Remarks at the WEAmericas Women's Entrepreneurship Event

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Cartagena, Colombia
April 13, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so very, very much, Beatriz. That was very inspiring, and I congratulate you on 33 years of a visionary business. I’m especially pleased to have a number of longtime friends and associates here. Vice President Garzon, thank you so much for being with us and for your leadership. Margarita Zavala, first lady of Mexico, thank you. Maxine McClean, the foreign minister of Barbados, thank you for being here. To all of the Colombian ministers, mayors, governors, high officials and hosts, thank you for joining us as we seek to increase our support for women entrepreneurs across the Americas.

We have a very impressive group of people here who have come together to launch this initiative. I want to thank Luis Alberto Moreno from the Inter-American Development Bank and Mike Duke from Walmart, whom you will hear from shortly. All the foundations, companies, and governments who are committed to promoting women’s economic participation, you are very appreciated.

I want to recognize the women entrepreneurs who are here. We saw some of their beautiful products outside. And I would like all the women entrepreneurs who are here to please stand so that we can recognize them. Please stand. (Applause.)

You are among the millions of women in the Americas and around the world who are working to build better lives for yourselves and your families. You are often face very difficult obstacles, and we want to work with you to remove those obstacles, to enable you to fulfill your own potential.

Last September, I led the U.S. delegation at the Asia Pacific Economic Committee Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco, California. The economies there signed a landmark declaration in which they committed to improve women’s access to markets, skills training, finance, and leadership. We wanted to do this to empower women for the sake of creating a world that is more just and equal for all people. And second, we wanted to do it because the evidence is overwhelming. The most effective way to accelerate a nation’s economic productivity and prosperity is to enable women to participate.

If we look at the statistics from around the world, if you removed the barriers to participation in all economies, including in the United States, the productivity of every country would rise. In fact, our gross domestic product would increase by 9 percent if, in the United States, all barriers were removed. So we have to take these barriers down, and we have to focus particularly on taking them down for rural women, indigenous women, women of African descent, women who are marginalized in any way.

We want to continue working with our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean through the Pathways to Prosperity initiative. And today, we are launching Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas. We’re calling it WE Americas. It’s a public-private partnership that will address three significant barriers that women face: access to training and professional networks, access to markets, and access to capital and other financial services. We’re focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises because we want a bottom-up growth strategy. And we are excited that the WE Americas could serve as an example for other regions.

And here’s what we intend to do. First, we are working with the private sector and foundations to provide business training and mentoring to women entrepreneurs through Latin America and the Caribbean. I’m pleased to announce that the United States State Department and the Walmart Foundation will work together to train women entrepreneurs, connect them to networks and resources, and help them scale up their businesses. The State Department is also supporting exchange programs so women entrepreneurs from the region can connect with colleagues in the United States and start to develop their own business networks.

The State Department will join with Goldman Sachs to host a cohort of women from Latin America and the Caribbean through our 10,000 Women entrepreneurship program, to provide women with intensive and business and management training at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. And the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women will give women from these programs the opportunity to receive training and advice through its Mentoring Women in Business initiative.

Our second line of action is targeted at improving women’s access to markets. To connect women who are looking to sell their products and services with companies that want to diversify their global supply chains, the State Department and USAID are working with an organization called WEConnect International, which certifies small businesses as high-quality and women-owned, and then introduces those businesses to corporations that want to buy from them. Through the Global Women’s Business Initiative and the Pathways to Prosperity, the State Department helped launch WEConnect in Peru last year, and I’m proud to announce that the State Department and ExxonMobil have both agreed to provide grants to expand this work into Mexico.

And let me say one special word about Walmart. Walmart is the world’s largest retailer and world’s largest private employer, and it’s throwing its market power behind women. It has committed to double the amount it sources from women-owned businesses in every market it serves over the next five years.

The third barrier is one of the most difficult to overcome, accessing lines of credit and other financial services. On this front, President Moreno and the Inter-American Development Bank are taking the lead with new inclusive lending models that will allow more small businesses owned by women to access credit. This is exactly the kind of leadership we hope to see emulated throughout the hemisphere and even the world. Everybody has something to contribute – banks, private businesses, nonprofit organizations, governments.

Let me make one final point. These programs and concrete steps cannot happen a vacuum. They must be backed by smart policy choices that create a fertile environment where women-owned businesses can take root and thrive. Good policies can unlock new opportunities for businesses and make it less risky for banks to extend lines of credit to new entrepreneurs. So we have to work together. And we’re blessed by the fact we live now in a world of mobile technology, so we can all cut through barriers and red tape. We can connect people up to mobile banking. We can connect them up to electronic governance, so that they can more easily get whatever approvals are necessary to fulfill their own dreams.

I’m very excited by this initiative, and I’m delighted to have so much interest from throughout the region. And I particularly appreciate Colombia’s putting this kind of initiative in the spotlight of the Summit of the Americas this weekend.

Let me now introduce someone who is very active in supporting women and who I greatly appreciate being here today, Mike Duke, the president and CEO of Walmart. (Applause.)

PRN: 2012/T62-02