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SME Centre Of Excellence Launched

A prominent North East businessman has established an SME hub to support entrepreneurs across the region in their start-up and expansion plans.

Ammar Mirza has set up the SME Centre of Excellence on Main Street, Ponteland, offering practical support in areas including accountancy, legal, HR, websites and digital marketing.

The “one-stop-shop” also provides hot-desking and virtual office space, workshops and advice surgeries.

Mirza, who was awarded a CBE in 2014 in recognition of his efforts promoting the North East business community, said: “The North East is a region famed for its entrepreneurial spirit and world-changing inventions, and we continue to make waves internationally in so many sectors through the inspirational work of the businesses we have based here today.

“This really is a fantastic place to do business, and through the opening of the SME Centre of Excellence, we hope to inspire the creation and growth of many more ambitious and successful ventures.”

Councillor Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council, opened the centre and hailed the hub as a “real coup”.

He said: “We see the SME Centre as a great addition to the support on offer to local, national and international businesses.  The service excellence approach is one we will be watching and supporting with interest to see how we can further expand across our growing region to help provide the right support at the right time.”

FROM PRIMARY TO PROSPERITY

With the North East known far and wide for its entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to innovation – spawning inventions like the railway and lightbulb, which have changed the world and the course of history – a ‘can do’ attitude is a staple of the region and its people.

But over the years, with the decline of many of the North East’s traditional industries which have underpinned the livelihoods of generations of families, confidence and aspiration in many areas of the region has understandably been tested.

While new industries are emerging and thriving, with the region being at the very forefront of innovation in the likes of the digital and technology sectors, the ambitions of many people in the North East continue to be modest. But with efforts to address this, now reaping rewards, there are tangible signs of change.

One such effort to address the ambition of people in the North East is the Primary to Prosperity campaign, which combines a number of initiatives aimed at people, at all stages of their education and career, to promote the message that it is never too early or late to advance your ambitions through personal development.

“At a time when the world is becoming more divisive, it is critical that we all work together to collectively, collaboratively and cohesively support everyone within our community.”Ammar Mirza CBE

Primary to Prosperity – which includes the hugely-successful Primary Inspiration through Enterprise (PIE) Project, the region’s biggest-ever enterprise challenge for primary schools, which this year is being extended into secondary schools – also includes innovative projects such as the Cadet Apprenticeship Pathway, which offers apprenticeship opportunities to cadets, and a wellbeing and business boot camp for unemployed people, through to offering a ‘professional MOT’ for people already in the world of work. Such an all-encompassing and holistic project has been created to address aspiration and skills, particularly soft skills, at all stages of life, to offer support and encouragement to people no matter their age, background or circumstances.

Ammar Mirza CBE, founder of the Primary to Prosperity campaign, understands the struggles many people and families face in striving for success when the odds seem stacked against them. Having been brought up in Newcastle’s West End and enduring hardship for much of his formative years, he then went on to become a single parent aged 22, working all hours to support his daughter. But he believes his own experience shows that anything is possible with commitment and determination.

“I was brought up in a big, interesting family – where mum and dad were teachers and eloped to England from Pakistan, but my dad was already married so my step-mum followed them. We lived in a house in Arthur’s Hill and my step-mum lived next door. I had three step-sisters, two sisters and three brothers” he said.

“Life changed quite dramatically from being an affluent family with a number of thriving business interests to one day, sadly, my father going off to Saudi Arabia to teach and took my stepmum and all my sisters, leaving my mother with nothing. We had absolutely nothing, we lived in poverty; the highlight of our week was being able to have Jammy Dodgers on a weekend and at Christmas we bought the Radio Times to see what was on TV. My mum worked 18-hour days to try and provide for us all. I was just young, probably 7 or 8, but I remember it so clearly. My mum was a huge inspiration, an amazing person, I was very inspired by her and how hard she worked and even through our hardship we had a very loving upbringing.”

“I remember even at that time thinking that I wanted to work, I didn’t want to be poor. I got my first Saturday job aged 11 in a shop on the West Road. I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career, but whatever it was I wanted to be the best at it and make money. People often think it is a controversial thing to admit to want to make money or encourage others to do so. “It isn’t all about the money” people say, but it is usually those with money that say this. We need to help all of our future generations to recognise and appreciate that money isn’t a bad thing and making money provides options, addresses poverty and deprivation, and reduces social challenges.”

“My mum worked so hard and went on to build a property portfolio, which she earned the money to buy as she didn’t believe in mortgages, I am so proud of what she did. But I think that when you have lived in poverty at some stage of your life, that never really leaves you. Even when she was retired and should have been living very comfortably, she was so frugal and would use her free bus pass to go from one side of Newcastle to the other as she had found a shop where the bread was 4p cheaper.”

