Remarks to Nova University

Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Lisbon, Portugal
April 1, 2011

Thank you Ambassador! This was the first time I have been serenaded before giving a speech, and all I can say is if that happened every time, I might start scheduling more speeches.

It’s such a pleasure to join you today and to speak with a group of people so dedicated to promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. You are the latest generation in a grand tradition of Portuguese pioneers who pushed the bounds of human knowledge and launched an Age of Discovery. The sons and daughters of a people who refused to settle for not knowing what lay beyond the edge of the map. The modern-day explorers facing down monsters of the unknown to seek untold opportunity just over the horizon.

The human impulse to go farther and faster is timeless. And you are proving today, as your ancestors did many centuries ago, that there may very well be no such thing as an impossible dream. So I am honored to be among you and to hear about the exciting work you are accomplishing. I am particularly proud of the partnerships that have developed between our countries to promote science and technological advances.

At the State Department, we believe we can make more progress by working together than working as individuals. This is true when we engage with universities and private sector partners as well as with foreign governments. So it is wonderful to see so many of America’s leading universities in Lisbon, and in Porto, working with Portuguese faculty and students.

Portugal and the United States are working together at every level to promote scientific advancement. These partnerships are not only deepening human understanding about our world and ourselves, they are breaking ground on new developments in nanotechnology and information and communication technologies that will revolutionize our societies.

In the critical area of renewable energy, we are uniting our market power and scientific expertise to advance wind, solar, and hydro power generation. A few years ago, as you know, Portugal's EDP purchased a Texas-based wind energy company to become the third largest producer of wind power in the United States. And American companies like GE and SunPower Corp are investing in solar projects based here in Portugal. Our businesses are working together to build deep-water turbines and find ways to harness the offshore wind. And our governments are collaborating to generate energy from ocean waves.

Our nations have invested heavily in these partnerships because we recognize that science and innovation improve global competitiveness and drive modern economies. And we believe that this investment will come back to us many times over, because investing in people and ideas always pays off. As President Obama has said, “education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century.” We have certainly seen the truth of this over the past few years. Moreover, given the right environment, we have seen that we can educate people how to innovate.

Universities like yours are changing the way we think about innovation and teaching new ways to unlock creativity. The habits of innovation can be learned in the classroom, applied to real-world problems, and brought to a marketplace hungry for new ideas. It’s a formula that can work across cultures and continents, because collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving are universal human traits. And when governments and universities help foster open environments that nurture innovation, new sectors of opportunity emerge to benefit all our people.

In the past several years, Portugal has begun to write a new story for itself, replacing a gap in scientific and technological development with a new focus on research and education. The students and researchers working at this University are a critical part of that story. In a “lab-to-market” model, you are the lab. Which makes you an indispensable link in the investment chain.

But we also want to focus on the “to-market” piece of the model. Together, innovation and entrepreneurship make up a continuous cycle of growth that can drive a nation’s production. Innovators refine processes or think up new ways to do things. Then entrepreneurs bring these new developments to market.

While Portugal has made strides on the innovation front, the economic crisis is a reality. But at moments of economic uncertainty, promoting entrepreneurship is more important than ever. Whether we are fighting youth unemployment, lifting people out of poverty, building broad-based prosperity, or forging connections across borders, entrepreneurship augments our efforts to address many of today’s deep-seated challenges.

Too often we attack problems with time and labor-intensive projects, with meetings and money. Our solutions offer plenty of perspiration, but we sometimes forget about the inspiration. Well entrepreneurship is all about inspiration. We just need to give it room to grow.

We need to think creatively about how to tap new markets. How to leverage new technology. How to promote dynamic partnerships. We need to build laws and systems that protect individuals and their ideas. We must demand greater transparency and accountability from governments and businesses alike, wherever they are in the world. And we must promote a culture that values risk-taking. Striking out to do something new requires individuals to take a chance on themselves. That is an admirable quality. And that is something we should celebrate. There has to be room to try and possibly to fail.

