Remarks at TechWomen 2016
Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Good afternoon and thank you for the warm welcome! We are so excited to have the privilege of hosting you all today.
It's wonderful to have the opportunity to engage with such accomplished women.
I want to start by thanking the Office of Citizen Exchanges within our Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for all of their work in hosting this incredible gathering.
We are especially grateful for State's partnership with the Center for Women’s Leadership Initiatives at the Institute of International Education, and the Center's invaluable contributions in managing the TechWomen program. Thank you for the critical work you do in bringing together like-minded women for collaboration and synergies to enhance women's participation in the STEM fields across the world.
And let me extend my personal congratulations to all of the women assembled here who have overcome significant obstacles in order to pursue STEM careers. Even in our own country there are typically few other female colleagues and role models for women in science, tech, engineering, and math. You are to be commended for your confidence and pioneering spirit, and for forging a path, not just for young girls but also for boys, with your dedication to the intellectual rigor of the scientific method, for rising to the challenge of competing in the cutting edge tech sector, and for your discoveries that improve our lives in many ways.
Now, many of you might indeed be wondering to yourselves why somebody from the U.S. Department of State -- our equivalent of a foreign ministry -- is standing up here talking about entrepreneurship. After all, let’s be honest, the United States certainly faces its fair share of global political and humanitarian crises that consume our attention.
However, if we give it some thought, promoting entrepreneurship fits ideally into the State Department’s overall mission of creating a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world.
Here’s how President Obama recently put it: entrepreneurship is “that ability to turn an idea into reality -- a new venture, a small business -- that creates good-paying jobs; that puts rising economies on the path to prosperity, and empowers people to come together and tackle our most pressing global problems, from climate change to poverty.” Anyone with a good idea that can find a way to put it into practice for mutual benefit can become an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship also serves as a powerful tool to counter violent extremism, and as we know many countries suffer from dangerously high unemployment rates, as high as 40 percent in some of the most volatile regions of the world including the Mideast and North Africa.
That’s why President Obama, in 2009, gave a landmark speech to students at Cairo University, titled “A New Beginning.” In that speech, he stressed that “innovation will be the currency of the 21st century” and for the first time, he introduced the promotion of innovation into American foreign policy. I saw firsthand the importance of this during a recent trip to the Middle East, where I met an entrepreneur in Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring, who defined entrepreneurship as "success without unfair advantage." That is, the idea that entrepreneurs can have a level playing field for inclusiveness around the world and not have to rely on cronyism or corruption. Entrepreneurs can be self-reliant and contribute greatly to growth in their economies and their communities.
Another entrepreneur I had the opportunity to get to know was Egypt’s Azza Faiad, who as an Alexandrian teenager tackled two of the world’s biggest issues at once: pollution and energy, when she discovered a more efficient way of converting plastic garbage into valuable biofuel. Ms. Faiad joined a science club at Bibliotecha Alexandrina when she was only eight years old. There she met another young entrepreneur, Nourwanda Sorour, a petrochemical engineering student at Alexandria University, and together they invented a process that could generate as much as $163 million a year from biofuel generated from trash and producing other chemicals that can be recycled and sold.
Clearly, women like yourselves, Nourwanda, and Azza have the power to drive significant economic growth and positive social change if you are able to operate under clear, predictable rules. Yet in many countries, this remains elusive. Endemic corruption, onerous business regulations, and a lack of transparency present major obstacles. As creators and innovators I'm sure you can identify with the need for strong Intellectual Property Rights enforcement regimes. This is something my office advocates for worldwide because we have clear data demonstrating the importance of Intellectual Property, or IP,-intensive industries to well-paying jobs and economic growth. As the world leader in innovation, U.S. companies have relied on IP as one of the leading tools with which to encourage, realize, and reward cutting edge advances. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are the principal means for establishing ownership rights to the creations, inventions, and brands that generate tangible economic benefits to society as well as to their owners.
We believe that a rising entrepreneurial class puts pressure on governments to enact meaningful reforms to improve business climates, which in turn incentivizes foreign investment and increases trade.
That’s beneficial for all of our commercial interests.
This occupies a great deal of my time since I serve as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs. Every day my team and I strive to achieve shared prosperity worldwide through these types of reforms and incentives, in close partnership with American non-governmental organizations, companies, foundations, educational institutions, and investor groups. But I’m certainly not alone.
Perhaps as a testament to its importance, at last count 15 or more U.S. government agencies are engaged in promoting entrepreneurship, many of them internationally, including the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Department of Commerce. We truly believe that, while not perfect, we in the United States have managed to make it relatively easy for anyone, even foreigners from across the globe, to do business here, resulting in mutually beneficial investments. While the United States by no means has a monopoly on entrepreneurship, we believe in our American values of risk-taking, entrepreneurship, respect for rule of law, creativity, diversity, and openness, and we are proud to export this "brand" through our commercial diplomacy.
You won’t be surprised, I’m sure, that in looking at how best to promote entrepreneurs and drive inclusive economic growth and jobs, there is no better place to start than with women.
I certainly don’t need to tell you that women are the next key drivers of entrepreneurship and economic growth worldwide.
According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, women-owned firms in the private sector represent approximately 37% of enterprises globally, and that percentage is rising. These firms run the range, from new fashion houses to visionary high-tech businesses.
An analysis surveying 350 microfinance institutions across 70 countries found that lending to women was associated with lower write-offs and lower default rates.
In developing markets, a study revealed that women reinvest 90 cents of every additional dollar of income on their families’ education, health and nutrition, compared to about 30-40% for men.
