MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose Fernandez; Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs Sarah Morgenthau; United States Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski; and the 2023 Award for Corporate Excellence recipients; and finally, our master of ceremonies, Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Ramin Toloui. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the 24th annual ceremony for the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence. On behalf of the entire Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, I’d like to thank you all for being here today, both in person in the historic Benjamin Franklin Room and tuning in virtually on our livestream from around the world. I’m honored to be with you here to help recognize the exemplary work of U.S. companies and their impact on communities worldwide.
At the 2023 ACE award ceremony, we are honoring five U.S. companies, large and small, for creating positive societal impact in the categories of sustainable supply chains, innovation, and women’s economic security. Not only do these five companies serve as role models for other American businesses, they set standards for the private sector to follow across the globe. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I extend my sincere gratitude to the five winning companies today. You demonstrate the best to the world, what the best of American Corporate Excellence and U.S. values are.
At this time, please join me in welcoming to the podium Secretary of State Antony Blinken to offer his remarks and announce the winners of the 2023 Award for Corporate Excellence. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you. Well, good morning, everyone. And let me add my welcome to the State Department, to the Benjamin Franklin Room. Under Secretary Fernandez, Assistant Secretary Toloui, thank you for the work that you and your extraordinary teams are doing every day to help American businesses create good paying jobs, both here at home and around the world.
And it’s a special pleasure for me to welcome our new Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs Sarah Morgenthau. Sarah, you are bringing extraordinary experience leading the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Commerce, and across the private sector to this task, to this mission of advocating for American business overseas. We’re very lucky to have you here. Welcome. (Applause.) And to all our guests from across the diplomatic and business communities, welcome. Welcome here today and welcome every day to the work that we are doing together.
Now, it’s very fitting that we’re here in the Ben Franklin Room. Ben’s looking down on us right there. In addition to being one of America’s founding fathers and our country’s very first diplomat, Franklin was also a respected Philadelphia businessman. He actually ran a weekly meeting of fellow merchants who believed in being serviceable to mankind. Together, they helped to establish a firefighting brigade, a hospital, and the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin knew that the incredible power of American enterprise could make a difference, a difference not only in the enterprise itself but for the communities in which these enterprises were embedded. He believed that business leaders had a duty to use the extraordinary power they had to promote the prosperity and the well-being of their communities.
More than two centuries later, American business continues to meet that charge. In my travels around the world, more than 75 countries and counting, I have seen the immense demand, the immense interest, the immense attractiveness of American enterprise. And I’ve seen the American private sector’s capacity to deliver solutions to the challenges that people most care about: developing clean energy solutions in Nigeria; supporting Ukraine’s reconstruction; laying undersea cables and powering internet access for Pacific Island countries, as Australian Prime Minister Albanese and President Biden announced just last week.
It’s not just what our businesses do, but how they do it: working in partnership with local communities, investing in human capital, adhering to the highest environmental and labor standards. The five American companies that we’re honoring today showcase these qualities through the work that they’re doing abroad. Our first award category is in sustainable supply chains, which, as we’ve all seen over the last few years, are absolutely vital for delivering everything from life-saving medicines to semiconductors. The United States is leveraging our unparalleled network of allies and partners to bolster supply chain resilience, including through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council. The private sector is a key partner in each of these efforts.
Parsyl, a cold chain risk management company based in Abidjan, applies a data-driven approach to the supply chain for easily spoiled items like vaccines. They collect information at every step, from manufacturing to distribution, bringing transparency to a complicated process. And that enables companies to make better decisions about everything from which trade routes to use to better packaging their goods, all of which helps make sure that critical supplies get to where they’re needed.
As Africa’s first e-motorcycle company, Ampersand, based in Kigali, offers customers a more affordable and sustainable alternative to traditional gas-powered models. Using battery packs that can be easily transferred and swapped out at stations across Kenya and Rwanda, Ampersand has cut down on recharging times. It’s proving that clean energy solutions can be better for both the bottom line and for the environment.
The second award category today is innovation. It gets into how we do our work at our best: with creativity, with a focus on solving big challenges, and in close coordination with our like-minded partners. The winner for this category, Kentegra Biotechnology, exhibits this same ethos. They collaborate with Kenyan universities, with government agencies, and farmers to harvest pyrethrum, a climate-resistant crop. Their training program has helped more than 10,000 farmers learn climate-smart practices that protect the soil while growing healthier food. And this is really a model for other agricultural companies around the world.
