Effectively tackling the challenges we face as a global community requires coordination and cooperation – not just across international borders, but across public and private sectors. The Department of State must constantly seek new ways to harness the knowledge and innovation of the private sector, and as the newly appointed Special Representative for Global Partnerships, my job is to amplify the importance of public-private partnerships in advancing the Administration’s top foreign policy priorities.
Two weeks into my role, and I was off to do just that. My trip to Lisbon and Amman is a great example of the collaborative power of the public and private sectors to tackle some of the biggest global challenges of our time.
Day 1: I arrived in Lisbon in the early morning, giving me enough time to have breakfast and my morning coffee before setting out to Innovathon, the location of the UN Youth and Innovation Forum. The conference, located directly on the beach – hands down the best conference site I have ever attended – was alive with the energy and enthusiasm of bringing climate solutions to market.
I had the pleasure of meeting with the public-private brainstorming team vested in reimagining the Ocean Accelerator Network: Gualter Crisostomo, Deputy to the Minister of Economy and the Sea of Portugal; Mark Kaplan, Partner at Envisible; Antonio Dias Martins, Executive Director of Startup Portugal; and Wench Gronbrekk, Director of Strategy, Partnerships, and External Relations for SeaBOS. During our meeting, we spoke passionately about the urgency we all felt to be active participants in supporting programs and initiatives focused on bringing climate solutions to the global market. I highlighted our Connecting Climate Entrepreneurs (CCE) initiative, which provides opportunities for entrepreneurs and startups in emerging markets to improve, scale, and bring their climate solutions to market.
Day 2: Before heading back to Innovathon, I was able to explore the area around the Altice Arena, the home of the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition and the 2022 UN Ocean Conference. While walking past the Oceanário de Lisboa, I stumbled across the Plastic Monster Dragon, an art installation designed to raise awareness on the dangers of single use plastics in the ocean. Once a bag filled with plastic is collected from the ocean, it is added to its body causing the monster to grow.
Arriving back at Innovathon, I had the pleasure of meeting with Daniela Fernandez, founder of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA), a global organization that is cultivating and accelerating innovative solutions to protect and sustain the health of the ocean. We both emphasized the importance of supporting the creativity and innovation of entrepreneurs and startups aimed at bringing climate solutions to market and the role public private partnerships play in making that happen. SOA was partnered with corporations and governments to develop solutions aimed at addressing some of our greatest climate challenges.
At the closing ceremony of Innovathon, I had the opportunity to give closing remarks on the power of youth and innovation being our greatest strength in confronting our shared climate change challenges head-on. After the ceremony ended, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the entrepreneurs, startups, and climate change stakeholders and discussed possible opportunities for further collaboration.
Day 3: After spending two energizing days in Lisbon with some incredibly talented and innovative individuals, I was off to Jordan. My goal in Jordan was to support Halcyon, one of the awardees of GP’s COVID-19 Private Sector Engagement and Partnership Fund, who are currently running a business incubator program in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and to learn more about the role the private sector plays in Jordan’s economic ecosystem, as well as possible opportunities for collaboration on shared goals and objectives.
Day 4: My first day in Jordan was packed full of meetings with Jordanian private sector actors working to overcome some of the country’s biggest social and economic challenges. It started with a morning coffee briefing with Embassy Amman’s Economic Officers. I learned that Jordan is the second-most water-scarce country in the world, with the impacts of climate change and population growth further straining this precious natural resource.
Our first stop was a meeting with American Chamber of Commerce Chairman Samer Judeh and CEO Raghad Alkojah. They explained to us that even though Jordan’s private sector is small, there is tremendous opportunity for growth if we can harness the power of public-private partnerships to accomplish the shared objectives of Jordan and the United States. We then met with Hikma Pharmaceuticals, a global company founded in Jordan, and the Saudi Jordanian Investment Fund, that has designed an innovative public private partnership model with technical advice from the University of California, Los Angeles to support Jordan’s health care industry. We also met with Amam Ventures, an impact investment initiative focused on supporting women-led SMEs in the MENA region.
Next, we went to a reception in honor of the entrepreneurs in the Halcyon MENA Intensive program. The entrepreneurs were selected by Halcyon to participate in their first ever in-country residency program. Through various formal and informal chats with the different organizations, I learned more about their ventures, the issues they address, and the additional support they need to bring their solutions to the global market.
Day 5: I had the pleasure of giving opening remarks at the Pitch Day for the entrepreneurs. I celebrated their ingenuity, encouraged them to continue being the drivers of change in their communities, and emphasized the role public-private partnerships could play in supporting them in their journey to bring their solutions to market. Afterwards, I loved seeing the entrepreneurs in action. All the hard work they had put into preparing for Pitch Day shone through; I was filled with energy and optimism.
After the first round of pitches, I headed to Embassy Amman to meet with some fellow U.S. government colleagues. USAID Mission Director Sherry Carlin provided me with a better understanding of the issues USAID is addressing, mostly around water access and high unemployment, and the programs they are developing and implementing around these issues. I was also able to highlight our collaboration with USAID on the COVID-19 Fund, specifically the Halcyon program hosted in Jordan.
I then had a trip debrief with Alan Eyre, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Amman. He was elated to hear about the conversations I had with various public and private sector stakeholders vested in the future of Jordan and of the potential opportunities for collaboration.
My last meeting of the day was with Beyond Limits, a California-based company that is designing artificial intelligence-based solutions for industrial applications. Beyond Limits is showcasing Jordan’s most significant resource: its young and well-educated workforce. Jordan hopes to attract more international tech companies to expand its exports of IT services.
Still having the evening to explore the city, I headed to Amman Citadel Hill, an archeological site at the center of downtown Amman. The Citadel has a fascinating history across many great civilizations, and it’s a great place for tourists to come and experience some amazing views of the city.
Day 5: I boarded a plane headed back to the United States knowing that the innovative spirit I witnessed during my visits to Portugal and Jordan are key to tackling the challenges we face today and building the future we want to see tomorrow.