Remarks at The Fourth Global Entrepreneurship Summit

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
October 11, 2013

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

Selamat Pagi. Good morning. (Applause.) Four thousand seven hundred delegates, 123 countries – this is really remarkable. And it’s a pleasure – (applause). Yes, it is remarkable. (Applause.)

And it’s a great, great pleasure for me to be in this beautiful, dynamic city. I want to thank Prime Minister Najib. Thank you so much for your welcome, your generous leadership. (Applause.) And the Minister of Finance Two Husni, and the Government of Malaysia, I thank you all for your very generous hospitality and all of your Excellencies, and particularly if I may single her out, our Secretary of Commerce who is here, Penny Pritzker, and the First Lady I see here. Thank you, we enjoyed a wonderful evening the other night. Nice to see you here. (Applause.)

I want to thank you for partnering with the United States to put together the largest-ever Global Entrepreneurship Summit ever conceived. (Applause.) And I especially thank you for promoting entrepreneurship through your policies, which benefit us all.

I also want to thank Startup Malaysia for the exceptional work that you’ve done on this Summit, and for working hard every day – (cheers and applause). They have their special cheering section over here. (Laughter.) But I want to thank them for helping young people across the country – and around the world – to chase their dreams of building their own businesses. As we were walking in here, the Prime Minister said to me, “This is something people want more than anything else today, to start their own business.” Thank you also for bringing together the Global Startup Youth, who I understand are here in full force. (Cheers and Applause.) I was about to say they were here in full force, but they announced that themselves. (Laughter.)

And as you know, this Summit is very, very close to President Obama’s heart. I trust you also understand why the situation in Washington has kept President Obama close to home. But I woke up today to television reports that things are beginning to break a bit, so you can see it was worth his staying and important. But he will be back in Malaysia soon, I promise you. (Applause.)

Let me reiterate very quickly, because I don’t want to spend time on it, that what is happening in our capital in Washington is really nothing more than a moment of politics, and it will pass. But I’ll say this: If only the small group of people who have held us back in these past days were as forward-thinking and collaborative as the people in this room, we would all do a lot better. (Cheers and Applause.)

So I know the President is disappointed that he can’t be here today, but I assure you that his commitment to what you’re doing is as strong as ever – and he joins me in saying with great admiration: “Malaysia negara hebat.” (Applause.)

It’s very fitting that this year’s Summit has brought us together in this incredible country. The many Malaysians who are turning novel ideas into new businesses are strongly supported by a government that is constantly rooting them on and encouraging them.

Malaysia’s Finance Ministry just launched the “One Met” program to train thousands in tech skills, and Prime Minister Najib’s government has set the ambitious and admirable goal of having small- and medium-sized enterprises comprise 40 percent of Malaysia’s GDP by 2015. That’s an extraordinary goal, and I’m confident Malaysia will meet it. If anyone can meet it, it’s Malaysia. (Applause.)

This is the country that reached for the sky not once, but twice, with the iconic twin towers that stand just outside this convention center.

And when most of the world was still discovering the World Wide Web in the 1990s, guess what? This country created Cyberjaya, the first city on earth to be fully wired with high-speed internet. (Cheers and Applause.)

This nation has given the world visionary businesspeople like Jimmy Choo, who made his first pair of shoes at the age of 11. (Applause.) And by the time he was in his twenties, his designs were being worn on sidewalks and catwalks from Los Angeles to London.

And Tony Fernandes, who long before he started hosting “The Apprentice: Asia” – in fact, even before he even turned 30 years old – started the budget airline Air Asia. And with that bold vision, my friends, he revolutionized the way that people connect with one another throughout the region.

As I have walked into this hall and felt the energy here, I have to tell you it’s extraordinary all of the young people who are here. I’m sure you share that feeling. There’s an excitement here, an excitement about possibilities. I actually can almost feel my hair turning brown again. (Laughter.)