Our third and final award today is in the category of women’s economic security. Now, earlier this year we launched the U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security to help break down barriers to women’s full economic participation, because we know that economies are stronger when everybody can contribute to their full potential. There are studies that show that if women work equitably in the workforce across the world, if they have equal participation, it would add $28 trillion to global GDP. Just imagine the problems we could solve, the challenges we could meet, with all of that added firepower in our workforces.
The two winners in this category – Avertra in Amman, and Google Poland in Warsaw – are advancing these goals through intentional investments in their people and their communities. In Avertra’s case, that means offering policies like flexible working hours for new parents and skills training for groups traditionally underrepresented in tech. Their efforts are paying off. Forty percent of – excuse me, 44 percent of the company’s employees are women – more than three times the rate of female workforce participation in Jordan. And for Google Poland, that means providing mentorship programs for women as well as free courses in fields like cyber security and data analytics for Ukrainian women refugees in Poland. These programs are led by the company’s leadership team – all five of whom are women.
Each of the companies we’re celebrating today highlight some of the very best American values: hard work, creativity, service. They reject the false choice between doing well for themselves and doing good for the world. They do both at the same time. That’s what we mean when we talk about a race to the top. That’s the economic future that our people and people around the world want. And that’s the one that we’re going to work each and every day to deliver, inspired by the example of our honorees.
So thank you all for your extraordinary contributions, for your extraordinary leadership, and for your partnership. And with that, Ramin, back to you. Thanks, everyone. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Mr. Secretary, thank you for those remarks and getting this ceremony off to a great start. The work of our 2023 ACE awardees around the world really does serve as an inspiration. And though we could speak at length about these companies, a picture is worth a thousand words. So let me please turn your attention to the screen for a brief montage of images that illustrate the remarkable work of our awardees.
(A video was played.)
Okay, now what everyone’s been waiting for: we begin our presentation of the 2023 Awards for Corporate Excellence. And we’re proud to start by recognizing two outstanding companies in the category of sustainable supply chains. This category honors companies who have used their tools and technologies to maintain the integrity of global supply chains. Our winners this year have harnessed their tools to ensure positive health outcomes for individuals across Africa, reduced environmental impact of the rising number of vehicles on the road, and supported social and economic stability for a healthier, more prosperous future.
The first winner we would like to honor is Parsyl, nominated by the U.S. Embassy Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. We have a video from U.S. Ambassador Jessica Davis Ba coming up next.
(A video was played.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Thank you to Ambassador Davis Ba. And now it is my honor to present Parsyl with the 2023 Secretary’s Award for Sustainable Supply Chains. Please join me in welcoming Souleymane Sawadogo, chief global health officer of Parsyl, to offer brief remarks and accept the award. (Applause.)
MR SAWADOGO: Thank you. Thank you for the honor. I would like to accept this award on behalf of Parsyl with overwhelming pride and gratitude and recognition – with gratitude and recognition of our unwavering commitment to improving access to lifesaving vaccines around the world. I would also like to congratulate the other remarkable award winners. We are very proud to be standing alongside you today.
At Parsyl we have always believed that businesses should seek more than profits alone. We – they should be the catalyst of positive changes, especially in world we face with a lot of challenges. This ethos underpins our vision to build a world where everywhere and everyone can trust the quality of the goods they rely on, from the vaccines they are using to the foods they are eating and the medicine they need.
The root of our company lies in monitoring critical vaccine supply chain in Africa, and we are so proud to be working with many countries there today. We have built our technology to work in the most challenging environments, a testament to our commitment to ensuring that every life counts. We have replaced antiquated methods with innovative solutions, enabling ministries of health and their partners and front-line health care workers to deliver safe and effective vaccines, even in regions with limited infrastructure. Our technology not only empowers the end users to understand and improve the supply chain, but our technology contribute to the saving lives.
I want to give a heartful thank you to Ambassador Davis Ba, the U.S. ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire, for nominating us, and for working alongside us to support the ministry of health and front-line health care workers in improving health care, saving lives. Thank you for your support, and together let’s continue to make a positive change, impact on global scale. Thank you. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Thank you, Souleymane.
