This month, President Obama will become the first sitting US President to visit Kenya. This historic visit reinforces the strong ties between the American and Kenyan people, and reaffirms our belief that in the 21st century, the world will see Africa and its citizens at the forefront of economic and social development.
Central to President Obama’s trip is entrepreneurship, that “spark” characterised by innovation and risk-taking. Entrepreneurship is essential to a nation’s ability to prosper in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive global marketplace.
To promote this spark, Presidents Obama and Kenyatta will co-lead the Sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi on July 25-26. Also known as the GES, the summit will bring together some of the world’s leading business innovators to share experiences, make new connections and brainstorm ways to identify and invest in the next big idea.
Entrepreneurship has always been central to the United States ethos and to its progress. From manufacturing revolutionary Henry Ford, to technology mastermind Steve Jobs, to e-commerce wizard Jeff Bezos, our history is rich with a legacy of American entrepreneurs who helped improve our quality of life. Between 1980 and2005, companies operating for less than five years accounted for significant net job growth in the United States. Experience has taught us that entrepreneurship is not only a driver of innovation, but also a core engine of economic growth and social inclusion.
The first GES in Washington, DC in 2010 and the four since then have attracted thousands of business leaders, foundations, investors and social entrepreneurs. Each has created opportunities to secure financing, improve investment environments and, most importantly, forge new business partnerships.
Next month, the GES will come to Sub-Saharan Africa, home of nearly half the world’s fastest-growing economies. Few countries better typify the entrepreneurial spirit than GES co-host Kenya. From world-leading commerce and banking technologies like M-PESA to veterinary smart apps assisting small-scale dairy farmers like iCow, Kenya is a pioneer in businesses improving the lives of millions.
When we think of an entrepreneur, we often envision someone in high technology. There is no denying entrepreneurs have improved our lives by revolutionizing how we communicate, manage money, and follow the world around us. However, entrepreneurs across all sectors – not just information technology -help us expand our economies and improve our lives.
Many of the best entrepreneurial, job-creating ideas will be sparked by the boundless creativity of youth. Young people bring new perspectives to the table, fresh ideas, and drive. In economies that struggle to generate formal employment, entrepreneurship can open doors for the bright and ambitious.
But entrepreneurs cannot do it alone. Governments must create conducive environments that allow innovators to bring their ideas to life, instead of hampering them with time-consuming hurdles or expensive barriers.
Towards this end, the United States has invested in over 1,000 initiatives focused on promoting entrepreneurship globally. Many are focused on generating opportunities for women and youth, and increasing access to capital for entrepreneurs. In Kenya, US Feed the Future programs are scaling up innovative market-driven solutions to persistent food insecurity, under nutrition and poverty. President Obama’s Power Africa initiative is supporting innovative entrepreneurs looking to connect those off the electricity grid. The US “Global Innovation through Science and Technology” project has assisted young African scientists to generate revenue for their companies.
During last year’s historic US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, President Obama said, “even as Africa continues to face enormous challenges, even as too many Africans still endure poverty and conflict, hunger and disease, even as we work together to meet those challenges, we cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging.”
The world already has more than 400 million entrepreneurs; however, this is nowhere near its full potential. Next month’s GES will highlight to the world the successes and potential in Kenya, and will provide an opportunity to start the next great innovative chapter.
The Global Entrepreneurship Summit will be an important contribution by Kenya and the United States to promoting and expanding entrepreneurship in Africa and around the world. It is another example of how our two countries are working together across a range of issues to help our peoples prosper, and to create a more secure future for all of us. I look forward to meeting many young entrepreneurs next month, and am confident that some of them will help create the Facebooks of the future!
(Godec is the US Ambassador to Kenya)