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Julia Streets reflects on the Sustainable City Conference and her time in Newcastle

January 31, 2022

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How did you get involved with the sustainability event ?

Over the summer I’d been discussing the idea of organising a fintech North East event with Ruth Harrison, UK MD of Thoughtworks. We were both aligned in wanting to focus on the theme of sustainable finance, a topic that has been gaining increasing prominence not least in the wake of Innovate Finance’s “Fintech as a Force For Good” conference and against the COP26 conference backdrop.

We also recognised this event would shine a light on some of the impressive regional initiatives. For me this is an important part of Streets Consulting’s commitment to the national fintech agenda, extending from The Kalifa Review. I was proud to be invited to host the launch of the Review and am a firm believer that the wave of national fintech innovation plays an important role in fuelling economic recovery, inward investment and job creation.

When this idea was mentioned to Invest Newcastle, it was impressive how quickly the team was keen not simply to support the fintech event concept, but build this out into a full day event. The “Sustainable City Conference” was born, deliberately planned for the final day of the COP26 conference. The team called on regional experts from many different sectors to offer their experience, insights, and ideas to inspire a compelling discussion about how Newcastle can showcase its leading position.

What is the most important thing you wanted to achieve from this event?

As the founder & CEO of a business development, marketing and communications firm we are focused on helping fintech firms grow. Our clients range from early stage startups to some of the world’s largest financial institutions across the UK and around the world.

As such, we are always proud to work with and showcase firms and initiatives empowering, supporting, collaborating and creating new business models. These firms are focused on helping individuals, public and private sector organisations, communities and clusters play their part in achieving their net zero targets and helping address the climate crisis.

So we were very keen not simply to raise awareness, but also to curate a compelling discussion designed to educate and inspire the auditorium and virtual audiences to engage with the debate.

How easy do you think it is for everyone to contribute to a more sustainable world?

Every single person and organisation can play their part. If we’re not already making plans, we can – and must. We can start immediately by setting objectives, creating roadmaps and engaging our teams and clients. We’re all on a journey, only the length of road available to us isn’t long.

It’s also interesting to note the panellists’ consensus that the key to driving change at scale is a clear need for collaboration. Together we can achieve more than simply acting alone.

As mentioned in the conference, Newcastle Hospitals Trust was the first medical organisation to declare a climate emergency. How did this make you feel?

Honestly, I was taken aback. I had no idea that the Trust had declared the crisis back in 2019 and it clearly took action immediately. It was impressive to hear the impact of their work right across every dimension of the organisation and out into all the communities they serve.

During your time in the city and at the conference, was there anything in terms of sustainability that stood out to you that Newcastle as a city is doing or plans to do, well?

I was particularly impressed by the cross-sector, cross-region mindset. From the ports to the buses, hospitals to academic research, banks to tech entrepreneurs there is a common passion, clear commitment and – above else – pride in the region’s commitment to innovate, deliver and drive meaningful change.

Did any certain response stand out to you during the conference in terms of a sustainable plan?

I come from the world of fintech, so for me it’s all about the role of technology and the power of finance to deliver real change.

So, pay close heed to the work of Dawn Dunn as she leads the fintech cluster of Dynamo the industry-led group focused on growing the North East tech Economy. (Dawn Dunn has just recently joined NGI as a Senior Inward Investment Manager).

Professor Karen Elliott’s focus on research and education in fintech innovation underpins her impressive work as an award-winning ‘pracademic’, oh and do watch out for her work in the field of digital ethics.

Large banks play a commanding role and NatWest sent a huge message when CEO Alison Rose stopped all sponsorship in performance car racing, re-focussing these budgets to support climate change initiatives – just one of their sustainability- focused programmes.

Large-scale technology consultancy guides and delivers client’s initiatives and Thoughtworks are clearly focused on their strategic and practical role, and the impact they can make. By way of just one example, they are thinking deeply about energy production, consumption and optimisation.

And pay particular attention to the emerging fintech innovation as firms like Tred Earth, that offers a debit card with embedded emission offsets, introduce real ways to tackle the climate change challenge.

Combine the force of all, and just imagine what’s possible.

As more and more businesses are choosing Newcastle as their base, what would you say are the main reasons for this after spending some time here?

I’ve always loved Newcastle. One of my first jobs back in the 1990s was promoting the City as an inward investment opportunity! It is a vibrant, ever-changing City rich with a potent combination of industrial heritage, contemporary and future-minded leadership, a clear commitment to research and academia and a regional government and policy passion to drive real change in support of public and private sector innovation.

What does the future hold for Newcastle in terms of being a thought leader in sustainability?

In my opinion, the future’s exceptionally bright for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. But beyond the commitment, there’s a sense of real momentum that sets a course for a great future and maintaining a leadership position in sustainability.

What has been your favourite part of your visit to Newcastle last week?

Visiting The Catalyst in the heart of Newcastle Helix city zone. It hosts three research centres of Newcastle University: National Innovation Centre for Ageing, the National Innovation Centre for Data, and the National Institute for Health Research Innovation Observatory (NIHRIO). When we talk about sustainability and innovation, what better place to host the conference?

Finally in three words how would you describe your overall experience here in Newcastle?

All too short

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