Well, good afternoon and welcome to the Benjamin Franklin Room here on the eighth floor of the State Department. I think it’s a particularly appropriate setting since we know that Ben Franklin was many things, including an entrepreneur and a successful business leader of his time. And that seems appropriate as we celebrate the 2009 Awards for Corporate Excellence, known as the ACE Awards.
Each year, we recognize American businesses that have provided global leadership in the area of corporate social responsibility. As Under Secretary Hormats said, this year over 40 firms were nominated by our chiefs of mission around the world for demonstrating character, compassion, and integrity through their business practices abroad. And of those 40 companies, 11 finalists were chosen by our Principals’ Award Selection Committee.
Now, we work here in the State Department on commercial diplomacy and we have an excellent partner in the Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, who is here with us. But this is a real commitment by the Obama Administration. The firms we honor today understand that doing well and doing good are not exclusive; in fact, they go hand-in-hand. When companies support the issues that their employees, their customers, and their communities care about, everybody benefits. Whether they are investing in education or environmental conservation, combating poverty or a preventable disease, these firms are providing the foundation for a healthier workforce, a more informed customer base, and an atmosphere where free enterprise and free markets can thrive.
And that’s not only good for promoting business, it’s good for our country. These efforts help to create more stable and more prosperous societies by extending and expanding opportunities that really strengthen the global economy.
Well, today we recognize two exceptional companies. And so many people have worked so hard on behalf of this process this year that I very much appreciate all of the hard work that everybody in the Department – Dave Nelson has already been mentioned – and others have contributed to the first selection process that I am privileged to be able to preside over.
Now, these two companies have made social investments an essential part of their business plan. Their return on investment is not just reflected in their earnings, but also in the under-served communities in which they work—in the smile of a 7-year-old girl wearing her first pair of shoes or in the graduation photo of a student who never believed he could afford to attend college.
I am pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2009 Award for Corporate Excellence for small and medium size enterprises is TOMS Shoes of Santa Monica, California for its work in Argentina. (Applause.) I am so delighted that Ambassador Vilma Martinez is with the TOMS Shoes’ staff in Buenos Aires right now on these screens able to hear this announcement. So wave hello to everybody.
TOMS Shoes employs a simple business model: For every pair of shoes they sell, they donate a pair to a child in need. And for thousands of boys and girls in Argentina and around the world, a pair of shoes can make the all difference in preventing painful and often irreversible foot injuries that can literally rob them of the joys of childhood. Many children in the Greater Buenos Aires and Misiones region of Argentina walk barefoot over unpaved roads, rocky terrain, and contaminated soil every day to reach clean drinking water, exposing their feet to cuts that can cause infection and disease.
That was until TOMS’ first “shoe drop.” In 2006, a team of 20 TOMS employees volunteered to hand out over 10,000 pair of shoes to children in rural Argentina communities. Since then, interest in both their shoes and their shoe drops has grown substantially. By 2008, TOMS Shoe Drop Tour had expanded to cities around the country and around the world. And it has had such an impact that it even attracts tourist volunteers and has earned a spot on Travel and Leisure
magazine’s top 20 life-changing, socially conscious tourist trips. Not only have the company and its volunteers delivered shoes to the needy, they have also supported local health and social service agencies that vaccinated nearly 800 children, and developed a nutritional census in Argentina to help the government track and respond to dangerous trends in obesity and cardiac health.
In the aftermath of horrible flooding that left thousands homeless in the province of Salta earlier this year, TOMS volunteers chartered a cargo plane to support the relief effort and deliver first aid and other supplies to help the community rebuild.
They’re also really comfortable shoes. (Laughter.) So the more shoes you buy, the more shoes TOMS can give away. So that’s how it all works.
So in recognition of their exemplary efforts to provide the disadvantaged children with what they call “shoes for tomorrow,” I'd like to present this award to TOMS Shoes and ask the founder and the “Chief Shoe Giver,” Mr. Blake Mycoskie , to accept this award on behalf of all the TOMS’ employees and volunteers. Congratulations, Blake. (Applause.)MR. MYCOSKIE:
Oh, man. Okay. Well, I don’t – you don’t get the chance to do this every day, huh? (Laughter.) So I have a few people I definitely want to thank. You know, when I was told we were being nominated for this, the first thing I was taken with was just complete humility, because I looked at the list of all these companies and I knew every single one of them and had respected them and it was just an amazing, amazing thing just to be nominated. So standing up here is truly an honor and is very – it’s a humbling and exciting experience at the same time, so thank you.
You know, there’s so many people I want to thank, and one of the things that is so amazing, and we always laugh about it when I go back to Argentina, is the Alpargata, the shoe that we started with, is this very common shoe. It’s mainly worn by farmers and, as my Argentine friends say, common people. And so when I go back to Argentina now and show them pictures of celebrities on the red carpet wearing TOMS or, you know, on the runways of New York Fashion Week on the models, or last year when the legendary Ralph Lauren decided to guest design a pair of TOMS for his rugby stores, you know, they all get a real laugh at the irony that in Argentina, it’s all the farmers wearing these shoes, right?
So – but beyond the laughter, my friends in Argentina really have a great sense of pride, and they should, because this shoe that has been their national shoe for so long is now helping hundreds of thousands of kids in Haiti, Ethiopia, Argentina, and South Africa get shoes. And of all of the people that we work with in Argentina, there’s one man that is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life, and he has been my original partner in this since the beginning. And I must say when I told – was told that we were winning today, the thing that got me the most excited was I was going to get to stand up here and publicly recognize a gentleman named Alejo Nitti. And Alejo Nitti, if any one of you have met him, knows he’s one of the most positive, optimistic, amazing human beings in the world. And he was the first believer in this, and he has truly become one of my best friends. We call him our chief shoemaker. And as in Argentina, they say, he is my compañero.
So while I am accepting this award today on behalf of all of the amazing TOMS employees and partners that have joined us, when I actually get to take it home, Alejo, I will be giving it to you, because you deserve it more than anyone. So, thank you very much. (Applause.)SECRETARY CLINTON:
Blake, we’re going to call your family up too, okay? Could we have Blake’s family come up and we can take a picture?
Now, let me turn to this year’s winner of the Award for Corporate Excellence in the Multinational Category – Trilogy International Partners of Bellevue, Washington for its steadfast example of good corporate citizenship through its subsidiary ComCEL in Haiti. And I understand that Ambassador Ken Merten is celebrating with the Trilogy International Partners and ComCEL team in Port-au-Prince. Congratulations, Trilogy. (Applause.)
In recent years, the Haitian people have shown remarkable resilience in the face of adversity, and companies like ComCEL have seen the opportunity and potential of the Haiti people – the Haitian people and the nation of Haiti. For over 10 years, ComCEL has offered affordable, high quality wireless cellular service in Haiti. But ComCEL does more than provide access to communications. It helps provide access to opportunity. In Haiti, as in every country, education is a key to helping families break the cycle of poverty. So ComCEL has funded over 7,000 primary school scholarships in Haiti, making it the largest corporate scholarship sponsor in the country. They also provide college scholarships for students interested in engineering, law, and accounting, giving hope to many young people that a university degree is within reach.
Outside the classroom, ComCEL-funded programs have had a positive impact throughout Haiti. New internet labs in rural areas to bridge the digital divide, giving coffee farmers access to market rates for their goods, public awareness campaigns highlighting the importance of environmental stewardship have sparked efforts to plant trees and led to the installation of new windmills, providing an additional source of renewable energy.
There are many other examples I could cite, but I’m sure it’s already clear that ComCEL is helping to develop the social and economic conditions that will move Haiti further down the path to progress. So it is my pleasure to present the 2009 Award for Corporate Excellence to ComCEL’s parent company, Trilogy International Partners, for bringing the skills, training, technology, and investment that supports thousands of Haiti’s citizens. And accepting this award on behalf of the company are chairman John Stanton and president Brad Horwitz. (Applause.)MR. STANTON:
Madame Secretary, Secretary Locke, I’m happy to say, and Ambassador Merten, Ambassador Joseph, friends and ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of my partners and our team at Trilogy International, thank you for this great, great honor. We very much appreciate it. We’ve been building wireless systems for about a quarter century in the U.S. and overseas. We started off in the U.S., but have explored the places such as the Caucasus, former Russian republics, and the Caribbean and Africa.
And as we’ve traveled around the world and provided services in different places, we have a common philosophy – that we deploy a 21st
century infrastructure that enables less-developed countries to replace older technologies and leapfrog a generation. And those systems become the foundation for economic opportunities for the people in those countries.
They also fundamentally become an opportunity to revolutionize the way freedom and democracy and 21st
century statecraft can work for the countries and the people in those countries. We’re proud of the businesses that we’ve built and we’re even more proud of the teams that we work with that have taken on the opportunities to improve the lives of citizens in the countries in which we provide service. It’s Trilogy’s philosophy to make investments, particularly in education, because we believe that education is fundamentally the civil right opportunity of our generation.
We’re particularly pleased that we accept this award, in a sense, on behalf of the industry, and pleased that the former and current head of the industry association, Tom Wheeler and Steve Largent, are here with us today. We appreciate the industry’s support because there – we’re just one of many companies that we think are making a difference.
Our business is no stranger to the State Department. We have spent many decades walking the corridors of power here at the State Department. And it has been critical to our success to have the help of your team, Madame Secretary, to, in some cases, rescue capital halfway around the world. Madame Secretary, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the people in this building as well as the representatives of the United States across the world for the terrific work they’ve done on behalf of our business and many others. Thank you. SECRETARY CLINTON:
Thank you. (Applause.) MR. STANTON:
I’d also like to thank those in the commercial diplomacy. As a part of the Commerce Department, I have to say I’m tickled to have – I still think of him as former governor of the state of Washington where we’re from, Gary Locke and his pioneering wife, Mona Lee, here representing the commercial diplomacy that have made an important difference in leveling the playing field, and those at the Commerce Department have made a difference for us in our ability to succeed. It’s not always easy to be a U.S. investor or a U.S. company operating overseas and playing by the rules, but the Commerce Department, along with the State Department, has made that easier.
Nearly two decades ago, one of my good friends approached me with the crazy – I thought insane – idea to go to some of the poorest and roughest places in the world to provide wireless services. Our business depends on being in business over a long period of time to succeed. But it was his visionary thought and that idea that brought us here today, and I’d like to turn it over to my partner, Brad Horwitz, for his brief comment. (Applause.)MR. HORWITZ:
Thank you, John. Madame Secretary, recognizing our work in Haiti is particularly gratifying to Trilogy, because on October 14th
of this year, we celebrated our 10th
anniversary of providing service to the country. We’ve weathered many storms over the past decade – those of nature, the successive Atlantic hurricanes that devastated the island, and those manmade periods of political violence and social unrest.
Even without these disruptions, operating in Haiti has been full of challenges, mostly caused by weak institutional capacity and poor infrastructure. And I will admit, there were many times when our better business sense suggested that we pack up and leave. I would find myself consistently heading to the airport in Port-au-Prince frustrated beyond belief. But Voila’s chairman – ComCEL’s chairman Bernard would always grab my arm and say, “Don’t give up.” He said, “A little more time and a little more patience, and we can make something good happen.” We stayed.
In 2005, our ambitions in Haiti got stymied again as we ran into a brick wall as we were trying to upgrade and invest in additional technology. We were trying to put $50 million to work, bringing the latest services to the country, but we were unfairly blocked by an interim government at that time whose motives today I still don’t understand.
