Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining us at this forum to share ideas about how we can all work together. My office at the State Department lives for opportunities like this – when people and organizations get together to accomplish things they would not be able to achieve on their own. So having educators, business people, and government officials in one place looking for ways to collaborate is one of the high points of my trip to South Africa.
The idea for this event came up a little over a month ago when I had lunch with the Minister for Higher Education and Training in Washington. As we ate, our conversation turned to the way that educational institutions in the United States often work with businesses and employers to make sure students – their potential future employees – are properly trained and prepared for successful careers.
Well, Minister Nzimande invited me to continue this conversation in South Africa, and here I am. But I hope today we move beyond conversation, because everyone here stands to gain from increased cooperation: the students who will be better equipped to seek and fill 21st century jobs; employers who will spend less time and fewer resources training their new hires; and centers of further education and training that will gain reputations for providing the best possible education for this new age.
We see the changing expectations of the 21st century every day. Information circles the globe instantaneously and empowers people throughout society to think in new ways.
Young people communicate differently. They enjoy a newfound sense of social mobility and possibility. And they have greater expectations that democracy, human rights, and basic freedoms are the birthright of every man, woman, and child.
Business is also changing rapidly. So educational institutions in both South Africa and the United States must be prepared to embrace the same rapid pace of change.
This means constant innovation and reinvention to remain relevant and up-to-date. Governments and private sector enterprises must think differently and take risks on new ideas. They must be willing to throw out entrenched ways of doing business in favor of trying a fresh approach. This is not always easy but that is why partnerships and gatherings like this are so important.
In that spirit, I am pleased to announce that we will be expanding the joint educational programs between the United States Government and the South African Department of Higher Education and Training. Under this expanded initiative we will be seeking additional ways to link community colleges across the United States with Further Education and Training centers here in South Africa.
Using online conferencing platforms and other connective technologies, we will bring together educational administrators in the U.S. and in South Africa so that they can share their experiences and best ideas.
In addition, we will create opportunities for community college administrators and faculty from the United States to visit South African centers under the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program. This will allow them to share their knowledge in person and take ideas from South Africa back to American schools.
The United States and South Africa both need to explore the means through which education between the secondary and university or varsity levels can give our young people the skills that help them find real, long-term employment and that help meet our nations’ changing economic needs in the 21st century.
As much as young South Africans and young Americans need good jobs, our businesses and industries need good workers. Education and job training must equip people with the skills and the values that are the hallmarks of productive and responsible workers – the sort of workers who can build sophisticated machines, improve processes, and aspire to positions of greater responsibility. Government and educational institutions need business to be a partner in the process of developing the education and training that delivers this sort of skilled worker.
Furthermore, we must work together to develop curricula that provides entrepreneurial know-how. Skilled workers are even more valuable to our societies when they have the knowledge to help build businesses and create new jobs. These are the ideas that a partnership between American community colleges and South African Further Education and Training Centers can help develop.
Working together, and bringing in ideas and advice from the private sector, I know that we can bring innovation into our educational systems and begin to answer the challenges of creating good jobs for our people, the right workers for our businesses, and creating the new entrepreneurial opportunities and economic growth our countries need. And, I know from my own personal experience in the private sector that nobody innovates as well as business. In the world of business, innovating is as vital as breathing.
I believe that the habits of innovation can be learned in the classroom, applied to real-world problems, and brought to a marketplace hungry for new ideas. It’s a formula that can work across cultures and continents, because collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving are universal human traits. And when governments and educational institutions help foster open environments that nurture innovation, new opportunities emerge to benefit all our people and all of our businesses.
Innovation also helps create new avenues of entrepreneurship that can drive a nation’s production and kick start job creation. We need to foster a culture of entrepreneurship, particularly among young people and students. Economies are built on the strong backs and fresh ideas of youth, and our educational institutions need to give our young people the skills to bring those ideas to their jobs and to the marketplace.
In South Africa and around the world, entrepreneurship is an open door to opportunity. It requires thinking big and taking risks. And taking a risk can sometimes end in failure. But that’s okay. That’s a critical element of entrepreneurship. It adds energy and excitement that defines entrepreneurs all over the world.
When entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses, jobs and opportunities follow. We have seen it happen over and over again. So we are placing a renewed emphasis on entrepreneurship throughout our economic foreign policy and our development policy. We want to work with you to support entrepreneurship opportunities for people everywhere and nurture the ecosystems that allow individuals to unleash their natural entrepreneurialism.
I believe we should expect our educational institutions to play a role in creating and nurturing entrepreneurial abilities, and I think it is up to people like those of us in this room to make that expectation a reality.
Just a few days ago I had the opportunity to visit RaizCorp, a business incubator down the road from here in Johannesburg. One young woman has supplemented her own determination with skills she learned from RaizCorp to form one of the only mining services company in the world that is owned by a black woman. Others are building innovative businesses in marketing, concierge services, and a laundry and dry cleaning service.
These young South Africans are preparing to strike out and take a chance on themselves. We celebrate their courage and their commitment. And we recognize that their ideas could ultimately impact many more lives than their own. I would like to see the same sorts of ideas that RaizCorp offers become part of the way we educate and train young people in schools and institutions like the Further Education and Training Centers. That’s one of the things I hope our new initiative with the Ministry of Higher Education and Training will help develop.
It is up to those of us in this room to figure out how we can give young people the support and encouragement they need. What kinds of training and preparation should we provide them? How can we harness our networks and new technology to help lower the barriers to entry for more people? How can we make sure as many people as possible can take advantage of these opportunities?
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have asked us to seek out ways to stimulate innovation and to support young people around the world.
We are constantly looking for opportunities to make connections and convene leading thinkers wherever they are in the world. Partnerships between sectors, across oceans, and throughout society will be the touchstone for our shared success in the 21st century. I hope this event serves as a jumping off point today to help strengthen the networks that tie us together and that will carry us forward in the coming years.
At the heart of all this is a profound belief in the human spirit. In our unrelenting drive to go farther and faster, and to constantly refine and improve. If we can help amplify the power of individuals – if we can give students the instruments to discover new worlds – we will unlock possibilities the world has never even imagined. We will once again prove the power of an individual and an idea to make a difference in the world against any odds.
That is a future I, for one, cannot wait to see. And, it is one I look forward to helping realize through partnerships with those of you in this room today.