Even as we respond to crises around the world, the United States must also make it clear to the world what we are for — a future defined by people who build, not destroy.
That’s why President Obama led the United States delegation in the seventh and final Global Entrepreneurship Summit of his Administration. Over the last seven years, I’ve worked on each GES, which have brought together some 17,000 young entrepreneurs and leading innovators in Washington, Istanbul, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Marrakech, and Nairobi. This year we brought GES to Silicon Valley — a source of ideas and inspiration for entrepreneurs around the world.
The idea for a Global Entrepreneurship Summit was first born in Egypt in 2009, when President Obama delivered his speech to the Muslim world at Cairo University. Given the myriad of crises to manage in the Middle East, he wanted to send a clear signal that we were expanding our people-to-people engagement — particularly with young people.
“All of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century — and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas. I’m emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement…
On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.”
Since then, this effort has become truly global. No matter what people may think about American foreign policy, there is broad and overwhelming interest in engaging with the United States on issues related to entrepreneurship. People associate this promise with America, and that’s an extraordinary asset for our country. From Africa, to Southeast Asia, to Europe, to Latin America, I’ve seen this work bring people together. And the United States has been able to offer training, resources, networking opportunities, and helped connect young entrepreneurs to sources of capital that can help promote positive change.
Half the people in the world are under thirty. If we’re going to play a role in shaping a future that is more secure, more prosperous, and more connected, we need to make sure that young people have the tools they need to succeed. That’s why, as President Obama noted at his last GES that investment in our young people is the greatest step we can take to bridge what divides us and build a future that reflects the best of us:
“The world has shrunk. It is interconnected. All of you represent that interconnection. Many of you are catalyzing it and accelerating it. It promises to bring extraordinary benefits. But it also has challenges. And it also evokes concerns and fears.
And so part of why this Global Entrepreneurship Summit has been so close to my heart, something that I’ve been so committed to, because I believe all of you represent all the upside of an interconnected world, all the optimism and the hope and the opportunity that that interconnected world represents.”
While we often see the darker currents of globalization, GES spotlighted its promise.
No one exemplifies this truth more than the three entrepreneurs who joined the President and Mark Zuckerberg on stage at Stanford. Here’s what they said:
Jean Bosco Nzeyimana, of Rwanda
“GES was been an incredible opportunity for me to showcase the potential of young people like myself and to network with peer entrepreneurs and investors across the world. In fact, I came with three basic targets – to make connections, to pitch my venture to potential funders, and to listen to the inspiring stories from the GES’s amazing speakers.
As we are closed GES, I was thrilled to have reached all my big three targets, auditing to the opportunity to have been on stage with President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook! GES is therefore undeniably important for its ability to bring people together to meditate on how best they can invest their efforts, time, and resources to make the world a better place.”
Mariana Costa Checa, of Peru
“Sharing a panel with President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and two other amazing social entrepreneurs today has been one of life’s most rewarding experiences. Being here has been a recognition not only to my work at Laboratoria, but to the work of social entrepreneurs all around the world who work every day to make change happen.”
Mai Medhat, of Egypt
“GES is a great opportunity for all entrepreneur from all over the world to connect and highlight their stories and all the work they are doing in their countries. Being at Stanford at the heart of Silicon Valley made it very special. I’m extremely happy for the opportunity to join The President and Mark Zuckerberg on stage, and I wish it gives hope to all fellow entrepreneurs around the world to keep pursuing their dreams.”
About the Author: Ben Rhodes serves as the Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Ben Rhodes’ profile on Medium.com.
For more information:
- Visit the Global Entrepreneurship Summit webpage for more information about the Summit.
- View photos from the Summit on Flickr and view on-demand video on the GES 2016 YouTube Channel.