After a brief stint working in London for the Civil Service, Ammar began a career with United Artists – which went on to become communications giant Telewest – and worked his way up to become responsible for IT service delivery nationally. However, such a demanding job had to be balanced against another role – that of being a single parent to his daughter Yasmin.

“It was difficult; being a single working parent is very challenging. For me, something that was very important for my daughter was getting a good education, I firmly believe good education is at the root of everything. I worked so hard to be able to educate her privately. Was it the best thing for her, I’m not sure. But as a parent, you will always do what you think is best for your children.”

That belief in education has inspired much of Ammar’s community work over the years, which has seen him dedicate huge amounts of time voluntarily to helping communities, charities, businesses and young people, and saw him acknowledged with a CBE in 2014 followed by numerous accolades and awards from prestigious organisations and institutes including the IOD, House of Lords, Maserati top 100 and Northern Powerhouse to name but a few. Among his many achievements within the North East community are working with local authorities to secure funding for the City Deal, representing the private sector on Local Strategic Partnerships, spending 9 years at Your Homes Newcastle leading commercial activities so that more money could be re-invested in social housing to improve local lives, and setting up Asian Business Connexions to support and promote the region’s thriving community. He is also a trustee on a number of charities, a visiting Professor at Newcastle University and a passionate supporter of helping businesses start up and grow through his voluntary role as a board member at the North East LEP.

Leading by example, Ammar has dedicated a significant amount of time on personal and professional development, undertaking a Post Graduate Diploma in Leadership and Management to go on and become a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management. Thereafter, even going back to study full-time in 2014, whilst managing several businesses to gain an MBA with a distinction, followed my numerous distant learn and practitioner courses. Ammar’s unquenchable thirst for learning never being satisfied, helping inform the various programmes and initiatives that Ammar has gone on to develop and deliver.

Ammar’s business successes has taken him across the globe working with the likes of Microsoft, Barclays, McDonalds alongside helping launch several hundred new businesses, supporting existing businesses to grow, and turning around a number of failing organisations. A qualified programme and project manager, and a leading business management consultant, Ammar has worked across the public, private and third sectors and is now concentrating his efforts on developing bi-lateral trade links with India, opening up opportunities for North East businesses looking to explore international markets.

Recognising the importance that industry plays on influencing education, in his role as Chair of Governors at Tyneview Primary School in Walker, Newcastle, Ammar saw an opportunity to positively engage both children and parents in promoting aspiration and attainment, and spearheaded the creation of the Big PIE Challenge. Now rolled out to scores of schools across the whole North East region, it has seen thousands of children being engaged in a business and enterprise challenge which sees them rewarded with a vocational qualification at the end of it.

“The Big PIE Challenge has been so successful and businesses have really got on board with it. It was important to me that we didn’t go after backing from the likes of Richard Branson or Alan Sugar, we wanted local North East businesses, names that kids and their parents had seen and would recognise. And the North East business community has been brilliant, we have so many backers, a wonderful trust board, and we are continuing to grow. We have now just gone into secondary schools, which gives the opportunity to build on prior achievements. So if a child gets an entry level qualification in primary school, they can then aim for Level One in secondary school,” he said.

“And with PIE, it is very much about engaging with the parents too, helping them to understand the benefit of education and developing life skills and business skills from a very early age. We had a big awards ceremony where the kids were presented certificates by Sir John Hall, and through achieving their qualification aged 9, 10 or 11, many of those kids had become better qualified than their parents. To open their eyes to achievement and reward at such an early age is very valuable.”

Equally, the Cadet Apprenticeship Pathway is another means of engaging young people at crucial stages of their development, by showcasing the benefits of being a cadet and in securing an apprenticeship.

“Our armed forces are amazing and provide so many opportunities to young people, extra curricular activities in particular. Only around 5-10 percent of cadets actually go on to join the armed forces, so the project isn’t really about a career in the forces, it’s about the life skills it can teach you, in going on to do whatever you want to do,” said Ammar. “And from the point of view of a business, which we put these young people in front of as part of the Cadet Apprenticeship Pathway, they are seeing a work-ready young person who might well be right for their organisation. The Apprentice Levy introduced by the government has made apprenticeships something that many businesses are now getting involved with, so there are benefits all round to this project.”

With the continued growth of Primary to Prosperity that incorporates peer tutoring, using culture and arts including the Newcastle Film Festival to engage with young people, mentoring for individuals looking to grow their businesses and underpinned by the particular success of the PIE Project, Ammar is committed to championing aspiration in the North East.