This time, however, it wasn’t Bernard who grabbed me, it was really a chance meeting in New York with the universally renowned musician Wyclef Jean and his partners Jerry and Seth, who described how together and working together in a partnership that we could provide hope, pride, and inspiration to the next generation of Haitians, focusing on the kids and on education. I bought in with that, and we stayed. And of course, Wyclef is with us here today. (Applause.)
Haiti, for Trilogy, however has become more than just a business. It has become our passion. We have found ourselves woven into the fabric of the Haitian society, and that’s where we experience our greatest rewards. Watching the matriculation of hundreds and thousands of students in the battered coastal towns of Gonaives made possible through scholarships that we have funded. Or seeing how small grants can turn unemployed youth into budding entrepreneurs. When we set up a computer lab in Cite de Soleil, the poorest slum in Port-au-Prince, and we saw the look on the faces of the kids, accessing the internet and the possibilities of learning for the very first time.
Over the last ten years, Trilogy has emerged as the largest U.S. investor and one of the largest taxpayers in Haiti. Giving back to the community has been a guiding principle for us. We have approximately 30 active projects at any given time, focusing largely on youth and on education. We have built computer labs, water stations, basketball courts, sponsored culture festivals. We are also the proud corporate partner of Yéle Haiti, the foundation that was set up by Wyclef.
Our business was founded on the belief that good works go hand in hand with good business. Notwithstanding our social projects, however, our greatest contribution to the people of Haiti has been that we have built a successful business that has proved sustainable over time and has generated hundreds of quality jobs. It is our belief that only the private sector can raise Haiti out of the poverty that it’s in today. And as such, we see it as our mission to harness the industry and the innovation of the Haitian people for our strategies and for our operating plans. This is our philosophy in all of our markets.
Today we are seeking to do just that in increasing public telephony and internet services to rural parts of Haiti through a program where we will deploy thousands of entrepreneurial Haitians as human call centers to communities where service is essential, but ownership of a phone or of a computer is not.
In closing, I’d just like to thank a few individuals as well. First, let me recognize the CEO of Voila-ComCEL Robin Patberg, and our director of social investment – (applause) – Gwynne Beatty. Working together, Robin and Gwynne have balanced our business goals with our social commitments. Secondly, I’d like to thank my partner of almost 30 years, John Stanton, who, in spite of four coup d'etats in one year, one in which our local employees were held at gunpoint and one in which I was actually deported, never lost faith in our ability to do both well and good in challenging markets.
I would also like to recognize Wyclef Jean, who – SECRETARY CLINTON:
Stand up, Wyclef.
(Applause.) MR. HORWITZ:
Wyclef’s gift for music, song, and transformative artistry is only rivaled by his love and generosity for his countrymen in Haiti. Wyclef, (in French). I would like to acknowledge Riva Levinson, our longtime D.C. consultant who’s helped the company navigate some very challenging times and stands with us today to share a moment of success and joy. And finally, I would like to recognize the chairman of ComCEL-Voila, Bernard Fils-Aime. For over a decade, John and I and the rest of the Trilogy investors have relied on Bernard’s vision, tenacity, and compassion. Thank you, Bernard, for your leadership and for your loyalty. Thank you, Madame Secretary. (Applause.) SECRETARY CLINTON:
Thank you. Thank you. Do you have family members? You want to get a picture? You want to bring your family up? We’ll do a quick picture.
And while the family members are coming up, I’m going to be taking the picture, and then I unfortunately have to depart. And I’m going to turn the podium back over to Under Secretary Hormats to begin the interactive portion of our program. But again, I want to thank Blake, John, Brad for reminding us that American businesses can do much more than sell goods and services. They can bring hope and optimism to communities abroad. They can inspire others to take risks to become entrepreneurs and grow their own businesses. They can really give people the sense that the private sector can make a difference, a lasting sustainable difference, and they can do well as well as doing good.