Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. I want to thank Jim Wolfensohn for participating in this conference. This is hot off the presses. The Social Entrepreneurship in the Middle East: Towards Sustainable Development for the Next Generation, produced by the Wolfensohn – as in Jim Wolfensohn – Center for Development at the Brookings Institute – apparently, this is an issue whose time has come. And that’s because of all of you.
So it is such a pleasure to be with you at one of the most exciting gatherings of entrepreneurs anywhere in the world today. And I join those who have already welcomed you to Washington and thank you for helping to make President Obama’s Summit on Entrepreneurship such a success. With this summit, we carry forward a conversation about the role that entrepreneurs can and must play in a healthy, thriving, prosperous, stable society, and how each of us, no matter where we live or who we are, can help to spread the principles and the benefits of entrepreneurship to people everywhere.
I would imagine that some of you came wondering, well, what is this really all about and why is the United States and the Obama Administration sponsoring this conversation? And it is because we believe that by bringing together men and women from dozens of countries and all walks of life, this summit has made one thing clear: Being entrepreneurial does not depend on your job title or what you studied in school or even that you went to formal schooling at all. Entrepreneurship is a way of looking at the world and seeing not just obstacles, but opportunities; not just the world as it is, but the world as it could be, and then having the confidence, the determination, and the resources to move those worlds closer together.
An entrepreneur is anyone with the imagination to conceive of a new product, process, or service, and the ability and persistence to turn that idea into something real. My father was a small businessperson. By that, I mean very small. He employed maybe one, two, or three laborers depending upon what he was doing. He ran a small printing plant for fabrics. He enlisted my mother, my brothers and me. We were often down there at the factory doing the work of pouring the paint into the silk screens and taking what was called a (inaudible) and pushing the paint through the design and then lifting the screen up and moving it down these very long tables. And it was really remarkable that my father made a success of that small business just by stint of hard work, persistence, commitment, and a belief that he could.
Well, here with us today are people who would recognize that story. Masooma Habibi,
who was born in an Afghan refugee camp, worked as a carpet weaver as a young girl, and now, at the age of 23, runs her own electrical engineering company in Kabul and has more than 20 employees. Ibrahim Qureshi, who – yes, let’s give her a round of applause. (Applause.)
Ibrahim Qureshi, who founded Pakistan’s first domestic computer brand; and Rehema Jaldesa, who runs a construction and telecommunications company in Kenya, literally helping to build her country’s future; Daler Jumaev, who directs the only private power company in Tajikistan. It used to provide just 12 hours of electricity a day, but thanks to his leadership, homes there now have power nearly around the clock.
As these and so many other stories represented by all of you show, entrepreneurs create jobs, deliver services, help new industries get off the ground, raise the standard of living of direct employees, and then all who are touched by them. But the realm of the entrepreneur exists beyond business. Entrepreneurs are tackling problems of poverty and inequity, like Shaheen Mistri, whose nonprofit provides after-school tutoring to children in slums in India. They’re closing gaps in healthcare delivery and access to capital, like Amjid Ali, a banker who leads health and finance outreach programs for South Asian immigrants in England. They’re expanding access to communication technologies, helping people connect to each other and the larger world, like Papa Yusupha Njie, who trains young people in Web design and computer repair at his cyber cafe in The Gambia.
Now, these accomplishments should be possible anywhere and everywhere. Human imagination is, after all, universal. Yet too often, people cannot follow where their imagination leads them because innovation is simply too difficult or too risky. As a result, good ideas have nowhere to go.
So in light of these challenges, President Obama proposed this summit not only to celebrate your work, but to find ways to sustain, strengthen, and expand it. We knew that more dreams could come true if you could be put in touch with each other, and I’ve been delighted to hear about your discussions during the summit – the challenges you’ve addressed, the stories you’ve shared, the opportunities you’ve begun to explore together. And I hope these conversations will continue throughout the week at the events that our partners have planned for you in Washington.
Because engaging through entrepreneurship can benefit every country represented here, including, I might add, the United States, by forging closer ties through increased trade, new educational exchanges, new partnerships in science and technology, greater cooperation on global challenges like hunger, poverty, or climate change. Relations between nations are sustained by the connections between their peoples. And so we are all stronger for your time together here.