“We need to encourage people to be the best they can be and provide them with, or show them where, to find the help and support to be able to do that. We are providing support at all stages of life, particularly at the very early stages, in a holistic fashion – I want to show it is never too late and that nothing is a barrier,” he said.

“Whilst I am now very happily married with an amazingly supportive wife and a five year old son, I have come from a very challenging background encountering various trials and tribulations. Probably because of these experiences, I now try to be generous with my time and my money. I spend a lot of my time, two or three days every week, helping and supporting good causes or trying to benefit the North East, which I absolutely love. My projects are financed by funding that I secure or else I pay for myself, so there is no cost to the people who use them. I am absolutely committed to this and to helping the North East and the people who live here to realise their talents and potential and to help them succeed.”

“At a time when the world is becoming more divisive, it is critical that we all work together to collectively, collaboratively and cohesively support everyone within our community, whether it is volunteering, offering opportunities to those less fortunate, or simply supporting existing activities, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to champion our North East and all that is great within it.”

Ammar Mirza CBE is the founder and chairman of Asian Business Connexions, Board member of North East LEP and holds various other positions across the private, public and third sectors.

A serial entrepreneur acclaimed for his work championing the region’s Asian business community has been elected onto the board of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Ammar Mirza CBE replaces Jeremy Middleton who stood down from the board in September.

Ammar is a leadership, management and business management consultant through his company AmmarM (UK) Limited and has an infectious passion for the North East.

He has helped establish hundreds of new businesses in the North East with interests and investments across a number of sectors.

As chairman and founder of Asian Business Connexions (ABC), a not for profit social enterprise, he has helped make a major social and economic contribution to community cohesion and economic growth.

The organisation connects, supports and promotes Asian companies, using its expertise to deliver best business practice for its members.

Ammar already has two years’ experience as a member of the LEP’s Business Growth Board, where he has worked hard to develop a cohesive business ecosystem that helps firms start up and sustain growth through collaboration with other companies. He said:

I am delighted to play a more active role in supporting the economic growth of our region.  The North East has some incredible strengths and the LEP offers a great opportunity to positively exploit these for the benefit of the whole community.

Since I have been involved in the LEP through the Business Growth Board I have seen first-hand the positive impact, through active partnership working, the organisation has had on helping create more and better jobs.

Through my experience, expertise and network I look forward to making more of a contribution to help create an environment where SMEs thrive.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Chair, said: “Ammar is a highly respected and talented businessman with a deep knowledge of the regional economy through his entrepreneurial activities and promotion of the Asian business community in particular.

“He understands the North East LEP and its strategic economic development agenda and will be a hugely beneficial appointment to our board.”

Simon Hanson, FSB Development Manager, said: “We’re delighted to see Ammar’s appointment to the North East LEP Board which will ensure that the voice of smaller businesses is heard and acted on.

“Ammar brings huge experience and a driving passion to ensure that the North East remains the best place to start, develop and grow a business.”

Ammar Mirza CBE Appointed Visiting Professor of Innovation and Enterprise

Newcastle University Business School is delighted to announce the annual David Goldman Lecture will be given by the 2015-16 David Goldman Visiting Professor of Innovation and Enterprise, Ammar Mirza, CBE.

Ammar is Chairman and Founder of Asian Business Connexions, a not for profit social enterprise that aims to connect, support and promote the Asian and wider community.

He is an active member of the north east business community in all sectors, holding a plethora of Chair positions and board memberships including: Chair of Newcastle Progression Forum, Business Support Board Member on the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) and Board Member of Sunderland’s Business Improvement District (BID), to name a few.

Ammar is also Patron of Charlie Bear for Cancer Care at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care and a newly appointed Trustee of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM).

Throughout his career Ammar has continued his professional development and is a passionate believer in linking education to enterprise, recently helping to launch the Primary Inspiration through Enterprise Project.

In 2014 Ammar was awarded a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for Outstanding Services to Business and the Community.

View Ammar’s full biography  (PDF)

Ammar Mirza wants the North East to be the most learned region… by December

In August, acclaimed North East entrepreneur Ammar Mirza launched his latest project, The Big Learn. It’s another opportunity for Ammar, awarded the CBE in 2014 for his efforts supporting the region’s business community, to promote the universal benefits of lifelong learning — the importance of which, he says, “cannot be overstated.” Working in collaboration with the PIE (Primary Inspiration through Enterprise) Charity, which he helped establish in 2013, and Learning Curve Group (LCG), The Big Learn aims to sign up 50,000 workers in five months, to a selection of fully funded and accredited courses. Ammar explains the rationale behind the project:

“Often, when people gain employment, their personal and professional development stops. Most SMEs, for example, don’t have a training budget. Any support available to employees is usually invested in getting them to complete compliance rather than development related qualifications and involves incurring the cost of giving staff days off or backfilling their absence. Signing up to The Big Learn means employers are gaining access to a variety of practical qualifications which they can offer employees to help improve their skills, their professional and personal approach to work, and ultimately their careers.”

