The reason our organisation exists is to deliver economic growth and help create jobs. We also have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that growth happens in the right way. That means helping to grow sustainable businesses that will have a real positive impact on the region as a whole. That's why we were happy recently to have the opportunity to host a London Living Wage event at our hub in No 1 Croydon, in partnership with the Living Wage Foundation. We're proud to count ourselves among the companies that committed to paying the London Living Wage, alongside two of our fastest-growing members, Intcas and Hawk Wargames.
Ben Holt, director of Sussex Innovation Croydon, addresses the audience at a recent London Living Wage Event
Many people in Greater London have reservations about 'growth for growth's sake', and the unintended consequences that economic regeneration can have on communities. Thankfully, here in Croydon we're seeing a cohort of start-ups and scale-ups who have a real sense of local pride, and are determined to embed social purpose as part of their company culture. It's a privilege to be able to witness this first-hand by talking to local businesses every day about their growth and aspirations.
Recent figures released by accountancy group UHY Hacker Young have shown Croydon to be experiencing the fastest economic growth in the UK, driven by a £5.25bn programme of investment and a thriving start-up and technology environment. As our partners at Croydon Tech City are telling the world, this is London's fastest growing tech cluster, with more than 1,500 technology businesses based in the borough, a number that is rising all the time. Croydon saw an annual growth rate of 9.3% in gross value added over the past year, topping the list of 173 regions nationally.
But the best news of all for Croydon is how we are managing that growth, when compared to the regeneration projects that have taken place across many of the boroughs to the north in recent years. Both the local council and many of the companies launched during Croydon’s boom have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to responsible business, with an emphasis on sharing the benefits of economic growth with the wider community.
While a high proportion of the businesses here buy into a vision of regeneration for the good of the community, efforts to do so have been driven by Croydon Council, whose 'Good Employer' initiative has helped to create a network around the concept and formalise an approach to responsible business. Their 'Good Employer' Charter, created following a series of listening sessions with local companies, has four key principles, which I'm sure we can all get behind:
- Pay the London Living Wage - supported by the Living Wage Foundation
- Hire and develop local talent - supported by Croydon Works (Croydon Council's job brokerage)
- Spend local - supported by Value Croydon (Croydon Council's procurement service)
- Be inclusive - by implementing equality, diversity and employee support best practice
Intcas - a potential 'unicorn' with a social purpose
Among the businesses that took part in last month's London Living Wage event were Intcas, who have been identified as Croydon’s first potential 'unicorn' – that is, a technology company valued at more than $1bn. Founded by local businessman Zakaria Mahmood, Intcas has built a platform and support infrastructure that allows schools, colleges and universities from across the world to work collaboratively to attract, recruit and manage international students.
The business has built up an enviable global network of education partners, and is poised to launch its platform into some 6,000 institutions worldwide in 2017. Zak is passionate about creating a sense of social purpose for his company and its employees.
Founder of Intcas, Zakaria Mahmood, receives an award from the Mayor of Croydon in recognition of his commitment to pay the London Living Wage
"Our priority is creating value for society, not just for our shareholders," he says. "Of course we want our business to be successful, but for the right reasons. In my view, the purpose of all enterprise is to create growth – not just for the few, but for everybody. I was the first in my family to go to university, and the only reason that could happen was because of someone paying their taxes to afford me that opportunity.
"I believe in that system, that's why our business is responsible about paying its taxes, and also about paying our staff well – because they will then go out into Croydon and have a disposable income to spend in other local businesses. The good wages we pay will help other businesses grow, create more social and economic activity locally, and ultimately raise even more taxable income.
"If I have a vision for Croydon, it’s that we could be a model sustainable ecosystem. An example of how the private, public and third sectors can all work together to make life better for their local communities, and help everyone share in the benefits of economic growth. I want other towns and boroughs to look at Croydon and say 'that's the right way to do things, we can do that too.'"