And I hope each of you will return home full of new ideas and a renewed sense of both purpose and possibility. But as you know, an entrepreneur’s life is not always easy, especially in the early days of a new enterprise when success is far from certain and partners may be hard to find. But every one of you is now part of this global community, with access to a network of information, advice, and support. And I hope you will help expand this community and turn the conversations you’ve had here into collaborations that endure.
And as you do that, I hope you’ll remember that the fullest measure of your impact will not only be in dollars or dinars or rupees or rupiahs, but in the lives you change and the progress you inspire and the better futures you help to create. Because you have the power not only to drive economic growth, but to promote shared prosperity, call for open and accountable governance, help expand access to services like healthcare and education. These are the pillars of stable, thriving societies. And you are the people with the talent and opportunity to help build them.
And you can count on the United States to be your partner, because this summit reflects the new approach to foreign policy that President Obama described last year at Cairo University, one that we have been putting into practice through partnerships based on shared values, mutual respect, and mutual responsibility. These partnerships are not only with governments, but they are with citizens like all of you who can help us generate local, regional, and global progress. So far, we have developed initiatives that will build on the work of this summit and support entrepreneurs worldwide in the months and years ahead.
And here are some of the outcomes of this summit, as to what the United States intends to do. First, we are launching the Global Entrepreneurship Program. That’s an initiative that will provide concrete support to new entrepreneurs, starting in Muslim-majority communities and eventually expanding to others worldwide. Through this program, we will work with the United States private sector partners and local businesses, along with civil society groups, to help create successful entrepreneurial environments. We will help sponsor business plan competitions to identify and support promising ideas. We will work to expand access to capital so entrepreneurs with a sound business concept will have access to credit to enable them to put their ideas to work. We will facilitate partnerships between business schools in the United States and educational institutions worldwide to share knowledge and help strengthen business education. We will support mentoring programs so someone starting out can benefit from the experience of someone who’s been down that road before.
I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Global Entrepreneurship Program’s first pilot program, in Egypt, coordinated by a team of Entrepreneurs in Residence from USAID. We will soon launch our second program in Indonesia, and we plan to expand to a dozen countries within the next two years. (Applause.)
Second, we have established partnerships with two Silicon Valley-based organizations: the Global Technology and Innovation Partners, and the Innovators Fund. Both were started by U.S. venture capitalists and business leaders inspired by President Obama’s call at Cairo to support innovation and entrepreneurship in Muslim majority communities worldwide. Both partnerships will launch in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Malaysia, and will then expand from there. (Applause.)
These new efforts will help increase access to seed funding, venture capital, and Silicon Valley’s technology and business expertise. The State Department will help facilitate this effort by connecting these funds with local partners and institutions. Now, our partnerships are inclusive. We seek to work with a wide range of private sector groups that are looking to support entrepreneurs worldwide.
We will also be working to implement an exciting partnership that I launched this morning. Together with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, I announced a collaboration between the State Department and a new group called Partners for a New Beginning. This is a team of eminent Americans from across sectors and industries who will lead an effort to engage the U.S. private sector in carrying out our vision for a new beginning with Muslims in communities globally.
For example, they might reach out to companies to provide equipment and technology for the Scientific Centers of Excellence overseas, or help launch internships and mentoring programs for emerging business leaders, or encourage angel investors in this country to partner with angel investors abroad. Through collaborations like these, Partners for a New Beginning will deepen ties between our people and institutions, and give more Americans the chance to contribute to this common endeavor.
Partners for a New Beginning will be chaired by Secretary Albright. Its vice chairs will be Walter Isaacson, the president of the Aspen Institute, and Muhtar Kent, the chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Company. And I want to thank them for their commitment and I really hope that this effort will inspire similar efforts from private sector leaders around the world.
Fourth, I’m pleased to announce the launch of a new effort to expand access to mentors for aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs. We’re calling it the e-Mentor Corps. Mentors provide invaluable support and advice, but for too many entrepreneurs, good mentors are hard to find. You may be doing something that nobody else you know has ever attempted before. Through the e-Mentor Corps, an entrepreneur seeking a mentor can go online and find a person with the expertise they need on everything from securing financing to writing a business plan.
Several private sector groups have pledged to supply mentors from their global networks, including Intel, Ernst & Young, the Kauffman Foundation, Endeavor, TechWadi, the Young Presidents’ Organization, and Babson College. The State Department has worked with several existing groups to create and develop online portals for the e-Mentor Corps. And in the days ahead, we will post links to those sites on the State Department homepage. We will also email you and other partners with the details of how to sign up. And we hope that in the future, each of you can become a mentor as well. The success of this program depends on its participants, and I urge you to join and to encourage others to do the same.
Now, these initiatives comprise a first wave of programs to promote global entrepreneurship. But they reflect the Obama Administration’s commitment to a new approach to development, one based on investment, not aid; on supporting local leadership and ideas rather than imposing our own. We believe that this approach is more likely to yield lasting results in the form of greater security, dignity, prosperity, and opportunity for more people worldwide. And we call on other governments to help facilitate this progress.
Now, in particular, we know that there are many obstacles to your doing business in many of the countries represented here. We need to encourage your governments to make the legal and commercial reforms needed to encourage trade, allow for the free flow of ideas, lower the barriers to launching new businesses. (Applause.)
These reforms are critical to creating an environment in which entrepreneurs can flourish. I have emphasized all of these issues in my conversations with leaders around the world and will continue to do so. And for those countries willing to take the necessary steps, the United States will be a partner in creating environments that foster new businesses and foster an investment climate that will attract capital from everywhere.
So we know there’s a lot of work to do, and we’re counting on you to help us. For if one thing unites all entrepreneurs, it is a belief in the possible, a belief that your world and the larger world can be made better, that new ideas can solve old problems, problems that are centuries old, and that one person’s hard work can lift many lives. Now, you know these things are true because you prove them every single day.
I think one of the clear lessons that we have learned from working with so many people around the world over the course of so many years is that the old story about whether you give a person a fish or you help a person to learn to fish is so universally true. And what we want to do is unleash the talent and creativity that exists across the world, in every community. I’m often amazed at how resourceful people are in the poorest of the poor families and neighborhoods and communities. People solve problems that nobody’s helping them solve. And I often think about the young people that I’ve worked with over the years who were denied opportunities for education, who didn’t come from stable families, who were told time and time again that they couldn’t do something or they weren’t worth anything, but somehow found the strength inside to discard what the outside world told them and to believe in themselves. It really takes that level of belief to overcome the obstacles that we see preventing progress, stifling creativity.
So I urge you to continue to innovate, experiment, and lead; to use your resources and the power of your example to bring more people into this exciting activity that will improve lives, raise incomes, expand the horizons of so many who otherwise would not have a chance. I am absolutely convinced that building a strong economic foundation, creating a middle class, is essential to building good governance, rule of law, sustainable development, and so much more.
So we may come from different places. We may have different histories, different cultures. But we believe in the power of the individual, or you would not be here. We believe that a person with a good idea, willing to work hard, can really make a difference.
So I thank you for what you’ve already accomplished, and I look forward to hearing about all of your achievements in the years ahead. The United States is very proud to support you as you make your way, as you decide your future.
And I finally would just ask that you think about other opportunities that could be provided through this partnership that we are creating for a new beginning. You are the experts in where you live, where you work, where you are building your futures. So please don’t be hesitant about letting us know what is working and what’s not working, because we believe in taking hard looks at the facts and evidence. And if something’s not working, we want to change direction and get on a path that is more likely to succeed. We need your feedback, we need your honest and constructive criticism, we invite it. We more than invite it; we welcome it.
So thank you for being part of this exciting adventure that we have launched today with this summit. I’m so pleased that you all were willing to travel here and maybe take a little bit of a chance on what you were going to find at the other end, to try to figure out what was this really all about and where was it leading, if anywhere. But now it’s up to both of us. We can put on the conference and provide the space, but it’s really up to each of you to determine whether this venture can really be a success. But having read a lot of the bios and a lot of the information about the participants, I think it’s a pretty safe bet. So we’re going to work with you. And thank you for believing in a better future for everyone. (Applause.)