The second company we would like to honor in the category of sustainable supply chains is Ampersand USA, Incorporated, nominated by U.S. Embassy Kigali in Rwanda. We have a video from U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Eric Kneedler.
(A video was played.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Thank you, Ambassador Kneedler. Now it’s my honor to present Ampersand USA Incorporated with the 2023 Secretary’s Award for Sustainable Supply Chains. Please join me in welcoming Josh Whale, CEO of Ampersand USA Incorporated, to offer brief remarks and accept the award. (Applause.)
MR WHALE: Thank you, Mr. Assistant Secretary. It’s an incredible honor to be here today in Washington with my colleagues and my family to receive this award on behalf of Ampersand. Our mission from the beginning was to provide a tool for combating climate change that did not require its users to pay higher costs or make compromises. We developed a world-first sustainable transport solution, which was an electric motorcycle and a battery network for the mass market, and one that simply costs less to buy and less to operate than a gas version from day one.
Our motivation was not only to electrify half of Africa’s road fleet, but also to prove that electric vehicles were not just for rich countries in the Global North but the whole world, and for the whole world today. Ampersand began as a dream of mine almost 10 years ago, but over the years I’ve been joined by others who share this passion and who have contributed their vital ideas and skills to achieve this mission. We are now a team of 300, based mainly in our first market of Rwanda but now also in Kenya and here in the United States.
Through our joint efforts, hand in hand with our pioneering customers, we’ve proven that electric mobility can be a solution for all corners of the world. Our 1,400 vehicles already cover well over a million kilometers every week and reduce carbon by 65 tons a week, all while doubling our customers’ take-home income – doubling. Our success has helped to inspire dozens of companies to spring up in our wake across Africa with a host of different e-mobility solutions.
And as I’m only one colleague of – one employee of many at Ampersand, I would want to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues who’ve worked bravely and tirelessly to get us this far. There are far too many people to thank individually, but I do want to acknowledge their collective efforts, and in particular call out the contributions of my co-founder, Alp Tilev, and our CFO, Andy Williams, who’s here today. Their dedication and loyalty to the company have gone above and beyond what a founder can expect of their team, so thank you.
None of this would have been possible without the support of the U.S. Government and American private sector investors. You believed in us and supported our pioneering approach. In the early days, when we needed it most, we received an innovation grant from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures. This support was a lifeline during the storms of the COVID pandemic when other private sector investors were in full retreat. Later on, we received a debt facility from DFC’s PI2 that allowed us to build our first proper factory and grow 28-fold since early last year.
Alongside the U.S. Government, American private sector investors have crowded in. These include Factor[e] Ventures, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, and Beyond Capital Ventures. Our investors’ optimism and courage helped us to forge ahead through the early prototyping days that were fraught with uncertainty, and later through global crises like COVID-19 and the economic turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
To us, these private and public funders and investors have embodied the best of the American spirit to take leaps of faith in changing – in the pursuit of changing the world for the better. And it’s precisely this bold spirit that we must all embrace to defeat the climate crisis, from Silicon Valley to the Rift Valley. And it is this spirit that we – has been harnessed by the American people under President Biden’s leadership to lead the global transition to a clean energy economy through the infrastructure bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS Act.
Electric mobility presents an unrivaled opportunity for economic growth throughout the world, one that will create jobs and generate impressive returns in the transition to a clean energy economy. While the IRA is igniting American ingenuity and action in this effort domestically, other initiatives – like DFC’s PI2, PGII, and Power Africa – are helping to ensure that the benefits of climate tech are shared worldwide. As the IRA bears fruit, we look forward to strengthening our collaboration with American companies to source EV components here in the U.S. We also believe we can offer U.S. companies software for managing fleets of thousands of EVs and batteries, and expertise gained from data gathered over tens of millions of miles already.
I also wish to recognize the ambassadors today from Rwanda and DCM Gacheru from Kenya. Rwanda’s been a fantastic launchpad for us to develop our solution, and a solution that can spread rapidly across the whole continent. Rwanda’s also passed Africa’s first and by far most comprehensive suite of e-mobility policies. However, His Excellency President Ruto’s administration is also working hard to catch up, and has made replacing Kenya’s gas motorbikes with electric motorbikes his flagship announcement at the recent Africa Climate Summit.