It astounds me to think that three in five citizens of ASEAN nations are under the age of 35. Sixty percent of your population. Just imagine what that means for all of the new products and the new services that Southeast Asia can bring to the world. My friends, it really is all in your hands.

And it’s equally fitting that we meet in Kuala Lumpur because this is a multi-cultural city at the heart of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith country, and history has proven time and again that diversity is one of the most important catalysts for discovery.

Here in Malaysia, people of different heritages have been in conversation for a long, long time. You see it in the open houses that you host during holidays, welcoming people of different faiths into your living rooms.

You see it in the Petronas Towers that I mentioned a moment ago, which are a beautiful fusion of modern engineering, traditional Muslim design - of an American architect, of Japanese and Korean construction, and a uniquely Malaysian vision.

Together, they all blended a masterpiece that is recognized around the world and a soaring reminder that Malaysia is much more than a marketplace. It is a human and an economic mosaic – and it is a model for the world. Your open-mindedness and cooperative spirit – these are literally the keys to the future.

When President Obama announced the creation of this Summit in Cairo four years ago, he did so because he understands that freedom of opportunity is humanity’s most powerful motivator.

This is true for all people, regardless of geography or gender, regardless of race or religion. It always has been true, and I’ve got news for you; it always will be.

What unfolded in the historic city of Cairo just a short time after the speech the President gave – and in Tunis, and in Tripoli, and in Sana’a – they all proved the point. The world watched young people just like you – young men and women with great aspirations. They watched them demand the chance to be able to fashion their futures, to be able to have a say in the future, to define it, and just like you are doing today as you turn your dreams into businesses.

President Obama also understands that entrepreneurship is about so much more than profits. It’s about how you build a society that values competition and compassion at the same time.

So much of the work that we’re doing together isn’t just about making money. It’s about making people’s lives better through education, health care, and basic human rights.

A few years ago, a study that was conducted in the United Kingdom showed that the most entrepreneurial countries in the world are also the most prosperous. That’s not an accident. This study also found that entrepreneurship also makes people happier and more fulfilled.

The places where citizens have the freedom to dream up a new idea, where you have an opportunity to share that idea freely with other people, where you can be you own boss – and even, importantly, where you are free to fail. These societies are both the most successful and they are the most cohesive and the most satisfied. Never underestimate how important that is.

And just as there’s nowhere better to talk about innovation than here in Malaysia, there is no one better to talk about innovation than young people. As they say in Bahasa, “Melentur buluh, biar dari rebung nya.” (Applause and Cheers.) “To bend a bamboo, start when it’s still a shoot.”

I look out at this audience here and I see that truth in the proverb. Every step towards progress actually does start with young people:

Mozart composed his first piece of music at the age of 5 years old.

Mandela was 25 when he started fighting against apartheid.

Martin Luther King was 26 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Mark Zuckerberg was 19 when Facebook went live.

Malala Yousafzai was only 11 when she started blogging about life under the Taliban.

It is young people who push us forward, always by building something that no one else thought to build – who push us forward by saying aloud something that no one else had the courage to say.

In fact, the first man to hold the office of Secretary of State of the United States, the office I obviously occupy today, was Thomas Jefferson – who, by the way, also happened to be an inventor who helped establish our patent system. He was 33 when he wrote our Declaration of Independence – the mission statement of a risky start-up called the United States of America.

So I am honored to, and I am inspired to be with so many of you – young people who energize us and give us hope by continuing that proud tradition. I’ve actually learned something about a few of you.

I’m thinking of entrepreneurs who are here like Nermin Sa'd, who has come to this Summit from Jordan. And when Nermin talked with female engineers like herself across the Middle East, she realized that so many of their talents were being squandered in countries where cultural norms make it difficult for women to work outside of their homes.

And so Nermin created an online platform where female engineers could freelance from home.

And Nermin’s dream is that in five years, her website will be the first engineering company in all of the Middle East and North Africa staffed completely by women. (Applause and Cheers.)

