Birmingham and the wider West Midlands need to capitalise more on the "staggering" economic value provided by its diverse communities.

The significant opportunities linked to multi-culturalism are rarely recognised it is claimed, but Birmingham's reputation for innovation could see it leading the way in this potential lucrative area.

The suggestion was made by Prof John Saunders, head of Aston Business School, at a signing ceremony for a ground-breaking new partnership between the school and the Institute of Asian Business.

After formally signing the partnership protocol with Gurjeet Bains, chair of the IAB, Prof Saunders said: "We have all this incredible economic value presented by multi-culturalism in Birmingham and it is time we started to recognise it and do something about it.

"If you look at the most vibrant cities on the planet, they all have a strong multi-cultural profile. Birmingham has that same profile and the potential here is staggering.

"It is the reason why multi-national companies are so successful. They draw in the best and the brightest and get them working together for a common aim.

"The IAB has also shown the extent to which you can successfully draw people from different cultures in and use their particular talents and expertise."

Prof Saunders said the agreement with the IAB formalised a long-standing and mutually beneficial link the two had enjoyed for several years. It also pointed to the way in which diversity could provide new opportunities.

"On a very simple level there are several reasons why we should have this formal agreement in place," he explained. "One of the most obvious is that so many of our students are drawn from the Asian community.

"But from a business point of view, a third of the start-ups are from the Asian community.

"It is time we started to unleash the energy that exists within these communities."

Gurjeet Bains said the partnership agreement commits the two organisations to working together on areas of mutual interest, such as human resources, research, consulting and training.

The protocol provides a roadmap for Aston Business School and the Institute of Asian Business to achieve certain set goals that will benefit both and ensure a sustained, long-term relationship.

One of the key projects is the creation of a joint ABS-IAB Student Scholarship Fund, which would provide a source of funds for Asian students in the West Midlands to support their studies at Aston University.

Other areas of mutual benefit covered by the agreement include the IAB promoting ABS work placements and facilitating graduate recruitment, as well as the business school acting as a research arm for the Institute.

There will also be the establishment of an Asian Advisory Committee at Aston Business School to focus on corporate advice, feedback and connections for the business school.

The agreement was signed by Prof John Saunders and Gurjeet Bains prior to a working lunch at the recently opened £20 million management development centre at Aston Business School.

The IAB partnership is the second innovative agreement signed by Aston Business School in recent weeks. In early March, it reached a similar agreement with Birmingham City Council.

"Both the council and Aston Business School share a similar vision of striving for excellence through continuous improvement," said Brian Porter, director of advancement at Aston University.

"This partnership will seek to develop over time across a number of common areas. Initially those may be shared experience, resources and opportunities for graduate development, joint ABS-BCC projects and shared collaboration in research activities."

Following the link-up with the IAB, Aston Business School is now seeking to develop similar relationships with other organisations. ..SUPL: