Remarks at the Road to GES: MENA event at the American University in Cairo

Ziad Haider
Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Cairo, Egypt
June 1, 2016

As prepared

Welcome! Ahlan wa sahlan!

Thank you Dr. Kamel for your kind introduction and for supporting this event. I would also like to take a moment also to thank Professor Ayman Ismail for his work in facilitating this outstanding event here at American University in Cairo’s downtown campus. And thank all of you who are here today for your participation in one of the last international stops on the Road to GES 2016.

Nearly seven years ago to-the-day, on June 4, 2009 -- just 19 weeks into his presidency -- U.S. President Barack Obama came to Cairo and said that the world needs to:

“Create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts … to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and … around the world.”

To implement this vision President Obama made a commitment in Cairo to hold Global Entrepreneurship Summits as a platform “to spark and capture the creativity and imagination of people.”

Since 2010, there have been six Global Entrepreneurship Summits that have brought together diverse groups of entrepreneurs, business leaders, investors, educators, foundations, and government leaders from nearly every country in every region of the world to build a global corps of entrepreneurs for the 21st century.

We estimate that as many as 10,000 entrepreneurs, investors, foundations and entrepreneurship ecosystem stakeholders have participated in the Global Entrepreneur Summits in Washington, Istanbul, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Marrakesh, and Nairobi. And in three weeks, President Obama will lead the U.S. delegation to join approximately 1,200 entrepreneurs, investors and mentors from 170 countries who will gather in Silicon Valley at Stanford University for GES 2016.

GES 2016 is particularly focused on engaging women entrepreneurs as 50% of the speakers and entrepreneurs participating this year are women.

So why does President Obama and the United States place an emphasis on supporting entrepreneurship globally? Three reasons come to mind. First, prosperity. Entrepreneurship has an impact on creating jobs globally including in the Middle East and North Africa. Second, stability. By virtue of creating jobs and incomes, economic progress and enhanced stability follows, diminishing extremism and associated security threats. Third: ensuring a level playing field. In Tunisia last week, I met an entrepreneur who defined entrepreneurship as success without unfair advantage. That is, the idea that entrepreneurs can have a level playing field for inclusiveness around the world and not have to rely on cronyism or corruption. Entrepreneurs can be self-reliant and contribute greatly to growth in their economies and their communities.

So what does a society or a country need for an entrepreneurship ecosystem to grow and thrive? Support from government for regulatory reforms; investment in infrastructure and new technologies; academic institutions to provide training and funding; access to capital; intellectual property rights protections; and a shift in the cultural mindset.

Now, I’m not here to lecture you about what entrepreneurship or innovation is. Entrepreneurship is not an American monopoly. Entrepreneurship exists widely throughout the world. It’s in blood and the DNA of everyone who finds challenges and seeks solutions.

And Egypt has a rich history of entrepreneurship. Talaat Harb, for example, is one of Egypt’s most well-regarded entrepreneurs. An economist and industrialist by training, he established many companies, and eventually founded the Bank of Egypt in 1907. And he remains an enduring role model for Egyptian entrepreneurs and innovators. A modern example is Egypt’s Azza Faiad, who as an Alexandrian teenager tackled two of the world’s biggest issues at once: pollution and energy when she discovered a more efficient way of converting plastic garbage into highly valued biofuel. Ms. Faiad joined a science club at Bibliotheca Alexandrina when she was only eight years old. There she met another young entrepreneur, Nourwanda Sorour, a petrochemical engineering student at Alexandria University, and together they invented a process that could generate as much as $163 million a year from biofuel generated from trash and producing other chemicals that can be recycled and sold. In addition, you have RiseUp Summit located right here on AU Cairo’s GrEEK Campus that organizes the Middle East’s and Africa’s most prestigious yearly entrepreneurship event that connects entrepreneurs and innovators with resources.

What is the U.S. doing to support entrepreneurship and innovation in Egypt? Under President Obama’s leadership the U.S. government is working with American companies, private sector enterprises, and NGOs to expand entrepreneurial and innovation partnerships globally including right here in Egypt. For example, Secretary of State John Kerry along with Ambassador David Thorne have been very engaged in economic reform, investment, and increased trade ties with Egypt. Both Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Thorne participated in the Egypt Economic Development Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in March 2015 as well as the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue in Cairo in August 2015. Also, Ambassador Thorne, who has long been a friend and advocate for economic growth, economic reform and entrepreneurship, led with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce the largest ever business delegation to Egypt in November 2014.

Over the past five years, the U.S. Government has invested over $14.4 million to support entrepreneurship here in Egypt, training over 23,000 Egyptians and supporting the creation of more than 175 new companies. Over the last three years, the U.S. Government’s investment in entrepreneurship and other economic activities have provided new or better full-time employment for over 40,000 Egyptians and short-term jobs for another 20,000. Additionally, USAID has allocated $23 million for its multi-year SEED project in support of entrepreneurs in Egypt. SEED is also working to support the Egyptian Government’s new regulatory requirement that banks dedicate 20% of lending for SMEs.

Another way the U.S. is by providing seed funds for the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund (EAEF), which has a representative here today to talk with you. EAEF is working to provide significant development capital for private sector companies to create a sustainable entrepreneur ecosystem. For example, it invested $1.2 million in a healthcare tech startup, which includes a network of 1,600 medical providers who provide affordable healthcare for Egyptians. And the EAEF Board recently approved an allocation of $10 million to the tech-focused venture capital fund – Algebra – which is headed by seasoned Egyptian venture capitalists and is aimed at improving access to capital for early stage companies in Egypt. Further, EAEF will allocate an additional $10 million to seed an impact investment fund – Tanmeyah – that will focus on small enterprises in export industries and entrepreneurs working in Egypt’s industrial base.

And of course there is the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Traveling to Silicon Valley is just one way to engage with GES 2016. Entrepreneurs worldwide will be a part of GES through social media and digital platforms. To join the conversation and online activities just visit www.GES2016.orgwhich is an interactive website for entrepreneurs and investors from around the world. It is a platform for entrepreneurs to connect with each other and with investors.

So let me just conclude by letting you know that the work you all do matters and inspires. Here in Egypt, and throughout the Middle East and North Africa, there are many young people with brilliant ideas – and 146 entrepreneurs from the MENA region will attend GES 2016, including 11 Egyptians, the second largest delegation from MENA.

But that is only a drop in the bucket of potential innovators in this region. Last week, when I was in Tunisia on a separate Road to GES event, I encountered a group of Norwegian entrepreneurs developing an app to assist Syrian refugees working to learn Norwegian.

And that’s the kind of world we want to live in: where people apply their creativity to find concrete solutions that cut across borders. And this brings me back to this Road to GES stop. We wanted to bring things back to Cairo where it all began, and which remains at the forefront of entrepreneurship in the region. As President Obama said seven years ago right here in Cairo, GES is meant “to spark and capture the creativity and imagination of people.” And I hope that today’s conference will do that as well.

I wish you a successful conference today, and all of the success in your future endeavors. On behalf of the United States, thank you! Shukran jazilan!