The Open University has been part of the Milton Keynes’ landscape for over 50 years. The organisation literally grew up with the town as it developed and expanded into the global learning powerhouse it is today – the only university dedicated to distance learning.
Established by the Royal Charter, the Open University has pioneered delivering exceptional teaching and outstanding support to over two million students across the UK and the world. But with its headquarters located in Walton Hall, it has always been a focal point for learning and business in Milton Keynes.
The Open University has been a headline sponsor of the Milton Keynes Business Achievement Awards (MKBAA) since its inception in 2014. This year’s theme of ‘MK – Leading the UK’s Green Recovery – Survive, Revive & Thrive’ fits strategically with the OU’s own sustainability commitments.
In this interview, Viren Patel, Director – Business Development Unit, discusses the long-term sponsorship of MKBAA and what this commitment means to the Open University:
The OU has sponsored MKBAA since it was established in 2014, how have you seen the event evolve over that time?
Milton Keynes has continued to develop as an exciting and innovative place to do business since the start of these awards. We have been delighted to sponsor MKBAA since 2014 and in that time, we’ve seen the event grow in terms of categories, entries and the number of people attending on the night. Milton Keynes has a diverse business community – from small SMEs to large corporates, many of which are household names. We are a growing town and that has been reflected in the awards. But businesses have changed a lot over the past seven years – digital being one obvious area of profound change. That has been supercharged by the challenges of the pandemic so it will be interesting to see how the closure of office spaces and the move to online products and services is reflected in the
Another area is, of course, sustainability. While the climate crisis is not a new challenge for businesses – there really is a much stronger focus today and again I’m really looking forward to seeing how local businesses are responding.
Why has the OU continued to support the awards?
The Open University has been a huge part of the Milton Keynes story. Over the past five decades, we’ve seen Milton Keynes grow around us. Many of our staff are locally based and we are now a major local employer. We like to think we’ve played a part in putting Milton Keynes on the map – educating over two million students and now working with more than 2,400 organisations to provide learning and development for employees.
We’re supporting these awards to celebrate the achievements of our amazing local businesses and to develop new connections so we can work together to help Milton Keynes thrive in the future.
What are you looking forward to most about MKBAA 2022?
After a year and a half working at home, we’re really looking forward to meeting and networking again face to face. While we have been able to continue providing education through our distance learning model, there’s no substitute for talking directly to business leaders, sharing challenges and learning from each other.
The awards ceremony will be a celebration of the strength of Milton Keynes businesses, and will be a testament to their resilience
What do you think of this year’s theme for MKBAA?
With COP26 taking place this autumn, the challenges of sustainability and climate change are at the forefront of every business leader’s mind. We are already seeing the impacts of the climate crisis each day and it is vital that all organisations think seriously about their part in this and how they can become more sustainable.
But we also know that to face challenges of this magnitude, a skilled workforce is needed. That’s why we work with businesses to understand the skills shortages they have. That may include developing new managers and leaders with a strong strategic vision, or helping them to train new IT specialists to help them improve their digital offering.
It’s a daunting challenge, but a vital one and we all need to play our part and offer up our expertise, and that’s something the Open University takes very seriously.
How does the theme for MKBAA tie in with the OU’s own vision for the future?
We helped to put plastics on the world stage through our involvement with BBC’s Blue Planet II, and we want to show that the education sector is an integral part of the climate crisis solution. We held our first sustainability week and Climate Emergency Forum in October 2019 and subsequently sustainability has become a major focus, with staff encouraged to think about their own impact.
On a wider level, we’ve been keen to engage with COP26 and sent nine colleagues along to the summit as official observers. We were also selected by the Cabinet Office to co-host an event in the official COP26 Green Zone with Glasgow Life and have curated a range of free resources for the public to widen their knowledge on our OpenLearn platform.
We have a sustainability sponsor on our senior leadership team and there’s a lot happening internally and externally – so it is great to see the MKBAA thinking along similar lines and making sustainability a top priority.
What’s your message to businesses in MK who are thinking of entering the awards?
It has been a tough and challenging time for all employers, so I’d encourage any business of any size to share their successes. There are plenty of categories to choose from, so it is a real opportunity to showcase stories and the people who have helped business survive, revive and thrive.
To find out more about the final few remaining sponsorship opportunities or to enter your business for a Milton Keynes Business Achievement Award, visit www.mkbaa.co.uk and follow @MK_BAA on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and join the discussion on LinkedIn
To find out more about the Open University go to www.open.ac.uk