U.S.-Egypt Commitment to Entrepreneurship

Philip L. Verveer
Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy 
American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt Luncheon
Washington, DC
June 22, 2010

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to speak to you this afternoon. First, Minister Kamel, let me thank you for your visit here to Washington, symbolizing your commitment to our strong bilateral ties and to the Working Group process occurring today and tomorrow. I also congratulate AmCham Egypt for its regional business leadership and contributions to trade. And special thanks to the Business Council for International Understanding, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Northern Virginia Technology Council for sponsoring this event.

My wife visited Egypt recently and, is her custom, she brought back gifts. One was a quite beautiful traditionally bound leather notebook. It came with a message from the purveyor which read, "Our products reflect our sustained effort to preserve the authentic spirit of Arabic and Egyptian culture while responding to emerging needs and trends."

This also serves as a good description of the Obama Administration’s aim in establishing programs that it hopes will be consequential in the Middle East:

  • Sustained effort
  • That respects the authentic spirit of Arabic and Egyptian culture, and
  • That responds to emerging needs and trends.

The best way to accomplish these objectives is to rely on the entrepreneurial instincts of the Egyptian people and to offer some assistance to Egypt’s entrepreneurial classes, not least to those who will take advantage of its vibrant ICT sector. And so, let me speak briefly of the U.S. initiatives and of the economic interactions of our two great countries.

As President Obama has said many times, "Open trade creates jobs and improves the lives of all." When the he spoke at Cairo University last June, he emphasized the Administration’s commitment to improving America’s relationship with the Middle East. The President discussed his vision of promoting stronger partnerships between business leaders and social entrepreneurs in the United States, Muslim-majority countries, and Muslim communities around the world.

Then, in April of this year, the White House hosted a Summit on Entrepreneurship, in which attendees from more than 50 countries and 5 continents discussed how to deepen ties between the U.S. and the Muslim world. At the Summit, Secretary Clinton announced that the Egyptian Global Entrepreneur Program – the result of months of collaboration between the U.S. and Egyptian governments and business communities – would be the first pilot Global Entrepreneur Program, or GEP, realizing the President’s vision.

This program, about which I will say more, is also a reflection of the leadership and entrepreneurial insights of our friend and colleague Lorraine Hariton and the staff of the Economics Bureau’s Office of Commercial and Business Affairs. Entrepreneurs are the heart of all thriving economies. When innovators and entrepreneurs can relatively easily turn their ideas into businesses, we know that jobs and economic opportunity follow closely behind. Entrepreneurs are a powerful force for change. They improve the business climate in their own countries and champion necessary policy reforms. And they improve practices in global markets. In the United States, we have always relied upon entrepreneurs to be a primary engine of our economic growth. Firms less than five years old—many of which are considered small businesses—have accounted for nearly all increased employment in America’s private sector over the last three decades.

Similarly, commerce and industry necessarily have the central role in increasing employment opportunities and thus in helping people achieve a better life and ensuring future stability throughout the Middle East. Of course, currently in the U.S., as elsewhere in the world, we are just now emerging from the worst economic crisis any of us have ever seen. Too many people who want work still can’t find it. To replace the jobs we have lost and to create new, better paying jobs, the Obama administration is taking steps to grow our economy. Central to these efforts is a renewed focus on expanding international trade.

It’s worth noting here that trade continues to be one of the most important aspects of U.S.-Egypt economic relations. The United States and Egypt are important trading partners. In 2009, the U.S.-Egypt trade volume reached $7.3 billion. The U.S. is also a large investor in Egypt. Our foreign direct investment reached nearly $9 billion in 2009.  American-owned businesses alone have created 1,000,000 jobs in Egypt. They have created several times that many across the Arab world. And they have generated billions of dollars of economic activity.

Egypt is well-known for its active and ambitious network of private sector, governmental, and civil society organizations devoted to strengthening and encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit in Egypt. As several of you may be aware, U.S. Embassy Cairo has developed a plan to enact the Global Entrepreneur Program in Egypt as one of the pilot countries for this new worldwide initiative. The GEP/Egypt plan outlines four components to focus our efforts which include: the Supporting Entrepreneurship in Egypt program, Partnerships with Entrepreneurship Associations & Key Actors, U.S. Government Programs Supporting Entrepreneurship, and Entrepreneurship Outreach Activities.

The Supporting Entrepreneurship in Egypt program will bring in a senior level Lead Entrepreneur to head a small office to support and promote entrepreneurship, innovation, and business development in Egypt for micro, small, and medium sized enterprises. Additionally, Embassy Cairo’s Entrepreneurship Working Group maintains a wide network of associations and organizations for partnering on entrepreneurship. These relationships will be maintained and cultivated to enhance our outreach and program activities for the highest possible impact.

The broader U.S. Government also has a number of programs supporting entrepreneurship. USAID/Egypt has multiple activities that benefit entrepreneurs, including business development, marketing, access to finance, and facilitating business registration and licensing. The Smart Services Business Center is a commercial registry in Alexandria established through USAID support which introduced streamlined procedures that reduce the red tape that businesses encounter when obtaining business licenses. This one-stop shop has reduced the time required for business licensing from 365 to 3 to 4 days. Other governorates are planning emulate the SSBC model; I’m told that one has already been established in Cairo.

Microfinance programs provide loans to entrepreneurs, with amounts ranging from very small ($250) for startups to approximately $12,000 for more established businesses. USAID directly supports microfinance in Upper Egypt and is working with other microfinance institutions on potential credit guarantees to enable them to access bank loans for additional lending capital.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Commercial Law Development Program, and the Middle East Partnership Initiative are examples of other U.S. government programs which contribute to entrepreneurship capacity building in addition to USAID.

I’m pleased to tell you that Embassy Cairo has already begun integrating entrepreneurship outreach into its broader public outreach programs. High-level visitors are briefed on the Entrepreneurship Summit before their substantive meetings and press appearances. Furthermore, non-entrepreneurship specific programming is being re-purposed to include entrepreneurial topics, including but not limited to recent alumni career development programs.

Ambassador Scobey’s team plans to make smart use of information technology and social networking tools to celebrate the successes of our entrepreneurship partnerships. Facebook, Twitter and the Embassy website will highlight successful examples of USG support for Egyptian entrepreneurship, especially in science and technology areas. As more successful examples of entrepreneurship supported by U.S. partnerships emerge, you can expect to see them profiled prominently on all of these social networking platforms.

We recognize the importance of leveraging information technology to maximize our outreach and effectiveness. To help form our thinking along these lines, the Administration conducted listening sessions with more than 80 NGOs, technology companies and foundations. Out of this came the Kansas to Cairo concept, intended to catalyze and expand partnerships that enable young Americans to communicate with Muslims around the world using a variety of technologies. This will be accomplished through a two-tiered approach involving the expansion of existing online programs and the development of innovative trans-lingual online communications technologies. And here’s another way we’re leveraging technology:

The State Department is finalizing a cooperative agreement with the Civilian Research and Development Foundation to create a Maghreb Digital Library, which would bring tens of thousands of science publications to hundreds of thousands of researchers and young scientists.

Although these specific initiatives I have mentioned represent progress, the new beginning the President called for was not simply a checklist of initiatives mentioned in the speech; it reflected the President’s and the Secretary’s commitment to a new way of engaging with Muslim communities around the world. We are laying the foundation for a sustained effort, that respects the authentic spirit of Arabic and Egyptian culture, and that responds to emerging needs and trends.

In closing, I thank you for your contributions to our common economic growth and prosperity.