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Update from Nigel Portwood: June 2020

Update from Nigel Portwood: June 2020

25 June 2020

In my last two updates, I talked about the various steps we are taking across OUP to help our communities, and facilitate access to education and research during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. The pressures facing institutions and learners continue, and so therefore, does our support.

However, over the past few weeks, another topic has dominated the headlines—that of systemic racism, and the call on organizations, governments, and institutions to take action to tackle it. Many of us will, I am sure, be reflecting on our own circumstances and experiences, and doing our best to understand and subsequently play our part in addressing these issues. 

It's at times like this that the role organizations play in society comes to the forefront. At OUP, we are fortunate that we have a clear mission—to further the University’s objectives of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Across all the countries in which we have a presence, the focus on achieving our mission is absolute. Through the products and services we create, we can help to transform people’s lives for the better.

I often think about the purpose of OUP, and publishers generally, in tackling global issues—whether it’s a pandemic, discrimination, economic uncertainty, climate change, or any of the other challenges society faces. Because of our reach, these are issues we are continually exposed to, but we alone cannot fix them. However, as a global organization that has been publishing research and educational materials for many hundreds of years, we have made—and continue to make—a valuable contribution towards facilitating positive change.

As an employer, the way we work is underpinned by our Employee Code of Conduct, which outlines our values and our commitment to addressing ethical and social concerns. We similarly expect those we work with to support these values, as demonstrated through our Partner Code of Conduct. While these provide a strong foundation, it goes without saying that we can—and indeed are committed to—driving improvements within our organization, for the benefit of our people.

As a publisher, we have an equally important role—helping people to make sense of the world around them. We can do this by sharing the voices and perspectives of others through the work we publish, and by opening people’s minds to ideas and information that will inform their analysis, thinking, and conversations. Simply put, we are a catalyst for knowledge, and therefore progress.

There are many examples of how we do this. Following the recent anti-racism protests, we set up a content hub of relevant articles and shared twelve books—made freely available where possible—that provided valuable context to the situation. We are also supporting an initiative led by the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK to ensure a more inclusive, diverse culture within scholarly publishing. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, we provided access to free content for researchers, medical professionals, policy makers, and anyone else working to address the crisis. On the challenges of climate change, last year an article published in BioScience, one of more than 400 journals published by OUP, gathered the signatures of 11,000 scientists from around the world, who came together to declare that Earth is facing a ‘climate emergency’—a term that was our 2019 Word of the Year, following a 10,796 per cent increase in its usage.

We also seek to inspire and educate future generations. The fact that the 2020 Children’s Word of the Year was ‘coronavirus’ shows us how aware young people are of the issues going on around them. We have a responsibility to help them develop their understanding and curiosity.

There are many examples of how we achieve this. Earlier this week, it was announced that we would be extending our children’s language analysis through a new 500 Words competition, focusing specifically on Black Lives Matter. We publish thought-provoking children’s books including Max Takes a Stand, which focuses on environmental activism; The Breadwinner, which is a series about a young girl living in war-torn Afghanistan; and Cure for a Crime by British-Pakistani novelist Roopa Farooki, which features two BAME medics, because Farooki wanted her twin daughters to see themselves represented in a children’s book. We also have local language publishing programmes to support children’s learning across the world. For example the Aweh! reading scheme uses traditional South African stories to help children who speak different languages learn to read and write English as an additional language as well as phonics schemes for IsiXhosa and IsiZulu.

The role of publishers like OUP in the modern world is evolving. Technology has already transformed our industry, and the way that people access our products and services, and this will only continue. The proliferation of information out there can be overwhelming; it can be hard to know where to turn to find relevant, impartial insights. My promise is that we will continue to stay true to our mission, to support our employees, and to help people to understand the world around them. This is the part we can play in changing society for the better.