The Big Learn is aimed at the North of England and tied into the broader objective of eradicating the North-South divide. Ammar admits the target of acquiring 50,000 learners across the North East, North West and North Yorkshire is ambitious given the short time frame but he’s confident that businesses, once they understand the benefits, will see joining The Big Learn is a “no brainer.” As well as the courses being funded and NCFE accredited, employees don’t have to worry about managing their time between doing a job and completing qualifications as they’re able to study when is most convenient for them. Beyond registering, the involvement of the employer is minimal, and the cost non-existent.

All types of companies (public, private, SME, blue-chip) and all pay grades from CEO down can sign up.  Employees are free to choose the courses they wish to study, which range from specific training areas such as lean organisation management, customer service and leading a team as well as “universal” programmes including mental health awareness, managing difficult behaviour, and equality and diversity. These Level 2 courses (between a GCSE and an A Level) are taught through distance learning with an assigned tutor and workbooks are completed either online or in print. Significantly, there are no restrictions on how many qualifications you can complete within the five-month period which, Ammar hopes will create momentum around the initiative:

“It’s like running — people achieve one level and then want to aim higher. Level 2 is considered challenging, but not too difficult so it shouldn’t deter people from giving it a go.  All courses last eight weeks, though it’s possible to finish them in one week if you put the hours in, and move onto another. Government acknowledges that the biggest challenge in growing the economy is the lack of skills and therefore the biggest opportunity to overcome a variety of social and economic problems is training skills — most social problems after all are traced back to poor education and learning.  By gaining a formal vocational qualification, we hope people will be encouraged to continue their lifelong learning and get further qualifications.”

After receiving funding from the Department for Education’s Adult Education Budget to support employers and employees, LCG immediately approached Ammar to discuss ways to promote their courses and The Big Learn was born. Ammar’s involvement this year has been focused on gaining advocates across the three major regions as well as acquiring Big Learn champions to help push the message out. Rightly so, the initiative has been well received. Most MPs in the North East are now supporting it led by Dave Anderson, the ex-MP for Blaydon and Shadow Secretary of State. Lots of public sector organisations are involved too, such as County Durham and Darlington Fire Brigade through their Chief Fire Officer, Stuart Errington. Clare Williams, Regional Northern Secretary for Unison, alongside a range of businesses including Nigel Wright Recruitment, Northumbria Water, Intu Metro Centre and the Federation of Small Business (FSB) are also recent supporters. Ammar confirmed by the end of August, around 600 organisations had signed up. He’s currently tracking sign-up numbers in the three regions to try and create competition across the North of England stating: “I want to see the North East become the most learned area in the UK.”

The Big Learn, Ammar highlighted, resonates with his whole ethos and approach to lifelong learning. The project has also enabled him to acknowledge five years since The PIE Charity was launched — the five months and fifty thousand people parameters are a nod to that anniversary — and a personal payoff is the agreed funding by Campaign of five thousand qualifications for young people via the PIE Charity. Ammar is also using The Big Learn platform to promote the Mental Health Awareness course which he believes anyone in a modern work environment would benefit from completing. In Ammar’s words: “Mental health related absence costs companies an estimated £500 million per year. It’s a massive issue and creating better awareness will not only help employers but society in general. Mental Health Awareness Day takes place on the 10th of October and we are encouraging everyone to sign up to this course before this day, which will not only raise the profile but provide a practical solution on tackling this epidemic.”

Those who gain their mental health awareness qualification, for example, learn to identify the symptoms of depression, post-natal depression and bipolar disorder; understand how they affect an individual’s stress and anxiety and discover ways to deal with these behaviours. Ammar noted: “We spend most of the time at work and are usually unaware if a colleague suffers from mental health issues, or we don’t know how to react in confrontational situations. The potential benefits of having employees with these qualifications should be attractive to any employer.”  

The Big Learn plans to keep supporting and raising awareness of lifelong learning beyond its five-month funding deadline. Ammar has already established links with colleges and universities, in addition to LCG, so the project can assist learners to investigate further qualifications in 2018 and beyond. He’s hopeful, too, businesses will offer to fund employees to progress to the next levels of their chosen courses: “We want to create a movement for people to recognise and realise the importance of personal and professional development and how this is the basis for lifelong success.”

