Day Two of the Obama’s #eSummit on Entrepreneurship
The opening session featured Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. He highlighted the fact that growth rates recently have been phenomenal compared to the Industrial Revolution – not by a factor of 2 or 5, but by hundreds. And mainly concentrated in emerging markets. This story will be written by entrepreneurs. Larry shared his belief that Entrepreneurship isn’t just new technologies, it’s new ways of doing business, new perspectives, new organizational methods. Economic growth is “better recipes”, and the path for permanent and continuing change is “the path of innovation”.
The morning session was called “Promoting entrepreneurship and enabling business”, with Karen Mills, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Kemal Dervis, Vice President of The Brookings Institution; Obiageli Ezekwesili, Vice President for Africa at the World Bank; Sheikha Hanadi bint Nasser bin Khalid Al Thani, founder and CEO of Amwal; and Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, Founder of Celtel International.
The audience brought up the issue of “culture” several times. Why is the Arab world so failure-averse? Sheikha Hanadi disagreed that it is a problem of culture: it takes 3-4 years to start up a business in the Arab world, and so “failure” means much more than in Silicon Valley, where businesses can restart in a matter of months. This is a key point, suggesting that policy changes are in order to make the economy more fluid and flexible.
Another recurring theme: a network of Angels to fund companies in the $5000-$500,000 range. Typically, it is previously successful entrepreneurs that fund smaller ventures and take a risk; as more and more success stories emerge from the region, this network will be created. Sheikha Hanada weighed in: not only is capital important, but angels need to put in their experience, their knowledge, and their mentorship. Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim is an angel, but he is focused in his home country of Sudan; he cannot spread his energy to the entirety of Africa or the Muslim world – others are needed.
Sheikha Hanada highlighted one major problem: 50% of unemployed in the Arab world are first-time job seekers.
Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim weighed in on the use of the “China model” for the Arab world: first, China is a huge country with sufficient scale and market to develop independently of the rest of the world. Second, for years China operated on severe oppression: shooting mayors, officials, etc for “treason”. Most importantly, even the Chinese one-party President steps down every 8 years: what of the Arab leaders? If you want the Chinese model, implement it in all its ways.
The after-lunch session was titled “Unleashing the Power of Women Entrepreneurs” and featured: Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor, with an introduction from Farah Pandith, Special Representative for Muslim Communities, U.S. Department of State; Tamara Abed, Director of Aarong; Faridah Nambi Kigongo, Founder and Managing Director of Nambi Children Initiatives; Dina Powell, Global Head for Corporate Engagement at Goldman Sachs; and Muhammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank. I could not attend the whole session because, as press, we had to undergo early security check for Hilary Clinton’s speech, but I caught the beginning:
Dr. Mohamed Yunus, Nobel laureate and founder of Grameen Bank –with 8 million borrowers and over $8 billion distributed spoke first. Dr. Yunus discussed the beginning of his micro-finance plans: the banks only lent to people who already had money, and less than 1% of all borrowers in Bangladesh were women. So Yunus gave himself as a guarantor, and made a commitment that 50% of borrowers should be women. They saw that money funelled to a family through women had a greater effect than the same money through men, and now out of Grameen’s 8 million borrowers, 97% are women. Yunus discussed every person’s choice: you can be a job seeker, or a job giver. Everyone can be an entrepreneur.