And I am inspired by entrepreneurs like Tonee Ndungu of Kenya, who’s also come to Kuala Lumpur this week.

The first company that Tonee built failed. But he didn’t give up. He did what any of you would do: he just tried again.

And Tonee’s latest innovation lets students rent textbooks electronically – a book at a time, a chapter at a time, or even a page at a time.

And by making textbooks more affordable, he gives lower-income students a chance to learn that they might not otherwise ever have had.

But that’s not his only motivation, my friends. Tonee is dyslexic, and when he was a student he had to listen to cassette tapes of audio books.

So Tonee’s dream is to lower all kinds of barriers to education in the developing world.

And I’m inspired by young entrepreneurs like 24-year-old Saimum Hossain.

Saimum is here today from Bangladesh, where of 7 million of his countrymen who are homeless and many more have unsuitable housing. So Saimum and some friends set out to put a roof over as many heads as possible – literally.

They started an environmentally friendly company that turns natural materials from plants into sophisticated corrugated sheets that are more durable than metal roofs and provide good shelter.

Saimum’s dream is that soon they will be cheaper than metal so that more of the world’s 100 million homeless can afford sustainable housing. That’s a great dream. (Applause.)

I’m proud to tell you that Nermin, Tonee and Saimum all belong to a program that was born from President Obama’s call to action in Cairo. It’s called Global Innovation through Science and Technology. (Cheers.) And these young people embody the President’s famous affirmation that anything is possible: “Yes, we can!” – or as you say in Malaysia, “Malaysia boleh!” (Applause.)

The Obama Administration is really inspired by the kind of work that the young people here are doing, and that’s why we are going to continue promoting entrepreneurship around the world.

Supporting your creativity and persistence is a key component of our foreign policy agenda – which today, more than ever before, is about economic policy, too.

When entrepreneurs here in Malaysia succeed, I’ll tell you something; they create economic opportunity for Malaysians, of course, but also for people all over the world, including in the United States.

Americans benefit from the success of small businesses around the world through trading and collaborating with them, and by using their goods and services. So President Obama is going to continue doing everything he can to support young people who want to turn their ideas into businesses or non-profit organizations.

And we’ll do that in a few major ways.

First, we’re going to create an environment where people can easily form personal relationships and broad networks with people from every background and every expertise. We’re also going to help them with the training and support that they need to turn their ideas into businesses, and then to bring them to scale.

And when we think of the most successful entrepreneurs, we often think of someone like Steve Jobs, who was sitting in a garage somewhere with a buddy or two. But the truth is, no one makes all of this happen all alone. It takes the private sector working hand-in-hand with NGOs, universities, and governments. And in the end, the networks that we build only make all of us stronger.

So I am proud to announce a new collaboration between the United States State Department and Up Global, which over the next few years will support and train half a million entrepreneurs in 1,000 cities around the world – including right here in Kuala Lumpur. (Applause.)

The second initiative we’re going to launch will connect these entrepreneurs with mentors who can show them the ropes – because as you know better than anyone, starting a business is a daunting task.

And by the end of the year, President Obama will announce the inaugural members of the President’s Committee on Global Entrepreneurship. Penny Pritzker, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce who I introduced earlier, who is herself a very experienced executive and entrepreneur, she will lead this committee of role models who are going to act as partners, as teachers, and as champions for a new generation of success stories.

And third and finally, we must make sure governments support entrepreneurs and the amazing work that you’re all doing. That’s why President Obama is joining forces with organizations like the Kauffman Foundation, the World Bank, and others in order to create a new research network that will help policymakers promote growth and start-ups.

So I can’t tell you how exciting it is, how many great programs are underway or on the way in order to connect innovators with capital, market demands, and lift some of the poorest communities in the world out of poverty.

And I’m especially proud of a new program called Beehive Malaysia. Babson College – which is a school in my home state of Massachusetts – will partner with the U.S. Department of State and Malaysian universities and businesses to give social entrepreneurs a collaborative, shared workspace where they can solve some of the world’s toughest challenges.