There are many opportunities for Portugal and the United States to work together in these areas. President Obama has identified entrepreneurship as “an area…where America can share our experience as a society that empowers the inventor and the innovator.” Simply put, America is good at entrepreneurship. We’ve developed an open system that allows the entrepreneurial spirit to thrive. It taps into what is best in our character – our boundless optimism; our belief that an individual who is willing to take a chance and work hard can change the world.

Before joining the State Department, as you just heard, I worked with Discovery Communications for 20 years. When I started, we only had 35 employees and one cable channel in the United States. By the time I left, we were a multinational media corporation with more than 5,000 employees distributing services to over a billion subscribers around the world. Our company thrived because it was highly entrepreneurial. Now, achieving this remarkable growth wasn’t easy, but it was exciting.

Entrepreneurship requires thinking big and taking risks. It carries an energy that defines entrepreneurs all over the world. And we see it all over the world. The United States doesn’t have a monopoly on entrepreneurship. Amazing developments are happening in new markets all over the world – in Latin America, in Southeast Asia, in Africa.

Some of you may be familiar with Mo Ibrahim of the African Telecom Celtel – if you’re not, look him up online later today and read some of the profiles written about him, because he is an amazing example of entrepreneurship actually changing the world. I won’t retell his whole story here, except to say: Mo built a booming business because he saw what could be where others only saw what had been. Rather than viewing Africa as a commercial wasteland, he saw a whole continent full of customers. And he figured out how to make his business work for them.

Today, Africa is pioneering mobile technology in ways the developed world might never have considered. African entrepreneurs and innovators aren’t encumbered by legacy systems or ideas of how things should be done. They simply figure out what works.

One of the most striking examples of this is the mobile banking boom pioneered by M-PESA. Only about 20 percent of families in Africa have bank accounts. But over 400 million Africans now have mobile phones. Which means they now have an ATM, a point-of-sale terminal, and internet banking access right in their pocket. In the last five years, M-PESA has exploded from just 900,000 subscribers to over 13 million.

When entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses, jobs and opportunities follow. At its heart, entrepreneurship is all about economic growth. And as a nation with global reach and influence, Portugal has a broader role to play as a partner promoting that growth at home and around the world. If we can advance opportunities for entrepreneurs in emerging markets even slightly, the prospects to make money together, grow our economies, and build long-lasting relationships are countless.

Small- and medium-enterprises power 97 percent of job creation in emerging economies. This is crucial for economic development as well as social stability. We don’t need to look further than the headlines from across the Middle East and North Africa to see the connection between an absence of economic opportunity and social unrest.

We don’t even need to look farther than the headlines here in Portugal. Portuguese youth are educated and connected. They understand their power to influence the conversation and encourage political change. Earlier this month, tens of thousands of people in cities across the country took to the streets to call for better employment conditions and greater opportunities for work.

We have to work together to kick start job creation. Economies are built on the strong backs and fresh ideas of youth. For the young people of Portugal, and young people all around the world, entrepreneurship can open the door to opportunity.

At the State Department, promoting entrepreneurship has always been part of our development assistance. Now we have made it a central plank of our foreign economic policy as well. And we want to work with you – not just you the government of Portugal, you the students and teachers and innovators of Portugal – to support opportunities for people everywhere to unleash their natural entrepreneurship.

Portugal can be particularly effective developing trade and investment in Lusophone Africa. I have done a great deal of work in Africa, most recently around promoting investment and entrepreneurship. You share a common language and similar legal codes. Media outlets are interconnected. Businesses are closely linked. You can help connect Africans to the investment capital opportunities in Europe and elsewhere.

The Access Africa Forum Ambassador Katz hosted last year is a great example of this. The forum brought together Portuguese entrepreneurs with experience doing business in Lusophone Africa and American businesses interested in entering those markets to share ideas and best practices.

