Clinton shows Queen’s has friends in high places

Belfast Briefing: the former US president is due to open university institute as a country music festival hits the city

Bill Clinton visits the Mackie International factory in Belfast as US president in 1995. Photograph: Eric Luke

Bill Clinton visits the Mackie International factory in Belfast as US president in 1995. Photograph: Eric Luke

Tue, Feb 25, 2014, 01:00

It is a happy coincidence that the 42nd president of the United States will be back in Belfast next week as the 10th Belfast Nashville Songwriters’ Festival hits the city. Bill Clinton will be performing on a very different stage from those used by the 100 artists who will take part in 50 events over the 10-day festival. But the former president’s return to Belfast to officially open the William J Clinton Leadership Institute at Queen’s University reverberates with something most country and blues music fans can relate to – hopes and dreams.

Future leaders
Clinton has said he hopes the institute will “prepare future business leaders for a time that requires economic innovation”. Queen’s no doubt has a dream that by identifying the institute with Clinton it will guarantee a degree of international credibility and will also encourage more businesses to fund its work. A number of local companies have already donated more than £1 million (€1.21 million) to support it.

The university first launched the institute two years ago. It decided to name it after Clinton in honour of the role he and his administration had played in the peace process. Director of the institute Anne Clydesdale said it shares the same goals as Clinton’s foundation, particularly in relation to economic empowerment and leadership.

“We want to help grow the Northern Ireland economy. We have some great success stories but we need more and we aim to provide the expertise and services to help chief executives, managing directors and team leaders achieve their ambitions.

“We want to help prepare senior leaders for the tough job ahead and make the next strategic move that will scale up their ambitions,” she said.

She believes Queen’s University plays a key role in the local economy – and that the leadership institute will help underpin its status as a powerhouse by helping to develop businesses, through research and development and by encouraging and nurturing home grown talent.

Clydesdale said the institute has already demonstrated it can deliver “tangible financial benefits” for organisations in the private and public sector – from small businesses to large foreign direct investors.

“We work with leaders and management from a range of backgrounds in the Republic and throughout Northern Ireland,” she said.

“We see ourselves as facilitators. We are innovative educators. We don’t lecture but we aim to make a real difference and, so far, in our first full year we have worked with 250 organisations on strategic projects which have made a real difference.”

Clydesdale said Clinton’s endorsement of the institute reflects his commitment to the North.

“He is passionate about doing whatever he can to help sustain the peace process by creating a more stable, economic environment,” she said.

And when it comes to strong leaders and role models, she believes Clinton is in a class of his own. “If you look at successful business leaders, they all have the ability to make people follow them – they inspire other people. Good leaders build good teams, they are charismatic,” she says. When Clinton steps on to the stage next Wednesday at Queen’s, it will give him a fresh opportunity to inspire people to take yet another step in creating a new economic future. Some of the most exciting entrepreneurs around today were behind a school desk when the Belfast Agreement was signed.

Different beat
Life, as Clinton will be happy to see, has changed for the better – and you need look no further than one of the stages in Belfast next week for proof of that.

The Music City Roots show based in Nashville is coming to the city for the first time to record a one-off special at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters’ Festival. The concert will be screened on Public Broadcast Television, which is available in 60 million homes in America.

The opportunity to promote a completely different side of Belfast to millions of American tourists – and potential new investors – is definitely something worth singing about.

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