So in closing, I’d like to thank Secretary Blinken again, as well as the State Department and U.S. Embassy Kigali for highlighting our bold vision today and for sharing our story with the world. Your faith in us is a constant inspiration to continue to keep doing the hard things – to fight for the future we want to leave our children and for future generations. Thank you all. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Thank you, Josh.
In the category of innovation, the winning company is Kentegra Biotechnology. Nominated by the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kentegra has contributed to solving global food insecurity while combating climate change with innovative agricultural technology. This is a great example of how U.S. ingenuity helps pioneer global solutions that address the challenges of climate change, food insecurity, and human health. Up next, we have a video from U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman.
(A video was played.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Thank you, Ambassador Whitman. Now it’s my honor to present Kentegra Biotechnology with the 2023 Secretary’s Award for Sustainable Supply Chains. Please join me in welcoming Brian McKenzie, CEO of Kentegra Biotechnology, to offer brief remarks and accept the award. (Applause.)
MR MCKENZIE: So first, I’d like to say thank you to Ambassador Meg Whitman for her can-do attitude and being the model for what America does best. Under Secretary Jose Fernandez, Special Representative Morgenthau, Assistant Secretary Toloui – what a great program, acknowledging the positive examples of what can be done together. I’d also like to highlight Ambassador David Gacheru, who was one of the first who saw the potential in Kentegra and has been a firm supporter since. Thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s with immense gratitude and appreciation that we accept this prestigious award in the innovation category on behalf of our remarkable team at Kentegra. Innovation is one of our core values that we call K-Engine. Ingenuity is at the heart of our efforts to redeem what was once the third-largest export in Kenya in the 1980s. The pyrethrum flower can once again provide a living wage for tens of thousands of highland farmers while also transforming into an important organic insecticide. With the negative impacts that many of the synthetic insecticides have on human health and the environment, the need for this natural, kinder to mammals but tough on insects, active ingredient is needed around the world and in Kenya, providing safer food, protecting crops, and helping to prevent insect-borne diseases, while also providing valuable opportunities to those same farmers.
At Kentegra, innovation starts with the planting material, breeding the first four new varieties registered in Kenya in over 50 years – to the research and development farm that establishes the best practices that are taught to our farming partners as part of regenerative agricultural curriculum. Micah Thuo, somewhere in the crowd here this morning, who leads our field operations, I would like to say thank you for your efforts. Where are you, Micah? There we are. Thank you.
The factory and our core processes were designed by our engineering team to continue to add capacity and improve operational performance. Our goal is to be a world-class organization. A big thanks to Michael Wataka, who’s leading our engineering team, who’s also here this morning. Michael.
As I learn more about the winners of the Award for Corporate Excellence, it’s humbling to be sharing the same stage. In many of our stories, there are some common themes: important partnerships with host countries, crucial participation from American investors, and appreciative support from local American embassies supporting us to solve problems that are in front of us.
Ladies and gentlemen, our small level of success would not have been possible without the invaluable support of business partners – farmers like Gladys Mbithi, who says her income has increased eightfold since she started working with Kentegra. And with this income, school fees are being paid, they’ve bought their own home, and have added other income projects like livestock to further diversify their income streams. This is a great example of upward mobility. Gladys’s story serves as a daily inspiration and reminder of the immense responsibility we have in stewarding this joint opportunity as we work to foster a shared value system that creates financial stability, dignity, empowers women, and transforms communities.
When the going gets tough, when I ask why we’re doing it, all we have to do is spend a little time and go up country with our partner farmers and I understand why.
I must also acknowledge with gratitude the United States Government – from the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, USAID, DFC, USTDA, Prosper Africa, and other government agencies – for providing essential financial and technical know-how. For example, DFC’s approval of a debt facility this past July is enabling the construction of a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility projected to triple our processing capacity and serve more farmers in Kenya and in the East Africa region. It’s a testament to the power of collaboration between the public and private sectors in advancing solutions for our society.
Our heartfelt gratitude goes to our investors. Their belief in our mission, their strategic investment, their confidence have allowed us to forge ahead even in the face of challenges – COVID. We have the backing that allows us to live out our shared values and our vision to drive sustainable human flourishing.
