This year is the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The march was a pivotal moment laying the foundation for a more just, equal, and inclusive United States. In Colombia there is also a dream at work. In both the United States and Colombia, we now embrace the vibrant racial and ethnic tapestry that comprises the societies, histories, and cultures of our two nations.
From these challenges, and from our triumphs and from our setbacks, we have gained knowledge and experience that deserves to be shared, so it can benefit everyone and be shared among ourselves and more broadly.
Through the action plan, we are sharing our experience and creating a way forward that embraces a diplomacy of social inclusion. How we go about doing that is important. This meeting brings together representatives from across government, Congress, civil society, and the private sector, and also incorporates people-to-people education exchanges. Participation by such a diverse group from both countries is an affirmation of our commitment to social inclusion. With the action plan, we have gone beyond traditional bilateral cooperation to true public-private partnership for advancing equality and combating discrimination. Structures are important. But what’s critical is that this meeting generate concrete results in the year to come. I challenged everyone last night to do this.
Education is a crucial part of this discussion, opening a world of possibilities for young people. Secretary Kerry has spoken on the importance of investing in education to produce good citizens. Quality educational opportunities for all people provide individuals the chance to contribute to society to the full extent of their abilities, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. And we need all our people acting at their maximum capacity in order to ensure full development and broad prosperity.
We recognize the significant advances Colombia has made in primary and secondary education over the past 20 years. With some 90 percent of Colombian students now enrolling in primary and secondary schools, demand for university studies will increase.
In 2011, President Obama launched 100,000 Strong in the Americas program, an initiative to increase international study between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean. Our goal is to reach 100,000 students in each direction. We have to double that because right now we only have 100,000 total. One of the goals for this meeting is to find ways to expand academic opportunities and encourage greater diversity in international study – more diverse students, locations, academic institutions, and types of degrees.
Over 300 Colombians have participated in the Fulbright Afro-Colombian Leaders Program, the Fulbright Cultural Studies for Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities Program, the Martin Luther King Fellows Program, and the College Horizons Program at U.S. institutions. I met some. We hope to continue to increase the number of participants and expand the alumni network. I have never seen some many students brimming with ideas.
Young people also learn and develop outside of the classroom that is why the United States and Colombia are working to provide additional opportunities to engage in inclusive sports activities and programs. The lessons of leadership and teamwork our youth develop playing sports are applicable to all aspects of life and build a foundation for social inclusion.
Skills acquired in the classroom and on the playing field, when successfully applied, strengthen a country’s economy. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do. Equal employment opportunities for all segments of society are good for the economy and, obviously, a key element of achieving equality. When Vice President Biden travelled to Colombia he quoted his wife Jill saying, “those who out educate you, will outpace you.”
The Colombian economy has experienced almost a decade of strong economic performance, and the entry into force of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, as well as Colombia’s participation in the Alliance of the Pacific, increase the possibility of further growth. We are working with our Colombian counterparts to ensure that the benefits of trade are shared by all of society. Through the Pathways to Prosperity initiative, we have focused on small business development and empowering women entrepreneurs. At the 2012 Summit of the Americas, the United States and Colombia joined with others in the hemisphere to launch the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas program that aims to break down barriers women face when starting and growing their own businesses.
Last October, the United States and Colombia signed an MOU to promote small business development and Colombia recently opened its first small business development center in Cali. This center, linked to the Small Business Network of the Americas, will provide training, services and access to capital for Colombian entrepreneurs.
Another goal for this meeting is to find new ways to support minority-owned businesses and prioritize women entrepreneurs among them. Through our embassy in Bogota, in collaboration with the Colombian National Business Association, we are working to engage the private sector to increase formal employment opportunities for Afro-Colombian and indigenous youth in urban centers. As part of this partnership, private sector companies commit to develop and implement diversity protocols that will result in greater opportunities for historically marginalized groups.
We are working closely with national institutions in Colombia to improve public officials’ understanding of ethnic rights throughout government and to design a labor inclusion pilot project in Cali that can serve as a basis for the design of broader labor inclusion policies. In the United States we are still working to level the playing field for all. We are pleased to have this opportunity to share our challenges as well as good practices to open access to communities that have been historically marginalized. We are also interested in learning how Colombia is working to include the needs of indigenous peoples, people of African descent, and women in education, sustainable development, sports and employment.
A third goal for this meeting is to encourage technical exchanges on issues including environmental justice, strengthening leadership, and the important role of our communities in sustainable development. We know we have much to learn from each other’s successes and challenges.
We are moving forward to fulfill the promise of our great democracies by ensuring all citizens, even those from the most humble backgrounds, have the same opportunities to learn, work, and fulfill their dreams.
We welcome the opportunities this dialogue will produce and look forward to continuing our strong partnership with you for decades to come.