Remarks at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit

Thomas Nides
Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources 
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
December 12, 2012

Thank you, Deirdre and Anne for that kind introduction. Good afternoon to you all, and thank you all for being here today. And for the opportunity to speak about a topic that is near to my heart and essential for the future of our world.

I’d like to thank Dubai’s leadership and the UAE Government for organizing this event. They have been outstanding partners in promoting global entrepreneurship. A special thanks to His Highness Sheikh Mohammad for joining us later today. And greetings to Ambassador Otaiba, the UAE’s representative in Washington, and to Ambassador Corbin, who represents us here. The UAE’s leadership on this event has been simply exceptional – and we wish Dubai well on future events, such as its bid for Expo 2020.

This city is a testament to the power of what is possible when big dreams and out-of-the-box ideas get the chance to become reality. Human skill and innovation can reach its tallest heights.

Now, I realize some of you might be wondering what the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State is doing at an entrepreneurship summit. But having split my career between business and government, I actually feel right at home. All my favorite kinds of people are together here in one room.

Entrepreneurship is a priority for the Obama Administration, and has been since its earliest days. In Cairo, back in 2009, President Obama spoke about the need to overcome mistrust that has hindered political and economic cooperation in the past. To look instead toward a future built on mutual interests and mutual respect. Entrepreneurship is an area where our goals are in clear alignment.

In today’s world, we can’t separate our global economic policy from our foreign policy. For the State Department, that understanding is at the heart of what we call economic statecraft. We have to position ourselves to lead in a world where security and prosperity are shaped in the boardrooms and on trading floors as well as battlefields. So we are using economic tools to advance our foreign policy goals, and we are using foreign policy tools to accelerate global economic renewal. Entrepreneurship lies at the center of this strategy.

Entrepreneurship is about the human drive to do something new and different. It keeps our societies vital and resilient. Anyone with a good idea and the willingness to work hard can improve the way we live - and make some money to boot.

Moreover, the biggest challenges facing our world today can only be solved with widespread innovation. Combating climate change. Finding sustainable clean energy solutions. Solving global health crises. These are worldwide foreign policy priorities that need more than new resources. They need new ideas and creative problem-solvers adding their shoulder to the wheel.

All around the world, stability and economic opportunity go hand-in-hand. The recent democratic transitions in this region reaffirm the importance of broad-based economic advancement for all of a country’s citizens. And nothing creates new opportunities like entrepreneurship. Here in the Middle East, unemployment numbers are already too high, particularly among young people. And it will take 50 to 100 million new jobs over the next 8 years just to keep it from rising any higher. This is a problem in Europe, Asia, Africa, and every region of the world. We can’t hold the line on youth unemployment, much less improve it, without a laser-sharp focus on entrepreneurship.

The good news is that the world’s leaders understand that entrepreneurship is vital. That’s why President Obama has a global engagement agenda centered on entrepreneurship. That’s why Secretary Clinton is putting economic statecraft at the top of our diplomatic agenda. It’s why the leaders of the UAE have organized this important event. And that’s why I’m here.

The bad news is, we haven’t totally unlocked the system to enable entrepreneurs to unleash their talents and help us build a more stable and more prosperous future. That’s why all of you are here. It’s why you spent yesterday making connections, talking about the barriers you face, and discussing practical solutions we can put forward to amplify the impact of entrepreneurship around the world.

And it’s why this is the third time we’ve held this conference – and why we’ll continue to do so. First in Washington, then last year in Istanbul, and now here in this hub of commerce connecting Europe to the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Each time, we bring together people from the business world, from finance, from government, from civil society to build partnerships and strengthen ties. This summit links up American economic leadership with the innovation and entrepreneurial energy that is brimming over in this region of the world.

Because let’s face it: entrepreneurship is hard. It takes incredible determination, long hours, and a lot of trial and error to come up with a game changing innovation. Entrepreneurs need all of us working together to make it easier for them to succeed.

So let me share with you some of the ways the United States is helping to overcome the barriers entrepreneurs face when they are just starting out.

First, entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, often lack the skills and support networks they need to turn their ideas into successful businesses. So we have launched a series of programs to match promising innovators with mentors and training opportunities to build their skills, their business savvy, and their networks.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton announced the first of these programs, the Global Entrepreneurship Program, in 2010. Since then, the program has served tens of thousands of entrepreneurs in over 120 countries. Another recent example: our Global Innovation through Science and Technology program, or GIST, runs start-up boot camps and business plan competitions to spark creativity and inspire young entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams. GIST takes great innovators from around the world and immerses them in America’s business hotspots – from New York to Silicon Valley – connecting them with mentors and investors that can help them realize their ambitions.

We recently invited the 2012 GIST award winners to the White House to hear their impressive stories of achievement. But they were just the tip of the iceberg – all told, GIST’s programs have trained over 2,500 startups and linked 75,000 tech developers to business training and mentors. And GIST is not alone. Other programs – like Oasis 500 in Jordan – do similar, important work.

A second barrier that entrepreneurs need help to overcome is gaining access to capital. This is particularly true for women entrepreneurs who often face additional hurdles to access financing.

In the Middle East and North Africa, countries need investment to fuel broad-based economic growth. Our programs are helping draw investment from America’s private sector. Just a few months ago, our mission chiefs in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia met with CEOs from American tourism companies like Hilton, Hyatt, and Carnival Cruises to discuss new investment opportunities. We’ve led investor delegations to the Middle East through Partners for a New Beginning and our Global Entrepreneurship Program, which have inspired participants to launch their own investment funds to support businesses in the region. Last year, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation authorized up to $2 billion to catalyze private investment in the MENA region. And we are working to fuel small business expansion with new initiatives like the Egyptian-American and the Tunisian-American Enterprise Funds, which will help firms access capital, stimulate private investment, and encourage two countries in the midst of political transition to build open, competitive markets.

Finally, entrepreneurs can’t just go it alone. They need a business and regulatory environment that encourages them to take risks and understands that failure is just part of the process. They need open, free, and fair policies that don’t play favorites—and that protect intellectual property and provide legal certainty. These are critical elements to increase investor confidence and jumpstart growth in any country.

We promote these conditions every day in our work with foreign governments as a core pillar of our economic statecraft agenda. We have hundreds of economic officers at American Embassies and consulates around the world who wake up every day asking how they can help people like you.

So it should be clear that entrepreneurship is serious business, and that we take it seriously. But because I am a recovering businessman, I personally know something my government colleagues may not – that entrepreneurship can also be deeply rewarding. To see something grow from an idea on paper to a potentially world-changing enterprise is thrilling. There is the inevitable agony of setbacks along the way and the incredible happiness of bringing something new into the world – and possibly even making some money. That’s true whether you grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, like I did, or here in Dubai, or in any city or village in the world.

As Secretary Clinton often says, talent is universal, but unfortunately opportunity is not. We are working to expand opportunity everywhere, every day. Because when opportunity takes root, we see lives improve. Communities and societies come together. More men, women, and young people find meaning and dignity in their lives. That is the future we are fighting for, one entrepreneur at a time. So I encourage all of you continue this important work.

With that, I’d like to turn the floor to the head of the Malaysian delegation. Malaysia has witnessed a dramatic economic transformation in recent decades through the dynamic innovations of its people and support of its government. Like the UAE, Malaysia understands and values entrepreneurship and has harnessed technology to drive economic growth. Here to discuss his country’s experience with entrepreneurship is Deputy Finance Minister Senator Dato’, Dr. Awang Adek Hussin. From his time at Malaysia’s Bank Negara, to his chairmanship of the National Utility Company, to his current post in Prime Minister Najib’s cabinet, Dr. Awang has great expertise to share with you today. Please help me give a warm welcome to the Deputy Finance Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Awang. Thank you.