Mo Isap became co-chair of Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership in February 2020. An entrepreneur with expertise in technology, skills, education and employability, his private sector experience is helping Greater Manchester to end inequalities through innovation and motivation.
“Diversity to me is that everyone starts at the climbing wall in the same position,” says Mo Isap. “That you can climb it as fast as your counterpart, and be supported at every rock face, and be able to reach the summit equally as fast as everybody else in your peer group – female, BAME, minority, whatever.
“If everybody was able to do that, to traverse those walls at that pace, without getting stuck on a ledge, that’s diversity, that’s inclusivity. That’s all people want: a fair chance.”
As recently installed co-chair of Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, Mo is helping to steer economic policies enabling that vision to be realised, innovating to end inequalities and ensure Greater Manchester is the best possible place to grow up, get on and grow old.
Mo has built the entirety of his successful business career in Greater Manchester, starting in the Northern Quarter, Manchester, operating nationally and now headquartered at MediaCityUK in Salford with his latest venture, IN4.0. His business successes include Hobs Plc, one of the largest Proptech businesses in the UK.
“You can’t build a 20-odd year successful career if the city or the place doesn’t allow you do to that,” he says. “Manchester is a global city but it’s a community. I was very conscious of being from an ethnic minority but in Manchester I never felt that. There’s no better place in the world than Manchester.”
Mo was born into a first-generation immigrant Gujarati Indian family. His parents, middle-class Indians, became “lower working class by default” as immigrants in the 1960s. It provided their son with an invaluable first-hand insight into education as a means of unlocking social mobility.
“My dad was a teacher in India but spent most of his life working in a Lancashire textile factory,” Mo adds. “He had to forsake his professional career for us, to get us the best possible life chance.”
Mo has a degree in accounting and finance and an MBA. He is also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management. He describes himself as a natural student, always learning, and says that has supported his own development as an entrepreneur.
After university, Mo took his first commercial role in a Northern Quarter digital printing business. Sales boomed supplying the area’s burgeoning creative sector. A shareholding director in no time and then managing director and owner, Mo’s success in business meant that he was able to help others, igniting his passion for skills, education, and employability.
He first entered that world formally, 15 years ago, at Star Academies, a Multi Academy Educational Trust that can trace its roots back to a terraced house in Blackburn. Concerned that first generation immigrant families were removing children from mainstream schools for cultural reasons, community leaders began providing private education so that young people could complete their education.
“They clubbed together to find £200 to buy a two-up, two-down terraced house, encouraged retired teachers to work for biscuits, forming Tauheedul Girls’ Schools in 1980, and persuaded parents to send their children to at least complete their education,” Mo explains.
“Their mantra was that the mother’s lap was the first school and that if she could impart a reverence to knowledge and education, then we could have a chance as a community. Otherwise we would be dependents and not contributors in this nation forever and a day.”
Having made a success of his own career, Mo and his colleagues were later asked by the community’s founding fathers to inherit their legacy, which they duly did and formed Star Academies.
Today Star Academies is a multi-academy operating 28 free schools across Lancashire, Yorkshire Birmingham, London and Greater Manchester, including the Eden Boys’ Leadership Academy and Eden Girls’ Leadership Academy in Cheetham Hill. Employing over 2,000 people, Star Academies pupils consistently outperform their peers, compounding Mo’s frustration that many young people are still not provided with the support they need to succeed.
He adds: “The mantra we are faced with in some communities is teachers saying, ‘well, what do you expect? These are kids who don’t speak English, from lower working-class backgrounds, single-parent families, we’re just keeping them on track. Average is good.’”
As vice-chair of the Star Academies trust and chair of their leading boys’ school, Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School, Mo sits on national and regional boards aiming to address the remaining inequalities across education. They include the Careers and Enterprise Company, The Greater Manchester Careers and Employability Board and the New Schools Network. That gives Greater Manchester a voice in education and skills at a regional and national level, he says.
Having successfully started and scaled a number of business, including university spin outs and a social enterprise, Mo’s most recent business venture combines his two great passions, technology and skills. IN4.0 Group is headquartered at The Landing in MediaCityUK, Salford, and operates through joint venture partnerships with regional universities. It provides industrial digital technology training, developing and recruiting graduate technology talent into local high skilled employment.
Supporting tech and digital inclusivity, one aspect of IN4.0’s work is to ensure talented young STEM graduates reach their full potential within industry. Success rates for female BAME entrants to the tech sector remain low, and IN4.0 aims to change that.
Mo envisages a virtuous circle in his vision for a Skills City, accelerating the development of diverse talent that might previously have been lost to the digital and tech sectors, and helping them to assume leadership and create jobs and opportunities for future generations. In turn, those skills will attract other employers to the region
Equally, he firmly believes that innovation can help to end inequalities, and that Greater Manchester is perfectly placed to support the UK Government’s levelling up agenda because of its successful track record to date. MediaCityUK is already a great example of an inclusive innovation district, he says.
“Coronavirus has allowed us to understand the significant gap between the haves and the have nots,” he adds. “Middle class people may wonder ‘what’s the problem? I worked hard and got out in the morning, went to work.’ They think it’s a meritocracy but it’s not.
“The fundamental thing is that many young people work hard but working hard doesn’t get them where they want to be. What we need to recognise is the significance of the gap, because just throwing money at it, having good sentiment, isn’t going to change anything.”
Having neatly defined diversity, Mo explains what he understands by the notion of inequality, and what an organisation like the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership can do to tackle it.
“Inequality is to be afforded something that isn’t the best possibility,” he suggests. “The environment around you isn’t the most nurturing, nourishing, supporting environment you can get – the structures, the network, the empowerment, the skills. If you have to encounter disadvantage and handicap, it’s not a level playing field, you’re not giving people a fair chance.”
He says that being invited to join the board of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership was a privilege and provides an opportunity to provide complementary insight alongside many other great minds from different backgrounds, each offer a different perspective.
He adds: “I subscribe to the servant model of leadership and this is no more relevant than in civil leadership. We’re not bosses. Our job is to remove those barriers and let those people have a fair chance and it starts from education.”
Click here to read Mo Isap’s biography on the GM LEP website.