To find out more about The Big Learn and sign up your business today, please visit: www.thebiglearn.uk/

SME Centre Of Excellence Launched

A prominent North East businessman has established an SME hub to support entrepreneurs across the region in their start-up and expansion plans.

Ammar Mirza has set up the SME Centre of Excellence on Main Street, Ponteland, offering practical support in areas including accountancy, legal, HR, websites and digital marketing.

The “one-stop-shop” also provides hot-desking and virtual office space, workshops and advice surgeries.

Mirza, who was awarded a CBE in 2014 in recognition of his efforts promoting the North East business community, said: “The North East is a region famed for its entrepreneurial spirit and world-changing inventions, and we continue to make waves internationally in so many sectors through the inspirational work of the businesses we have based here today.

“This really is a fantastic place to do business, and through the opening of the SME Centre of Excellence, we hope to inspire the creation and growth of many more ambitious and successful ventures.”

Councillor Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council, opened the centre and hailed the hub as a “real coup”.

He said: “We see the SME Centre as a great addition to the support on offer to local, national and international businesses.  The service excellence approach is one we will be watching and supporting with interest to see how we can further expand across our growing region to help provide the right support at the right time.”

FROM PRIMARY TO PROSPERITY

With the North East known far and wide for its entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to innovation – spawning inventions like the railway and lightbulb, which have changed the world and the course of history – a ‘can do’ attitude is a staple of the region and its people.

But over the years, with the decline of many of the North East’s traditional industries which have underpinned the livelihoods of generations of families, confidence and aspiration in many areas of the region has understandably been tested.

While new industries are emerging and thriving, with the region being at the very forefront of innovation in the likes of the digital and technology sectors, the ambitions of many people in the North East continue to be modest. But with efforts to address this, now reaping rewards, there are tangible signs of change.

One such effort to address the ambition of people in the North East is the Primary to Prosperity campaign, which combines a number of initiatives aimed at people, at all stages of their education and career, to promote the message that it is never too early or late to advance your ambitions through personal development.

“At a time when the world is becoming more divisive, it is critical that we all work together to collectively, collaboratively and cohesively support everyone within our community.”Ammar Mirza CBE

Primary to Prosperity – which includes the hugely-successful Primary Inspiration through Enterprise (PIE) Project, the region’s biggest-ever enterprise challenge for primary schools, which this year is being extended into secondary schools – also includes innovative projects such as the Cadet Apprenticeship Pathway, which offers apprenticeship opportunities to cadets, and a wellbeing and business boot camp for unemployed people, through to offering a ‘professional MOT’ for people already in the world of work. Such an all-encompassing and holistic project has been created to address aspiration and skills, particularly soft skills, at all stages of life, to offer support and encouragement to people no matter their age, background or circumstances.

Ammar Mirza CBE, founder of the Primary to Prosperity campaign, understands the struggles many people and families face in striving for success when the odds seem stacked against them. Having been brought up in Newcastle’s West End and enduring hardship for much of his formative years, he then went on to become a single parent aged 22, working all hours to support his daughter. But he believes his own experience shows that anything is possible with commitment and determination.

“I was brought up in a big, interesting family – where mum and dad were teachers and eloped to England from Pakistan, but my dad was already married so my step-mum followed them. We lived in a house in Arthur’s Hill and my step-mum lived next door. I had three step-sisters, two sisters and three brothers” he said.

“Life changed quite dramatically from being an affluent family with a number of thriving business interests to one day, sadly, my father going off to Saudi Arabia to teach and took my stepmum and all my sisters, leaving my mother with nothing. We had absolutely nothing, we lived in poverty; the highlight of our week was being able to have Jammy Dodgers on a weekend and at Christmas we bought the Radio Times to see what was on TV. My mum worked 18-hour days to try and provide for us all. I was just young, probably 7 or 8, but I remember it so clearly. My mum was a huge inspiration, an amazing person, I was very inspired by her and how hard she worked and even through our hardship we had a very loving upbringing.”

“I remember even at that time thinking that I wanted to work, I didn’t want to be poor. I got my first Saturday job aged 11 in a shop on the West Road. I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career, but whatever it was I wanted to be the best at it and make money. People often think it is a controversial thing to admit to want to make money or encourage others to do so. “It isn’t all about the money” people say, but it is usually those with money that say this. We need to help all of our future generations to recognise and appreciate that money isn’t a bad thing and making money provides options, addresses poverty and deprivation, and reduces social challenges.”

“My mum worked so hard and went on to build a property portfolio, which she earned the money to buy as she didn’t believe in mortgages, I am so proud of what she did. But I think that when you have lived in poverty at some stage of your life, that never really leaves you. Even when she was retired and should have been living very comfortably, she was so frugal and would use her free bus pass to go from one side of Newcastle to the other as she had found a shop where the bread was 4p cheaper.”