My friends, the United States is doing all that we can to support you because we know that the best ideas are never bound by borders. And it’s your ideas that have always created the lion’s share of jobs in our country and in yours.

Just think: As more and more young people join the labor market, the world will need about a half a billion new jobs by 2030, many of which just haven’t been invented yet.

I want to leave you with a thought from a man who inspired me when I was growing up – a younger brother of the youngest man ever elected President, and a visionary leader in his own right – Robert Kennedy.

Robert Kennedy said: “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events – and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” “In the total of all those acts.”

Nearly a half a century later, you have more tools at your fingertips than any generation in history, and so you have all the more power to bend history for the better – to bend that bamboo in the ancient Malaysian proverb.

It happens that we also have many more complex challenges today, and it will take even more hard work to move the world forward. And without question, how many countries like mine and yours harness your talents? That is what will shape global economic prosperity and opportunity for generations to come.

As your generation continues to invent and reinvent and push us forward, you will invariably hear a lot of people call you the leaders of tomorrow. But I got news for you: That sells you short.

I know you’re not content to be relegated to the future – you are the present. You are the leaders of today. You are changing the world even as we speak. And I am confident that the rest of us are in your exceedingly capable hands.

So thank you all for all that you do, and all that you will do to bring opportunity to the many around the world. Terima kasih. (Applause.)

It is now my honor to present a message from the man whose vision created the Summit, the President of the United States, Barack Obama: (Applause.)

“Hello, everyone. I had really hoped to be with you in person. Unfortunately, events here in Washington made that impossible. But I am pleased that the United States is being represented at the Summit by two outstanding members of my cabinet, Secretaries John Kerry and Penny Pritzker. And I wanted to take this opportunity to speak directly to each of you about the cause that brings you together today.

To Prime Minister Najib and our Malaysian friends, thank you so much for your leadership in hosting the Fourth Summit – a tribute to Malaysia’s example as a dynamic economy, an engine for regional prosperity, and a country that’s increasingly connected to the global economy.

“Likewise, Malaysia’s diversity, tolerance, and progress can be a model for countries around the world. As I’ve told Prime Minister Najib, I look forward to visiting Malaysia in the future as we continue to deepen the partnership between our two great nations.

“To everyone gathered at this Summit, especially so many young entrepreneurs, thank you for your commitment to the call I issued four years ago in Cairo – the need for new partnerships between the United States and Muslim communities around the world. I was proud to host the First Entrepreneurship Summit and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made since, empowering a new generation of entrepreneurs, including women, with new skills, training, and access to capital, helping small businesses grow and forging new collaborations in science and technology.

“We do all this because we believe that whether you live in Kuala Lumpur or Kuwait or Kansas City, when you’re free to have your own ideas, pursue your dreams, start your own businesses, serve your communities, it isn’t just good for your nations; it means more prosperity and progress for us all. It’s the same daring spirit that brings us together to meet other challenges as well, from hunger to health to climate change. And it’s the spirit you can sustain.

“The United States is proud to do our part. In partnership with Up Global, we’ll help support 500,000 new entrepreneurs and their startups around the world. Some of America’s most successful leaders in business will serve as entrepreneurship ambassadors, mentoring and nurturing the next generation. A new research network will equip governments with proven tools to help entrepreneurs succeed. And we’ll continue to expand the partnerships and exchanges that help entrepreneurs like you learn from each other and turn your ideas into reality.

“Those of you there today, you’re risk takers and dreamers who imagine the world as it ought to be. But you also have the talents and drive to actually build the future you seek, and the United States of America wants to be your partner. We want you to succeed. And when I think of your passion and creativity, I could not be more optimistic about the future we can build together.

“So have a wonderful Summit. May God bless you all and may God’s peace be upon you.”


# # #

PRN: 2013/T15-20