More personally, I’d like to thank Scott Sweat and David Payne, both founders of the business and partners in this adventure. Thank you for your desire to make a difference and to honor God with your abilities. As a team, we appreciate John, Linda, Dick, Maurice, Jackie, and the rest of the team working away in Kenya. Your collective efforts are making the world a better place and helping to provide an opportunity for so many. Sharon, my wife, thank you for being my north star, and with the other families behind Kentegra, for your sacrifices in making this company possible.
As we celebrate this achievement today, we’re so thankful for God’s provision and faithfulness. Let this award be a reminder that with innovation, dedication, and just doing the next right things, big things can happen.
MR MCKENZIE: Thank you. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Brian, thank you. Now I would – it’s my honor to turn the podium over to Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs Sarah Morgenthau. Today marks her second day at the department, and we’re thrilled to have her join the team, and what a time to join the team.
Before joining State, Sarah served as the deputy assistant secretary for the National Travel and Tourism Office at the Commerce Department. Her contributions included working across the federal government and with industry leaders to reopen international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also served in the Obama administration as a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, where she engaged with the business community and facilitated strategic communication on key national security issues while expanding public-private partnerships.
We will undoubtedly benefit from her extensive experience and expertise here at the department. So please join me in welcoming her as she presents the first award-winner for women’s economic security. (Applause.)
MS MORGENTHAU: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Toloui, for that warm welcome. I also want to acknowledge my predecessor in this role, Dilawar Syed, who I see over there, who is now the deputy administrator at the Small Business Administration. So thank you for being here, and I think he had a thing or two to do with picking the honorees today.
As the new special representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, I feel proud to be a part of this diverse coalition of private sector, civil society, and public sector leaders working to promote the rights and empowerment of women and girls. Our shared goal is to advance gender equity and equality globally. I am thrilled to be present at this event, celebrating the commitment of these two American companies who have shown exemplary support for women’s economic security through their values, strategies, policies, procedures, and operational practices.
In January 2023, the United States launched their first ever interagency U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security. This strategy laid out a vision for a world in which women and girls, in all their diversity, can meaningfully and equally contribute to and benefit from economic growth and global prosperity.
Today, we are here to celebrate two companies that stand out for their efforts towards women’s economic security. The first of these companies is Avertra, a medium-size technology firm nominated by the U.S. Embassy in Jordan. Avertra’s comprehensive approach to solving a gender-based skills gap by opening an in-house training facility has enabled women to not only join the historically male-dominated tech industry, but also allowed them to rise in the ranks and serve effectively in leadership positions.
Now we have a video message from U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Yael Lempert.
(A video was played.)
MS MORGENTHAU: So thank you to Ambassador Lempert. Now it is my great honor to present Avertra Corp with the 2023 Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence in Women’s Economic Security. Please join me in welcoming Bashir Bseirani, CEO of Avertra Corp, to offer brief remarks and accept this award. (Applause.)
MR BSEIRANI: I definitely missed my cue, so – that’s okay. (Laughter.) Thank you. What an honor. This is so cool. Honestly, at first I thought this was a joke until I realized that it’s real, so. (Laughter.)
First and foremost, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the U.S. Department of State and the ACE Award for Women’s Economic Security committee for this nomination and this recognition. This isn’t just an acknowledgment of Avertra’s effort, but a testament to the values of America that we stand for. My mother, who graces us here today, was born in Jordan and moved to the U.S. as a teenager in search for the American dream. She, along with my sisters, aunts, cousins, my beloved wife who is also with us here today, and one of my sisters is joining us, and all the women of Avertra who are being represented by my wonderful chief of staff – all are my inspiration and my driving passion towards women empowerment, especially in Jordan and in the Middle East.
I have witnessed firsthand the boundless potential of an empowered woman. She can achieve anything. It’s true. I stand before you as Bashir Bseirani, a first generation American. This identity, being an American, is the core of who I am. It’s the lens through which I view the world and the foundation of which I’ve led and grown Avertra. But like many stories, mine has layers. I’m of Arab heritage and a Christian. It often saddens me that in this vast tapestry of cultures that is America, many forget that not all Arabs are Muslim. The Middle East is diverse with Christian Arabs like myself, and even Jewish Arabs. Our narrative, through varied, are threaded in the same fabrics of our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters. At Avertra, our mission is simple yet profound: to simplify life through decision automation and empowerment through equity and equality across the globe.
