Launch of WE-APEC Portal

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Manila, Philippines
September 17, 2015

As prepared

Thank you, Greta, for that kind introduction. And thanks to all of you for joining us this evening for the launch of the Women’s Entrepreneurship in APEC initiative.

It’s been a little under a year since Secretary of State John Kerry announced in Beijing that the United States would develop an APEC initiative to promote women’s economic empowerment through entrepreneurship.

That announcement was a critical step in our effort to answer some tough questions about women’s entrepreneurship. How can we best build capacity? What does it mean to successfully foster access to capital? What’s needed to connect women entrepreneurs to more opportunities?

I know many of you have asked these questions as well. Companies that want to buy and source from entrepreneurs in the region have asked where to find them. Governments working to support women’s entrepreneurship have asked what works best and how they can share information with entrepreneurs.

And women entrepreneurs have asked how they can expand their businesses and connect with other entrepreneurs in region—especially when they have a limited amount of time, and finding the right information can be difficult.

Our team set out to answer these questions, working with many of you along the way.

What we found in our research of women’s entrepreneurship in the APEC economies is nothing less than impressive. We found more than 600 networks of women entrepreneurs in the region. We found crowd-funding efforts, start-up boot camps, and pitching competitions led by the private sector. And we found ground-breaking efforts by governments to improve the eco-systems for women entrepreneurs.

In other words, we found tremendous projects, programs and policy here in the region. So we built a tool that brings all of these pieces together so that stakeholders can find the right connections and information they need.

Tonight, we’re excited to launch the portal. We hope it truly makes a difference for both entrepreneurs and those working across sectors to support them.

Last week the State Department launched a campaign to expand markets for artisan businesses as part of our work with the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, a global platform that supports artisans around the world.

At that event—and really in so much of my work at the State Department—I saw the momentum that comes when stakeholders from across sectors come together to support entrepreneurs.

That’s what this portal has the power to do. By connecting governments, entrepreneurs, and the private sector, we can help everyone do business better—and advance gender equality in the process.

I’d also like to point out that this portal illustrates how far along we are on the path to gender equality. It’s clear that the APEC economies understand that women’s empowerment and gender equality are critical to the region’s development and economic growth.

But that’s just the first step.

The second step comes when we develop ideas on how we advance gender equality, from promoting women’s entrepreneurship to enhancing women’s health so they can fully participate in the economy.

Understanding and innovation are critical to advancing gender equality. But they won’t get us to the finish line without implementation. In other words, we have to make innovative ideas a reality. And that’s the final—and in some ways the hardest—part of our work.

It’s difficult to develop these mechanisms. It’s difficult to implement them in successful ways. But we know this is the best way to make real, lasting progress. As a tool that will connect and empower women entrepreneurs, the portal for the Women’s Entrepreneurship in APEC initiative—or WE-APEC—joins the list of many important efforts to implement gender equality.

The same can be said of all of you here—your work is critical not just to this initiative but to APEC’s efforts across the board. With that in mind, I hope we can count on you to partner with us to make this initiative a success. Because at the end of the day, the success of this portal depends on the strength of its users.

While you’re here and when you return home, test the portal. It’s at Send it to entrepreneurship networks throughout your economy. Work with your governments to raise awareness of the portal. Reach out to groups working in the private sector and civil society promoting entrepreneurship and ask them to get connected.

Finally, let us know what you think of the portal. We want to hear your ideas about what we can do to improve the portal and make it even better.

Thank you again for your support, and for your commitment to women entrepreneurs.