So, women entrepreneurs make a dramatic contribution to improving their countries’ wellbeing. I think this should get our attention. And it definitely has in the State Department.
One effort we are particularly proud of is my office’s work to establish women’s entrepreneurship centers across Africa and Asia that we call WECREATE. These centers provide resources, education, access, and training for women’s economic empowerment and a safe space for women entrepreneurs to gain skills and experiences and build mentorships and networks.
Importantly, WECREATE also engages men and boys in the process, providing specific education and resources on understanding the value of supporting women and girls and how entrepreneurship has the ability to change their families and communities.
The WECREATE centers have trained thousands of women and seeded thousands of new businesses and jobs just since the first center opened in Pakistan in early 2015.
In Latin America, in 2012 President Obama launched the Small Business Network of the Americas and the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas, or the WEAmericas Initiative, which builds public-private partnerships that help empower women by ensuring their equal access to the training, tools, opportunities and resources that they need to become entrepreneurs, business-owners in their communities, and future leaders.
Lastly, let me talk about two major events in which my office is deeply involved.
This last summer President Obama hosted the 7th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which took place June 22-24 in Silicon Valley. Stemming from President Obama's Cairo speech in 2009, the goal of the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit is to elevate innovation and entrepreneurship in the U.S. engagement agenda and support entrepreneurship around the world by developing innovative ecosystems and networks of innovators; advocating for better business climates; catalyzing capital; promoting opportunities for women, youth, and marginalized communities; and partnering with the private sector to amplify impact.
This last Summit of the Obama Administration brought together more than one thousand entrepreneurs, investors, educators, and business representatives from over 170 countries, and demonstrated the U.S. government’s continued commitment at the highest levels to fostering entrepreneurship worldwide. We are proud that 50 percent of the entrepreneurs who attended were women. We are also immensely proud that during the Summit numerous mentorship and training commitments were pledged, and over $5 billion of investment was promised to 700 entrepreneurs from every region of the world.
I'll also highlight for you just a few of the innovation and entrepreneurship program commitments that were announced:
• The U.S. Department of State and Kiva, the world's largest crowdfunding platform for loans, have joined forces to launch the Women's Entrepreneurship Fund, which aims to help crowdfund loans to one million women entrepreneurs over the next five years. The Fund has a special focus on women entrepreneurs in the growth phases, offering loans greater than the average microfinance loan. To date, an estimated $500,000 has been pledged with commitments from corporations and foundations.
• The State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program will host an exchange program for government technology leaders and their private-sector partners from more than a dozen countries this fall. Participants will take part in a design sprint developed in partnership with the U.S. Digital Service, the Presidential Innovation Fellows, and 18F. They will also travel to cities around the United States to look at how governments at the city, state, and federal level are partnering with the tech sector, and return home better equipped to drive digital transformation within their own governments to tackle policy challenges and deliver improved services to citizens.
• In addition to $36 million in new funding to support scale-able off-grid clean energy solutions through Power Africa, President Obama announced the launch of an effort to encourage greater investments in clean energy entrepreneurs from developing countries. The Administration will identify and highlight entrepreneurs working to provide affordable, reliable, and significantly scale-able on- or off-grid energy solutions for the developing world.
• The Administration will also facilitate opportunities for leading clean energy investors to provide seed funding to these aforementioned entrepreneurs. Building on the work and vision of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC), launched in Paris last year, a number of BEC members and other leading international investors have agreed to work with the U.S. government to develop a process to consider potential investments. These investors include Aliko Dangote, Bill Gates, Paul G. Allen of Vulcan Capital, and Mark Zuckerberg.
• To connect America’s top technologists and innovators with entrepreneurs in Africa, USAID and 500 Startups announced they will bring the Geeks on a Plane tour to Sub-Sahara Africa for the first time in March 2017. The 11-day trip to Accra, Lagos, Cape Town, and Johannesburg will engage with African entrepreneurs and innovators and explore partnership and investment opportunities. The trip will culminate with the 2017 Global Entrepreneur Congress in Johannesburg.
Again, these are just a few of the major commitments announced at the 2016 GES to support entrepreneurs.
We’re excited that India has agreed to host the GES in 2017 and hope that we will see many of you in New Delhi next year!
The other key event coming up is the Kauffman Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, which recognizes and celebrates entrepreneurs. This year it will be held from November 14 – 20, so it is right around the corner. In 2008, when it first began, GEW comprised events in 77 countries. Now, this celebration has expanded to more than 150 countries, engaging roughly 25 million participants through 115,000 activities. I encourage you to look online to see what events are being organized and participate, along with our U.S. embassies, in some of the Global Entrepreneurship Week events in your respective countries.
Global gender gaps in access to education, technology, and access to finance illustrate the systematic problems facing women entrepreneurs, not to mention stereotypes and biases about traditional gender roles. However, there is no doubt that one of the smartest investments we can make is through empowering women entrepreneurs around the world. Investing in women entrepreneurs fuels economic growth and drives innovation to address local challenges. Moreover, we’ve seen that when women entrepreneurs succeed, they are more likely to invest their earnings back into their families and their communities.
As our Secretary of State John Kerry has said, no country can make it in today’s world leaving half of its population on the sidelines. No economy can thrive when women are not given a seat at the table.
I very much look forward to hearing about, and someday using, the innovations that you are creating. It's clear that there is no limit to the ingenuity in this room and it is my pleasure to have the opportunity to learn more about you all and be inspired by you today.