In Jordan, Avertra is more than a business. We’ve actually created a movement. As soon as you step off the elevator in our office, the American flag greets you, symbolizing our unwavering commitment to the values we share with our homeland. Out of – the youth of Jordan, like youth everywhere, are our future, but many are losing hope, especially women. Through our initiatives, we’ve aimed to reignite that hope, building confidence, fostering acceptance, and emphasizing equity and equality. At the heart of Avertra’s mission in Jordan is our unwavering commitment to the youth and women of Jordan and their economic stability, aligning with our U.S. foreign policy.
By channeling our focus in high-demand sectors like technology and AI, and getting to a point where we have 50 percent female participation, we are not just investing in our business, but we are laying a groundwork for a brighter and more inclusive Jordan. However, our efforts go beyond mere economic measures. Inclusiveness is the core principle we uphold, and it’s deeply rooted in my American values, which is why words matter. The language we choose, especially when describing the people of the Middle East, has profound implications. It shapes perceptions, and perceptions shape reality.
In a world that hangs on our every word, it’s crucial that America stands as the beacon of peace, justice, and leadership. Yet it is disheartening to acknowledge that the sentiment towards America in Jordan is currently at an all-time low. This prevailing sentiment directly challenges our mission. When the people of Jordan sense the U.S. Government perceives all Arabs through a singular, often negative lens, it becomes an uphill battle for us to showcase the America we cherish and love: a land of hope, peace, acceptance, and boundless opportunity. We believe that all lives matter, and it’s crucial that our government – that we work with our government to echo the sentiment, recognizing the value of every life in a step forward towards peace, understanding, and mutual respect.
In this context, I must commend the U.S. embassy in Jordan’s media team. Their recent effort – their recent efforts to highlight the positive steps our government is taking, especially providing financial aid in support of the people of Palestine and Gaza, are commendable. Such initiatives are vital and we need to amplify them, ensuring that the narrative of American goodwill resonates far and wide.
At Avertra, we’re striving every day to support this positive narrative. We strongly believe in the power of economic stability, love, prosperity, acceptance, and diplomacy. We’re working hard to ensure that the individuals we hire and the communities we impact realize our American values. As part of our commitment of economic stability and financial prosperity, we’ve taken the steps to ensure that every one of our team members earns at least twice the minimum salary wage of Jordan. That’s really helped a lot of people get married, have children, buy a car, make their first investments.
Empowering women is the heart of our effort. We know that when women strive, societies change for the better. By focusing on gender equity, we’re not just uplifting half the population, but we’re actually transforming entire communities together.
Before I conclude, I must take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to the exceptional individuals in the U.S. Embassy in Jordan, Stefanie Altman-Winans, Janée Pierre-Louis, Manuela Hernandez, and Calvin Hayes. All who work in the embassy in Amman have been pillars to support Avertra. Their belief in our vision, their unwavering support, and their commitment to fostering ties between Avertra and our broader community has really been invaluable. They recognize the impact that we’ve done in Jordan, hence why they nominated us for this award.
Also, we urge you, the government we trust, to protect American values and American interests in the Middle East. Please, let’s work together to ensure that everybody wins. Let’s not make this task harder than it already is. We need each other now more than ever. At Avertra, we’ve proven that unity in diversity is possible. We’ve brought together people of different faiths, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds under a unified roof, working in harmony. If a small company like ours can achieve this with minimal resources and the power in love, then America, with all of our great influence, can surely have a bigger impact.
In conclusion, we’re honored to receive this award, but our work is far from over. While today is a day of celebration and gratitude, it’s also a call to action. Let’s move forward with empathy, understanding, and collaboration, ensuring the America we represent abroad is one of hope, unity, and boundless possibility.
Thank you. God bless you all and God bless America. (Applause.)
MS MORGENTHAU: While we wish we could have all the ambassadors here today, many of them were not able to come in person, but we heard from them. But there was one ambassador who was not going to let anything stop him from being here today. It is my great honor, before I lose my voice, to have Ambassador Mark Brzezinski from Poland, who will award the second award for Women’s Economic Security. Thank you. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR BRZEZINSKI: Big thanks to Secretary Blinken for hosting this award ceremony. Thanks to him for his leadership in advancing the strategically important U.S.-Polish special friendship. Under the President’s and his leadership, what we see in Poland is that collective security is working. As we say in Poland, (speaks in Polish) – “Poland is safe and Poland is secure,” even in this time of crisis in Eastern Europe.