At the State Department, we are seeking out ways to stimulate innovation and support entrepreneurs around the world. Last April, Secretary Clinton announced our Global Entrepreneurship Program. This program offers a wholesale approach to help start-ups succeed – from identifying promising young entrepreneurs, to connecting them with funding and business mentors, to celebrating their successes.

In the last year, we also launched several new exchange programs specifically focused on promoting connections between innovators and entrepreneurs in different countries. As one example: Our TechWomen program will bring women working in the tech industry in the Middle East and North Africa to California this summer. We will pair them with one of their female counterparts working in Silicon Valley to act as a mentor and a support system and a friend. Through educational exchanges and peer-to-peer conversations like TechWomen, we hope to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators around the world.

As we do this, we want take advantage of opportunities whenever and wherever they arise, and be part of global conversations as they happen. This is particularly important for the work I oversee at the State Department: our public diplomacy efforts to connect people around the world and enhance our understanding of one another. So the last area I want to touch on is the power of connective technology to fundamentally change the way we interact with one another.

The Internet and new media have made it possible to engage with more people in more places. But they have also shifted power and influence to such an extent that it is necessary to engage with more people in more places. Today we are using every tool available to us – from mobile messaging to Facebook and Twitter to Smartphone apps – to connect directly with new audiences.

Now, connective technologies are not a replacement for traditional people-to-people outreach. Or for resources like the American Corner here at FCT that facilitate research and learning. Instead, using technology, we are moving the work of diplomacy into new arenas and engaging in what we call “21st Century Statecraft.”

Anyone with a mobile phone or an Internet connection can get in touch with us. We see every message, positive and negative. We engage as equals. And sometimes that can be challenging, but it is a challenge we welcome.

Earlier this week I gave a speech in Washington about the power of new media in our public diplomacy in Latin America. One person following the discussion didn’t like everything I said, and he let us know on Twitter. But because the State Department and others were also tweeting, we were able to participate in the online conversation and offer a respectful, counter position. We might not have changed his mind, but we were part of the dialogue. All of this happened before I had even finished giving my speech. That is the speed at which we must operate if we hope to remain relevant in this new environment.

Our embassy here in Lisbon is using social media in creative ways to generate discussions and interactions. For example, they have put a modern twist on the traditional book club by hosting it on Facebook. This helps young readers learn about classic works such as Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and see their modern relevance to our environment. Soon, the embassy will invite its fans to give their own take on the work with a photo and a video contest. So if there are any budding environmental cinematographers in our crowd today, you can check out the Embassy's Facebook page to learn more about those upcoming programs. Like countries around the world, Portugal is experiencing challenging times. There are clear needs. There are also clear opportunities.

The United States is eager to explore ways that we can work together to address both. I hope that you will join with us to the bring ideas to the table. Because we have seen time and again that when innovation and entrepreneurship meet the broad power of connective technologies, the world and the way we do things can change instantly.

Of course, Portugal has known this for half a millennium. The world has undergone many revolutions since Portuguese explorers first touched far-distant civilizations and ignited a contagious curiosity about other people and places of the world.

But some things never change. When Bartolomeu Dias set out from Lisbon in 1487, he didn’t know what he would find. Or if he would find anything at all. But he took the risk. It wasn’t easy. He was buffeted by weather and beset by doubt on all sides. Eventually his crew lost faith and refused to go farther. But not before he rounded the Southern tip of Africa. And when he did, he not only achieved something no other European had. He shattered the conventional wisdom that the Indian Ocean was land-locked and forever changed Europe’s relationship with the East.

Dias named the tip of Africa the Cape of Storms. After his return to Portugal, King John II renamed it the Cape of Good Hope because of the untold opportunities for trade and new commerce it opened up. It unlocked possibilities the world had never even imagined. It proved the power of an individual and an idea to make a difference in the world against enormous odds, whether that individual is an explorer sailing into the storm, a student testing a new idea, or an entrepreneur opening a business for the first time.

We must all brave the future with determination and unwavering faith in ourselves. Only then will we achieve the good hope and the promise tomorrow undoubtedly holds. Thank you.