Remarks at the Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Annual Meeting

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
October 9, 2014

Remarks as prepared

Thank you, Ambassador Parsan– not only for chairing and hosting this event, but for your country’s strong commitment to the initiative and its goals.

I’d also like to extend my greeting and appreciation to the other Ambassadors and trade and economy vice ministers who represent the 15 other Pathways countries, as well as representatives of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

We’re all familiar with one of Trinidad’s famous sons – the author V.S. Naipul. He said something that stayed with me. He said: “Everything of value about me is in my books.”

He was speaking to the importance of achieving something of lasting value. And The Pathways to Prosperity Initiative is an example of what public and private partnerships can do that has the same sustainable results. By working to create economic prosperity, we can provide environments for many more V.S. Naipaul’s to write their novels, and many more small businesses to pursue their dreams and aspirations – without constraints and barriers.

To reach that goal, we have identified four critical pillars: empowering small businesses, facilitating trade and regional competitiveness, building a modern workforce, and encouraging green, sustainable business practices and environmental cooperation.

And since the initiative was launched six years ago, we have worked hard to develop a robust regional partnership to achieve those four goals. We’ve done that by talking to one another, sharing what works and what does not. We’ve talked about accelerating those best practices, and replicating those successful policies – so that we can bring about economic and social change.

There are so many examples of progress. Pathways has helped foster the expansion of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) model throughout the hemisphere, including in Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Peru.

And thanks to a memorandum of understanding – or MOU – between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Munoz in June, we are excited to be replicating that SBDC model to increase exchanges with Chile this year. We’re also looking forward to similar collaboration with Uruguay. These MOUs are significant because they underscore our strong support for women entrepreneurs in the region.

We are also working with organizations such as Vital Voices and WEConnect International to help women-owned cooperatives and businesses grow by bringing together buyers and sellers, resulting in millions of dollars in deals closed.

I could talk at length about our other achievements: For example, we have been working with various partners – public and private – to initiate SME credit guarantees… to modernize customs procedures… and to encourage environmentally-sound production processes. Many countries involved. Lasting results. Many people benefitting.

But in the time I have, I’d like to highlight the Pathways Innovation Challenge. It’s a great example of how we can help small businesses help themselves and the region.

The Innovation Challenge invited more than 600 organizations and individuals – from the NGO and academic communities as well as the private sector – to offer solutions to challenges that many small businesses face. And they included expanding market access, meeting trade standards, strengthening workers' rights, and adopting clean technologies.

The idea was simple. They offered community-based, bottom-up approaches – and we offered a platform to bring these ideas to scale.

Very briefly, I want to highlight the four winners – and how their solutions exemplified the four pillars:

For the first pillar – Empowering Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises – the winner was Lutheran World Relief of Nicaragua. Its “Mobile Cocoa” will help improve cacao farmers’ understanding of production and international markets, while connecting them to resources.

For the second pillar – Facilitating Trade – the winner selected was Núcleo Biotecnología Curauma from the Pontifical Catholic University of Valpairiso, Chile. Its “CompiteMAS” provides SMEs with tools to make decisions about technology and sustainability practices, and to measure and monitor their productivity, environmental, and social impact.

The third pillar is Developing a Modern Workforce. The solution from the ICAM Group from Mexico was selected. Its “Integral Measurement System and Productivity Improvement for SMEs” helps SMEs build sustainability skills and opened social dialogue between workers and employers.

Under the fourth pillar – Promoting Sustainable Business Practices and Environmental Cooperation – Vistas Volcanes from Guatemala was the winner. Its “Capilla Malla Inocua” offers new ways to protect crops from pests and provides entrepreneurs with tools to protect and grow their businesses.

The 12 finalists competed in a final Pitch Competition on July 25 in Washington, DC. Four winners were selected to each receive a sub-grant of up to $500,000 each and technical assistance to scale and replicate its solution over the next two years.

We wanted to widen the circle of winners so more people in the region would benefit in the long run. So we are now beginning to reengage the 26 semi-finalists in capacity-building activities and matchmaking opportunities with other applicants and potential funders.

Eight of those 26 semi-finalists will receive sub-awards to advance and expand their solutions over the course of the next few years. Later today, we will present the Innovation Challenge winners at the working lunch, and I encourage you all to visit the Pathways booth at the Innovation Village and meet the winners who will soon begin scaling their great ideas.

Let me conclude by thanking our Pathways partners. Without your support, we wouldn’t have the regional collaboration so critical to the success of this contest. And we wouldn’t be able to build on the economic growth and increased trade that our region has seen.

So thank you – and may we long continue this robust partnership – so we can produce results of lasting value. Thank you.