Thank you, Under Secretary Fernandez, Assistant Secretary Toloui, and Special Representative Morgenthau, for all you do to advance the overlay between the commercial context and the strategic context. In Poland, we see that working, with the private sector so usefully engaged in helping the people of Ukraine, including millions – millions – of Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
On behalf of U.S. Mission Poland, I could not be more proud to introduce the second winner of the Award for Corporate Excellence for Women’s Economic Security, and the winner is Google Poland, or as we call them in Warsaw, Google Polska. The American business community is thriving in Poland. There are over 1,500 U.S. companies present, employing over 300,000 people. But even in this context, Google Polska stands out.
Google Polska is not just bringing American capital to Poland. It also projects and gives operational reality to American values. Google Polska is committed to creating an equal environment for women and girls through initiatives like (speaks in Polish), or “Success Written with Lipstick,” and Skills for Tomorrow. The company supports – celebrates – women. It celebrates women in leadership positions. It encourages girls to enter science-related fields.
Through the Impact Challenge for women and girls, Google Polska provides funding for initiatives at other companies, creating pathways for women to succeed. And it is clear that at Google Polska itself in Warsaw, women do thrive. Nearly every senior leadership position at the company is filled by a woman.
In the aftermath of Russia’s cruel invasion of Ukraine, Google Polska worked to ensure that Ukrainian refugee women could also succeed. The company supported academy work in tech through which an estimated 1,500 Ukrainian women in Poland received free social and psychological assistance and career mobility support. They acquired key IT skills which can also help set Ukraine on a path to recovery. Google Polska perfectly exemplifies the way in which American companies can lead by example and be a positive force for good in the world.
To accept the award on behalf of Google Polska, I am thrilled to introduce an advocate, a leader on women’s economic empowerment, and a good friend of U.S. Mission Poland, Marta Poslad, Google director for public policy for Central and Eastern Europe. (Speaks in Polish.) (Applause.)
MS POSLAD: I would like to thank the State Department and U.S. Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski for this exceptional award. It’s a great honor to be here today and receive it on behalf of Google.
I’m here today representing not only the female leadership of the company in Poland, but also thousands of female Googlers across the world who, having been empowered in their own careers, understand there is so much we need to do in that area. I know many of them are watching this livestream today across our offices. Jagoda, Liza, Camilla, Marta, Magda, Octavia are just a few Google leaders in their own fields who worked hard over the years to make it possible for thousands of Polish women and girls of different backgrounds to get new qualifications and, as a result, advance the representation of women in the tech sector.
Executing these programs at the time, looking back at the time of peace, was easy. It became more of a challenge when Russia brutally attacked Ukraine, and Poland has become a shelter to many brave Ukrainian women who were left with no choice but to leave their homes and look for a new life, very often in Poland. And that’s when our best programs were put to test. We were humbled to see 2,500 Ukrainian women take on our scholarships and pursue Google career certificates, which put them into much better position on a job market that was completely new to them.
Another initiative was Google for Startups Ukraine Support Fund, where we worked with over 50 startups, half of which were female-founded, which is much higher than the average for the industry. Just this project brought about new – 800 new jobs.
I visited Ukraine just weeks ago and I saw firsthand the hope that professional Ukrainians would start returning to Kyiv to gradually start rebuilding the economy. We truly hope that when – can do that safely, they will use all the skills earned while displaced and will work on helping Ukraine recover. We dedicate this award to all the brave entrepreneurial women of Ukraine.
Thank you again, State Department. Thank you, Ambassador Mark Brzezinski, not only for guiding us as the U.S. community in Poland towards cooperation and success, but also for reminding us every day about a quintessential American value – that is, acting with kindness in whatever we do.
Underscoring the Google efforts in Poland speaks also to the broader value of the trade relationship between the U.S. and Poland, but also truly strategic partnership between the U.S. and Europe. Sharing common values means there is so much we can build together on both sides of the Atlantic and continuously prove to be the world’s closest allies.
Thank you again to everyone involved into our programs. Thank you again, State Department, Ambassador Brzezinski. Congratulations to all other wonderful awardees. Thank you. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: So one of the advantages of sitting up on the stage and, as these awards are being given, is seeing the pride and the sense of satisfaction from some of the family members of the awardees and the employees that are here. And so first, I’d like to just give another round of applause to all of the awardees for – (Applause.)
