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BIRMINGHAM INTERNATIONAL

30-06-2007

We tell ourselves that Birmingham is an international city. But do we believe it? Not really, reckons Dianne Benussi. And it’s time we did.

Birmingham is an international city. This is a sentence many of us repeat on a fairly regular basis, both verbally and in writing. The veracity of the statement is regularly reinforced, such as when overseas delegations pay us a visit. This happens a lot and more frequently than most people realise.

The Chinese Ambassador to Britain was here on Tuesday and last week we played host to a 35-strong group of business people from Meuse in Belgium, a city that’s a bit like how Birmingham used to be.

They came to pick our brains - to learn from us how to turn an uninspiring post-industrial city into a gleaming testament to 21st century lifestyle, architectural design and business technology.

More specifically, they wanted to find out more about how a city’s expansion can be enhanced by effective networking organisations. One of the best we have here is Birmingham Forward.

Despite recent criticism from certain quarters, Forward has done much to further Birmingham’s interests both at home and abroad and has also been pivotal in helping to make Birmingham a connected city, not least through the visionary cooperation between its financial, legal and business communities, which I believe gives us the edge.

The Belgians were keen to tap into the secret of its success, as UK cities such as Bristol, Manchester and Coventry are now doing too.

Forward is one of many organisations forging ahead to make Birmingham as great a city as it was in its industrial heyday.

What has not moved forward as much as the city itself is the mindset of its inhabitants. It’s been said before, but I feel it’s worth saying again - we still don’t believe in ourselves as much as we should nor as much as those outside the city believe is us.

We trot out sentences such as “Birmingham is an international city” with a distinct lack of conviction. We have managed to shake off the mantle of industrial decrepitude but we haven’t quite managed to shake off our self-deprecation. And it’s high time we did.

People, such as the business leaders of Meuse, visit Birmingham to draw on our expertise and to take inspiration from the way we have turned the city around in such a short space of time. We should, therefore, see ourselves as others see us - as a cutting edge and exciting place to live and conduct business, a city that has made such an international mark that overseas delegations come here to see how we do what we do.

Unless we shrug off, once and for all, the inclination to knock ourselves, we run the risk of reaching a plateau.

There is little point in congratulating ourselves in hindsight: we must have the confidence to keep moving on, to keep expanding and innovating and taking risks. If we want other people and other countries to continue to view us as an inspiration, we have to be convinced that we are. After all, believing in yourself is the only sure-fire way to ensure that others believe in you too.

( Diane Benussi is Chairman of Birmingham Forward and senior partner with Birmingham-based matrimonial law practice Benussi & Co)

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