After a brief stint working in London for the Civil Service, Ammar began a career with United Artists – which went on to become communications giant Telewest – and worked his way up to become responsible for IT service delivery nationally. However, such a demanding job had to be balanced against another role – that of being a single parent to his daughter Yasmin.

“It was difficult; being a single working parent is very challenging. For me, something that was very important for my daughter was getting a good education, I firmly believe good education is at the root of everything. I worked so hard to be able to educate her privately. Was it the best thing for her, I’m not sure. But as a parent, you will always do what you think is best for your children.”

That belief in education has inspired much of Ammar’s community work over the years, which has seen him dedicate huge amounts of time voluntarily to helping communities, charities, businesses and young people, and saw him acknowledged with a CBE in 2014 followed by numerous accolades and awards from prestigious organisations and institutes including the IOD, House of Lords, Maserati top 100 and Northern Powerhouse to name but a few. Among his many achievements within the North East community are working with local authorities to secure funding for the City Deal, representing the private sector on Local Strategic Partnerships, spending 9 years at Your Homes Newcastle leading commercial activities so that more money could be re-invested in social housing to improve local lives, and setting up Asian Business Connexions to support and promote the region’s thriving community. He is also a trustee on a number of charities, a visiting Professor at Newcastle University and a passionate supporter of helping businesses start up and grow through his voluntary role as a board member at the North East LEP.

Leading by example, Ammar has dedicated a significant amount of time on personal and professional development, undertaking a Post Graduate Diploma in Leadership and Management to go on and become a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management. Thereafter, even going back to study full-time in 2014, whilst managing several businesses to gain an MBA with a distinction, followed my numerous distant learn and practitioner courses. Ammar’s unquenchable thirst for learning never being satisfied, helping inform the various programmes and initiatives that Ammar has gone on to develop and deliver.

Ammar’s business successes has taken him across the globe working with the likes of Microsoft, Barclays, McDonalds alongside helping launch several hundred new businesses, supporting existing businesses to grow, and turning around a number of failing organisations. A qualified programme and project manager, and a leading business management consultant, Ammar has worked across the public, private and third sectors and is now concentrating his efforts on developing bi-lateral trade links with India, opening up opportunities for North East businesses looking to explore international markets.

Recognising the importance that industry plays on influencing education, in his role as Chair of Governors at Tyneview Primary School in Walker, Newcastle, Ammar saw an opportunity to positively engage both children and parents in promoting aspiration and attainment, and spearheaded the creation of the Big PIE Challenge. Now rolled out to scores of schools across the whole North East region, it has seen thousands of children being engaged in a business and enterprise challenge which sees them rewarded with a vocational qualification at the end of it.

“The Big PIE Challenge has been so successful and businesses have really got on board with it. It was important to me that we didn’t go after backing from the likes of Richard Branson or Alan Sugar, we wanted local North East businesses, names that kids and their parents had seen and would recognise. And the North East business community has been brilliant, we have so many backers, a wonderful trust board, and we are continuing to grow. We have now just gone into secondary schools, which gives the opportunity to build on prior achievements. So if a child gets an entry level qualification in primary school, they can then aim for Level One in secondary school,” he said.

“And with PIE, it is very much about engaging with the parents too, helping them to understand the benefit of education and developing life skills and business skills from a very early age. We had a big awards ceremony where the kids were presented certificates by Sir John Hall, and through achieving their qualification aged 9, 10 or 11, many of those kids had become better qualified than their parents. To open their eyes to achievement and reward at such an early age is very valuable.”

Equally, the Cadet Apprenticeship Pathway is another means of engaging young people at crucial stages of their development, by showcasing the benefits of being a cadet and in securing an apprenticeship.

“Our armed forces are amazing and provide so many opportunities to young people, extra curricular activities in particular. Only around 5-10 percent of cadets actually go on to join the armed forces, so the project isn’t really about a career in the forces, it’s about the life skills it can teach you, in going on to do whatever you want to do,” said Ammar. “And from the point of view of a business, which we put these young people in front of as part of the Cadet Apprenticeship Pathway, they are seeing a work-ready young person who might well be right for their organisation. The Apprentice Levy introduced by the government has made apprenticeships something that many businesses are now getting involved with, so there are benefits all round to this project.”

With the continued growth of Primary to Prosperity that incorporates peer tutoring, using culture and arts including the Newcastle Film Festival to engage with young people, mentoring for individuals looking to grow their businesses and underpinned by the particular success of the PIE Project, Ammar is committed to championing aspiration in the North East.

“We need to encourage people to be the best they can be and provide them with, or show them where, to find the help and support to be able to do that. We are providing support at all stages of life, particularly at the very early stages, in a holistic fashion – I want to show it is never too late and that nothing is a barrier,” he said.

“Whilst I am now very happily married with an amazingly supportive wife and a five year old son, I have come from a very challenging background encountering various trials and tribulations. Probably because of these experiences, I now try to be generous with my time and my money. I spend a lot of my time, two or three days every week, helping and supporting good causes or trying to benefit the North East, which I absolutely love. My projects are financed by funding that I secure or else I pay for myself, so there is no cost to the people who use them. I am absolutely committed to this and to helping the North East and the people who live here to realise their talents and potential and to help them succeed.”

“At a time when the world is becoming more divisive, it is critical that we all work together to collectively, collaboratively and cohesively support everyone within our community, whether it is volunteering, offering opportunities to those less fortunate, or simply supporting existing activities, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to champion our North East and all that is great within it.”

Ammar Mirza CBE is the founder and chairman of Asian Business Connexions, Board member of North East LEP and holds various other positions across the private, public and third sectors.

A serial entrepreneur acclaimed for his work championing the region’s Asian business community has been elected onto the board of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Ammar Mirza CBE replaces Jeremy Middleton who stood down from the board in September.

Ammar is a leadership, management and business management consultant through his company AmmarM (UK) Limited and has an infectious passion for the North East.

He has helped establish hundreds of new businesses in the North East with interests and investments across a number of sectors.

As chairman and founder of Asian Business Connexions (ABC), a not for profit social enterprise, he has helped make a major social and economic contribution to community cohesion and economic growth.

The organisation connects, supports and promotes Asian companies, using its expertise to deliver best business practice for its members.

Ammar already has two years’ experience as a member of the LEP’s Business Growth Board, where he has worked hard to develop a cohesive business ecosystem that helps firms start up and sustain growth through collaboration with other companies. He said:

I am delighted to play a more active role in supporting the economic growth of our region.  The North East has some incredible strengths and the LEP offers a great opportunity to positively exploit these for the benefit of the whole community.

Since I have been involved in the LEP through the Business Growth Board I have seen first-hand the positive impact, through active partnership working, the organisation has had on helping create more and better jobs.

Through my experience, expertise and network I look forward to making more of a contribution to help create an environment where SMEs thrive.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Chair, said: “Ammar is a highly respected and talented businessman with a deep knowledge of the regional economy through his entrepreneurial activities and promotion of the Asian business community in particular.

“He understands the North East LEP and its strategic economic development agenda and will be a hugely beneficial appointment to our board.”

Simon Hanson, FSB Development Manager, said: “We’re delighted to see Ammar’s appointment to the North East LEP Board which will ensure that the voice of smaller businesses is heard and acted on.

“Ammar brings huge experience and a driving passion to ensure that the North East remains the best place to start, develop and grow a business.”

Ammar Mirza CBE Appointed Visiting Professor of Innovation and Enterprise

Newcastle University Business School is delighted to announce the annual David Goldman Lecture will be given by the 2015-16 David Goldman Visiting Professor of Innovation and Enterprise, Ammar Mirza, CBE.

Ammar is Chairman and Founder of Asian Business Connexions, a not for profit social enterprise that aims to connect, support and promote the Asian and wider community.

He is an active member of the north east business community in all sectors, holding a plethora of Chair positions and board memberships including: Chair of Newcastle Progression Forum, Business Support Board Member on the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) and Board Member of Sunderland’s Business Improvement District (BID), to name a few.

Ammar is also Patron of Charlie Bear for Cancer Care at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care and a newly appointed Trustee of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM).

Throughout his career Ammar has continued his professional development and is a passionate believer in linking education to enterprise, recently helping to launch the Primary Inspiration through Enterprise Project.

In 2014 Ammar was awarded a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for Outstanding Services to Business and the Community.

View Ammar’s full biography  (PDF)

Ammar Mirza wants the North East to be the most learned region… by December

In August, acclaimed North East entrepreneur Ammar Mirza launched his latest project, The Big Learn. It’s another opportunity for Ammar, awarded the CBE in 2014 for his efforts supporting the region’s business community, to promote the universal benefits of lifelong learning — the importance of which, he says, “cannot be overstated.” Working in collaboration with the PIE (Primary Inspiration through Enterprise) Charity, which he helped establish in 2013, and Learning Curve Group (LCG), The Big Learn aims to sign up 50,000 workers in five months, to a selection of fully funded and accredited courses. Ammar explains the rationale behind the project:

“Often, when people gain employment, their personal and professional development stops. Most SMEs, for example, don’t have a training budget. Any support available to employees is usually invested in getting them to complete compliance rather than development related qualifications and involves incurring the cost of giving staff days off or backfilling their absence. Signing up to The Big Learn means employers are gaining access to a variety of practical qualifications which they can offer employees to help improve their skills, their professional and personal approach to work, and ultimately their careers.”