It’s that – that pride is also a reflection of the investment of a lot of effort, a lot of hours, and a lot of heart. And so thank you for the work that you do, and our hope is that the recognition today provides a platform for you all to continue to do good work and amplify it in your countries and around the world.
Finally, I would like to welcome to the podium Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose Fernandez. Jose is a leader in driving the department’s efforts to support American businesses at home and abroad on climate change, clean energy, health, critical minerals, resolving supply chain and food security issues, and many other economic priorities. He has championed commercial diplomacy for U.S. businesses during many years of service at the Department of State, including in the role that I now inhabit as assistant secretary for Economic and Business Affairs. And he has been involved in many ACE ceremonies in the past. We’re excited to welcome him again to close our program. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Good afternoon. Good afternoon. It’s wonderful to be here. Thank you, Ramin, for that gracious introduction. Ramin has introduced me many, many times, and they always get better. (Laughter.) Thank you all for being here today. It’s also my pleasure to welcome Special Representative Sarah Morgenthau to the team. Her deep experience in the private sector and in public service has us all excited to see the – everything that she will accomplish.
And now, please join me again in giving another round of applause to all five of this year’s award winners. (Applause.)
Having participated in a number of ACE awards over the years, I’m always happy to be here celebrating our companies who truly embody our values. I’m also always excited to be in this room, the Ben Franklin Room, one of our first diplomats – and not only one of our first diplomats, but someone who set up the first fire department in the U.S., the first library in the U.S. – one of the first entrepreneurs that the U.S. ever had. And late in his life, he wrote an autobiography that he dedicated to his son, and in that biography, he had a number of things that he wanted his son to follow, and one of them that sticks in my mind – and my father actually told me when I – many, many years ago before I got married – is he said, “Before you get married, keep your eyes wide open – and keep them closed afterwards.” (Laughter.) So this is always a very happy moment.
Let me – I had a great opportunity to meet a number of these companies earlier. We met – we had a morning session before the ceremony. These companies are proof that U.S. businesses can do well by doing good. Through their actions, they demonstrate that good works, positive local impacts, and shared values are not just afterthoughts, but rather they are cornerstones of business operations. Government alone – something we learned both in the private sector and we learned here at the State Department – government alone cannot solve the complex problems that our world faces today: inequality, climate change, poverty, democratic backsliding. All of these are issues that the private sector has to play a role in solving.
Through my years at the State Department and in the private sector, I’ve seen how U.S. businesses like the ones that we have honored here this morning set the model for the private sector to follow. And one of the objectives of this award is to – not only to recognize good work, but also to incentivize – incentivize other companies to follow, and at the same time, for those that – for us in the State Department to learn how we can support these companies better.
You are all important partners as we respond to crises around the world, and I take Bashir’s comments at heart. To solve the greatest challenges of our time, we have to bring together our tools and resources with those of the private sector to create a positive impact at home and abroad. The State Department is promoting a rights-respecting, enabling environment for businesses operating abroad. When companies act responsibly, consumers and governments around the world seek U.S. products, seek U.S. services, and seek U.S. investments, and that grows our economy and provides tangible benefits to American workers.
To this end, people in my team and in Ramin’s team and in Sarah’s team have worked to revitalize guidelines on responsible business conduct to ensure that guidelines provide more clarity for businesses working overseas and remain relevant in today’s business landscape. As we work together, the State Department is also improving how we support the business community through the State Department’s Office of Commercial and Business Affairs, the office that Sarah leads now and that – and that Dilawar, you led until a few months ago. We hope U.S. companies compete in markets around the world. We provide tools to highlight opportunities for U.S. businesses in overseas markets, then track, promote, and marshal government support in order to ensure that these new businesses and opportunities for U.S companies in key economic sectors continue.
So I commend you again for your corporate excellence. I commend you for being awarded with the well-deserved 2023 Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence. And at this time, our 2023 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence ceremony has concluded. I thank everyone on our livestream for taking the time to join us virtually today, and for those of you joining us in person, thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing this moment with us.
I’d like now to invite you to our post-ceremony reception in the Thomas Jefferson Diplomacy Reception Room to my right, next door. Thank you. (Applause.)