By Amanda Calderwood, Research Stream 2 Atlantic Futures

I'm still processing everything I learned and heard at the Future North West Conference hosted by the North West Tertiary Cluster on Wednesday, 29 May, at Ulster University's Derry~Londonderry campus. What an inspiring and thought-provoking event, filled with so much food for thought. If you missed it, here are a few of my takeaways from some incredibly inspiring sessions.

A Focus on Collaboration Through Education

The conference's central theme revolved around the power of collaboration through education, leading to rich discussions about regional balance, economic productivity, and the myriad opportunities that could arise from such partnerships.

Peter Osborne from the Centre for Cross Border Studies set the tone with a passionate speech about the progressive histories and forward-thinking approaches shaped by the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. He emphasised the untapped opportunities within the region, highlighting the need for continued collaboration and innovation.

John Kelpie, Chief Executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council, followed with an optimistic outlook, asserting that we stand on the cusp of significant opportunities. His message resonated deeply, reinforcing the conference's theme of potential and progress.

Insights from the Border Counties

Stephen Roulston from Ulster University provided a fascinating glimpse into the state of education in the border counties. His research underscored a forward-thinking approach, culminating in the profound question: "Who will power the enterprises of the future?" This question lingered, prompting attendees to consider the critical role of education in shaping the next generation of leaders and innovators.

Patrick O'Donovan TD, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science shared personal anecdotes from his upbringing in Limerick and his regular trips toNorthern Ireland in the 80s. His experiences highlighted the importance of cross-border initiatives, which he described as the essential "grease and oil in the cogwheels of peace." His perspective reinforced the idea that education should transcend boundaries, fostering unity and collaboration.

Addressing Global Challenges

Danny McCoy, CEO at Ibec, tackled the broader challenges we face in the globalmarket. He spoke candidly about the competitive pressures and the significant hurdlesahead. However, he also highlighted the power of collaboration and clustering,emphasising that these strategies will be crucial in overcoming obstacles and drivingfuture success. McCoy's remarks served as a reminder that we all share a responsibility for peace and prosperity, particularly as we reflect on the legacy of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

A Call for Ambition

The panel discussions and contributions from key stakeholders echoed a resounding call for ambition. There was unanimous agreement that success and significant opportunities are within our grasp. The future we all aspire toone of prosperity for business, education, and societycan be achieved through cooperation, collaboration,and the pooling of skills and resources. This collective effort is essential for paving the way to a bright economic future.

Showcasing Cross-Border Projects

One of the highlights of the conference was Professor Laura Bradley's showcase of Atlantic Futures, our cross-border project aimed at fostering a stronger economic future for all. It was a moment of pride to see this initiative gaining recognition and support, underscoring the tangible benefits of collaborative efforts-one I am very proud to be a part of.

The Human Element

As Tommie Gorman aptly pointed out, the warmth and hospitality of our people are among our greatest strengths. This human capital is our secret weapon, offering a unique advantage as we strive to build a better future.


The Future North-West Conference was a powerful reminder of the potential that lies in collaboration and education. The insights and discussions have left a lasting impression, inspiring us to work towards a brighter, more prosperous future. As we move forward, let us remember the importance of unity and the incredible opportunities that await us.