The Big Learn is aimed at the North of England and tied into the broader objective of eradicating the North-South divide. Ammar admits the target of acquiring 50,000 learners across the North East, North West and North Yorkshire is ambitious given the short time frame but he’s confident that businesses, once they understand the benefits, will see joining The Big Learn is a “no brainer.” As well as the courses being funded and NCFE accredited, employees don’t have to worry about managing their time between doing a job and completing qualifications as they’re able to study when is most convenient for them. Beyond registering, the involvement of the employer is minimal, and the cost non-existent.

All types of companies (public, private, SME, blue-chip) and all pay grades from CEO down can sign up.  Employees are free to choose the courses they wish to study, which range from specific training areas such as lean organisation management, customer service and leading a team as well as “universal” programmes including mental health awareness, managing difficult behaviour, and equality and diversity. These Level 2 courses (between a GCSE and an A Level) are taught through distance learning with an assigned tutor and workbooks are completed either online or in print. Significantly, there are no restrictions on how many qualifications you can complete within the five-month period which, Ammar hopes will create momentum around the initiative:

“It’s like running — people achieve one level and then want to aim higher. Level 2 is considered challenging, but not too difficult so it shouldn’t deter people from giving it a go.  All courses last eight weeks, though it’s possible to finish them in one week if you put the hours in, and move onto another. Government acknowledges that the biggest challenge in growing the economy is the lack of skills and therefore the biggest opportunity to overcome a variety of social and economic problems is training skills — most social problems after all are traced back to poor education and learning.  By gaining a formal vocational qualification, we hope people will be encouraged to continue their lifelong learning and get further qualifications.”

After receiving funding from the Department for Education’s Adult Education Budget to support employers and employees, LCG immediately approached Ammar to discuss ways to promote their courses and The Big Learn was born. Ammar’s involvement this year has been focused on gaining advocates across the three major regions as well as acquiring Big Learn champions to help push the message out. Rightly so, the initiative has been well received. Most MPs in the North East are now supporting it led by Dave Anderson, the ex-MP for Blaydon and Shadow Secretary of State. Lots of public sector organisations are involved too, such as County Durham and Darlington Fire Brigade through their Chief Fire Officer, Stuart Errington. Clare Williams, Regional Northern Secretary for Unison, alongside a range of businesses including Nigel Wright Recruitment, Northumbria Water, Intu Metro Centre and the Federation of Small Business (FSB) are also recent supporters. Ammar confirmed by the end of August, around 600 organisations had signed up. He’s currently tracking sign-up numbers in the three regions to try and create competition across the North of England stating: “I want to see the North East become the most learned area in the UK.”

The Big Learn, Ammar highlighted, resonates with his whole ethos and approach to lifelong learning. The project has also enabled him to acknowledge five years since The PIE Charity was launched — the five months and fifty thousand people parameters are a nod to that anniversary — and a personal payoff is the agreed funding by Campaign of five thousand qualifications for young people via the PIE Charity. Ammar is also using The Big Learn platform to promote the Mental Health Awareness course which he believes anyone in a modern work environment would benefit from completing. In Ammar’s words: “Mental health related absence costs companies an estimated £500 million per year. It’s a massive issue and creating better awareness will not only help employers but society in general. Mental Health Awareness Day takes place on the 10th of October and we are encouraging everyone to sign up to this course before this day, which will not only raise the profile but provide a practical solution on tackling this epidemic.”

Those who gain their mental health awareness qualification, for example, learn to identify the symptoms of depression, post-natal depression and bipolar disorder; understand how they affect an individual’s stress and anxiety and discover ways to deal with these behaviours. Ammar noted: “We spend most of the time at work and are usually unaware if a colleague suffers from mental health issues, or we don’t know how to react in confrontational situations. The potential benefits of having employees with these qualifications should be attractive to any employer.”  

The Big Learn plans to keep supporting and raising awareness of lifelong learning beyond its five-month funding deadline. Ammar has already established links with colleges and universities, in addition to LCG, so the project can assist learners to investigate further qualifications in 2018 and beyond. He’s hopeful, too, businesses will offer to fund employees to progress to the next levels of their chosen courses: “We want to create a movement for people to recognise and realise the importance of personal and professional development and how this is the basis for lifelong success.”

To find out more about The Big Learn and sign up your business today, please visit: www.thebiglearn.uk/