Promoting entrepreneurship in the UNESCO learning city of Swansea
“In Swansea we know that you are never too young and never too old to learn new skills for the future”, says Rob Stewart, Leader of Swansea Council, a UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) member, on the occasion of the International Day of Education 2020. The coastal city of Swansea, located in South Wales, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has endeavoured to make learning for all, at every stage in life, a reality.
Faced with a downturn in economic development, Swansea developed a learning city plan focused on entrepreneurialism. Boosting investment and creating jobs in the region while developing a model of economic growth that ensures everyone, including residents in disadvantaged communities, benefit from enhanced prosperity was the main challenge identified when the city joined the UNESCO GNLC in 2015. At that time, the most disadvantaged communities in Swansea, today a city of 246,500 inhabitants, were suffering from third-generation unemployment and a continuous lack of engagement with education.
The city hence identified an urgent need for innovation and change. ‘In Swansea, we are committed to creating an entrepreneurial culture,’ explains Cllr Stewart, who stresses the key role education plays in ‘developing the regional economy for all’. Since joining the network, Swansea has made tremendous steps towards addressing barriers to participation, narrowing the gap between rich and poor, enhancing social cohesion, and developing a thriving knowledge economy.
Last year, Swansea staged its first learning festival under the theme ‘Innovation, inclusion and entrepreneurship’. Featuring more than 300 free city-wide events, it brought together 9,000 learners of every age and background. The Swansea Learning Festival 2019 was a testament to the positive impact investing in and promoting education can have. ‘Results in national examinations are improving year by year,’ boasts Cllr Stewart. ‘And our schools are achieving exceptional inspection reports.’
One of the city’s most successful learning city projects is the Enterprise Challenge, an annual event that aims to increase young people’s awareness and understanding of business, enterprise and entrepreneurship. In 2019, 1,200 local students took part in the challenge, where they learned how to develop a business before setting up small enterprises, for example selling homemade jam and other products, in the city centre. Stewart is convinced that it is key to develop an entrepreneurial understanding early in life.
Swansea has sketched out an ambitious roadmap for the city’s future: by 2030, the UNESCO GNLC member aspires to be recognized internationally for its emerging knowledge and innovation economy. ‘Swansea is immensely proud to be part of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities,’ says Cllr Stewart, who credits the city’s membership to the network as a major contribution to its efforts to reach its ambitious 2030 goal. Sharing best practice with the other 169 UNESCO GNLC members facilitates the development of future strategies and policies.
In recognition of the International Day of Education, which is celebrated by UNESCO and its partners on 24 January each year, Cllr Stewart stresses the importance of education as a fundamental right and a public good. ‘I would like to congratulate all of those in the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities, who work to make education accessible to all across the world.’
About the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities
Learning cities are key drivers to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They promote good policy and practice, and foster sustainable development at various levels, notably through lifelong learning. The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities, coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, supports and improves the practice of lifelong learning in member cities by promoting policy dialogue and peer learning, documenting effective strategies and good practice, fostering partnerships, providing capacity development, and developing tools and instruments to design, implement and monitor learning cities strategies.