Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development "Excellence in Running Small Businesses" Conference

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Video Statement
Washington, DC
December 7, 2011

As prepared for delivery

I'm truly sorry that I can't be with you in Tel Aviv for this wonderful conference. I remember visiting the center in Heraliya last year when I was in Israel. I had the opportunity to meet with the Center's Executive Director Helmi Kittani and with the head of the women's unit, Kiram Baloum. I've also had the pleasure to know Ofra Strauss, Jasmine's president, and I greatly admire her leadership and commitment. A few years earlier at the World Economic Summit in Davos, when I first met Ofra, she told me about the important work of the Center. So I was thrilled to have had the chance to visit last year and to hear first-hand about the important work that the Center is doing, about the women who are running small businesses and about the programs that are so effective.

I am a huge fan of the work that you are doing to empower women, to create opportunities and to forge networks in Israel and globally. And I salute you for the partnership you have created of Jewish and Arab women working for social change in Israel through economic and business development. You are showing that progress can be achieved when business women from different backgrounds come together in common cause, and showing that this is one of the best ways to contribute to economic stability, prosperity and peace.

Secretary Clinton has said. "We need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come. And that vital source is women". That is exactly what you are doing – tapping women's potential, growing entrepreneurs and unlocking a vital source of growth!

Women possess enormous potential to drive progress in their societies and yet continue to be one of the world's greatest untapped resources – and that is true everywhere. When we fail to tap women's talents we shortchange them and we are shortchanged ourselves – because until women are accorded their rights and afforded opportunities to participate fully in the lives of their societies, progress and prosperity everywhere will have its own glass ceiling.

Women entrepreneurs offer people everywhere so much promise. It is a simple fact that no country can prosper if half its people are left behind. We know that investments in women correlate positively with a country’s prosperity – we have a mountain of data to prove it. According to a study by Goldman Sachs, women-run small and medium-sized enterprises are accelerators of economic growth, one of the highest yield investments that can be made to grow GDP. And they often have a better growth rate and a better loan payback rate. This is true in the United States, true in the Middle East, and it is true around the world.

Studies also show that women hold the keys to creating stronger more prosperous societies. The data shows that there is a positive correlation between investments in women and poverty alleviation. Women spend upwards of 90% of their income on their families and communities – creating greater investments in health and education that benefit the broader community. When women prosper, all of society prospers.

But as many of you know, women’s potential for success in starting or expanding small and growing businesses is often hindered by a lack of access to markets, to training, to mentors, to technology. Women often confront discriminatory laws and practices. Access to finance is perhaps the major challenge to women for business growth everywhere. Without it, entrepreneurs cannot fulfill their dreams, no matter how good their business plans, ideas and potential.

I remember several years ago traveling with the then-First Lady Hillary Clinton who was meeting with a group of businesswomen – two of whom had started what is today a very successful technology firm, but they almost didn’t make it. They had an exceedingly difficult time procuring the capital they needed to create their business. They told Mrs. Clinton something I have never forgotten. They said, “The best ideas die in bank parking lots.”

Fortunately, you are doing more than talking about such obstacles. You are addressing them through the work of the Center and you are enabling women to start and grow businesses that transform their lives, and enabling them to become economically independent, to provide for their families and to create better lives for themselves and their communities. You are an example of the kind of collaboration that is required with partners across the sectors of society to enable women to overcome the barriers to entrepreneurship.

In the U.S., we are working to elevate this issue of women and economic opportunity. My position is a new one for our government, created by President Obama because his administration recognizes that we cannot hope to tackle the most difficult challenges that confront the world – whether they have to do with the economy, with peace and security, or with the environment and so much more – unless women participate fully on every level of society in every nation around the world. That is why women and girls are a cornerstone of our foreign policy, both in diplomacy and development.

Secretary Clinton is a strong proponent of public private partnerships recognizing that government, civil society and business are all much stronger when we can work together to advance progress and prosperity.

For example, at the State Department we have launched several initiatives to help women entrepreneurs overcome the barriers they confront. Tech Women is a program in which women in technology from Silicon Valley share their knowledge, skills and experiences through a mentoring program for women in the Middle East. Women's entrepreneurship is a top priority. Fortune's most powerful businesswomen has partnered with State Depart to provide leadership training, capacity building and mentoring to emerging business women from around the world.

We have launched several initiatives to grow women's entrepreneurship so they can better participate in regional trade from Latin America to Central Asia. Just this past week the leaders of governments in the Asia Pacific region and the 21 economies they represent gathered in Hawaii and recognized that women and the economy are a critical cross-cutting issue to advance economic growth. The leaders urged that efforts be made on the San Francisco Declaration which was adopted in September at the first-ever APEC meeting which focused on women and the economy. High level ministers and private sector representatives from the region participated. They committed themselves to addressing critical areas for women entrepreneurs: access to capital so women entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into the small and medium enterprises that are the source of job creation and growth; access to markets so those who start businesses can keep them open; and access to training and mentoring which are so vital to every businesswoman's success. The fourth area was support for women leaders in the public and private sectors because women like all of you bring first-hand knowledge and understanding of these challenges and their perspectives will add great value as we shape policies and programs that will eliminate barriers to bring women into all economic sectors.

What is true for the Asia Pacific region is true the world over. Secretary Clinton said, this 21st century must be the Age of Participation, an age when every individual, regardless of gender, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of the global marketplace. Progress is still too slow. To accelerate progress we must enable women to overcome the barriers that impede their small and medium size business growth.

All of you gathered for this annual conference are addressing our collective unfinished agenda – to ensure women's full economic participation. I thank you for your commitment, service and leadership – for all that you will do to advance economic opportunity and progress, gender equality and a better world for all. I wish you much success and a wonderful conference.