no sign of the Chamber of Commerce among its patrons. If Jamaica did it over twenty years ago, why can’t Lewisham do it today?

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