Blog: Reflections on the Award of an OBE for ‘Services to Innovation in the West Midlands’

From that very proud and exciting day on 8th June when it was announced I would be receiving an OBE ‘for Services to Innovation in the West Midlands’, to 25th October when I was honoured and thrilled to be presented with the award, I was asked several questions many times. The simple questions (who, where, when, what will you wear…?) are easily answered with the images and captions below.

Receiving the OBE from the Queen at Windsor Castle on 25th October 2019

But the answer to the recurring question of why I was awarded an OBE ‘for Services to Innovation in the West Midlands’ is much more multi-faceted. At the process level some generous people took the time and effort to nominate and support my nomination which was approved though the process described here; I am enormously grateful to those people.

Beyond that I will never fully know the answer to exactly why I was awarded an OBE, but here are some of my personal reflections:

  • Innovation is having its day. There is now wide recognition that innovation (simply defined as the successful exploitation of new ideas) is one of the key drivers of productivity improvements in the public and private sector. For the last 12 years I have directed the Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands, and its predecessor organisation Birmingham Science City, which has had the consistent dual aims to build a vibrant innovation ecosystem for the West Midlands and to catalyse collaborative innovation activity. Increasingly we have focused on demand/ challenge-led innovation, pulling new ideas into the market, to optimise the positive impact on the local economy and public services. For decades, as a country, we have invested in pushing new ideas and technologies into business; the importance of stimulating demand-side pull which we have advocated seems to increasingly be recognised as an important, complementary approach.
  • Appliance of the alliance. The Innovation Alliance WM welcomes any regional private and public organisations with an interest in innovation to be part of its networks, events and partnership activity. There are no memberships fees, but some partners chose to resource the small Executive Team, and many host or sponsor events. As a result, the Innovation Alliance is viewed as an independent ‘coalition of the willing’, that is increasingly valued and recognised as a unique asset in the region. I see the award of the OBE as a huge endorsement of our collaborative approach, and I am particularly grateful to the Executive team, my current and past Chair, and all our supporting partners for their contributions to building such an effective Alliance; I hope the recognition this award brings helps us to go from strength to strength.
  • Place matters and this place matters. Every place has unique history, resources, culture, skills, business clusters, connectivity, demographics… and so every place has different opportunities and threats. I believe those in a place can work together make the best of that place. Though a proud Scot, I have lived, worked and raised a family in the West Midlands over the last 26 years and have become a proud West Midlander too, and I am passionate about helping this place to fulfil its potential.  I have long believed the West Midlands to have a great past and a great future in innovation, with the West Midlands Science and Innovation Audit reinforcing this and giving it some direction in 2017. The Innovation aspect of the Local Industrial Strategy and the developing implementation plans give further direction, and I look forward to the Innovation Alliance WM having a role in the realisation of that.

Very proud and delighted to share my investiture day with my family

  • Let’s get personal. I am genuinely humbled by being awarded an OBE, not least on hearing the achievements of some of those awarded alongside me. But I am also very proud, and many people have encouraged me to discuss the achievement with pride, because that is what will inspire the next generation.  So, in that vein I reflect that the key personal attributes I believe have enabled me to succeed include tenacity combined with adaptability – my goals are consistent and long-term, the means of achieving them may flex and evolve. I also think it is clear from above that I am naturally collaborative, always seeking constructive connections between people, projects and organisations. Which brings be back to humility, because this award really is not just about me.  All I have done has been based on partnerships and teamwork and with huge support from family, friends, mentors, peers and colleagues past and present.  I thank you all.

(Author: Pam Waddell OBE, Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands)