28 Entrepreneurs. 28 Countries. Four US Cities. One Simple Mission: A New Beginning
By Cari E. Guittard, MPA, the executive director of Business for Diplomatic Action.
If there ever were a time for a new beginning in this country, it is now. The recession is still very much with us. Global crises and disasters compound daily. Our national attention is consumed with political candidates on both sides of the aisle who seem to have completely lost their minds. And yet amidst the absurdities, there are signs of real hope and cause for optimism.
One such indication is the momentum and support at the federal level for the promotion of entrepreneurship. An example of this support is a program my organization, Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA), the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) and the US Department of State just wrapped in New York — a ground-breaking exchange program, which brought 28 entrepreneurs from 28 countries to the US for three weeks of intensive mentoring, coaching and business development. The fellowship, aptly titled “New Beginnings – Innovation & Entrepreneurship” is part of the President Barack Obama’s Initiative on Entrepreneurship and was announced at the White House Summit on Entrepreneurship last April. The impetus behind an entrepreneurship focused exchange program has been building since the President delivered his address in Cairo.
“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.”
– President Barack Obama, June 4, 2009
Bringing such a vision to life is not an easy endeavor, and I commend the US Department of State, Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs for their leadership in cultivating the concept and delivering State backing to launch the effort. Doing anything in the entrepreneurship and innovation space, especially at the federal level, is a delicate business – particularly as very few in the private sector know how to do it and do it well. There are so many factors at play beyond an individual’s desire to succeed – the environment must be right, the entrepreneurial eco-system that supports innovation must also be in place. No one knows entrepreneurs better than EO, the leading global entrepreneurs’ network with nearly 8,000 members worldwide. EO’s global leadership spear-headed the development of this ground-breaking program with State and BDA, sharing their proprietary Accelerator content and engaging their local membership in the host cities: DC, Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York.
I had the opportunity to meet and spend time with the New Beginnings entrepreneurs during their stop in San Francisco. The University of San Francisco’s MBA School generously provided our venue for the EO Accelerator Day and sponsored our evening reception, providing the perfect backdrop on their Lone Mountain campus. I listened to each of the entrepreneurs’ stories and marveled at the many obstacles they had each overcome. Their intense passion, optimism, and energy were infectious. What a privilege. I learned from them, laughed with them, and felt part of their newly formed family. They came from such diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and geographies. Many of the entrepreneurs are women who are proud of what they represent for women in their own countries and the legacies they are leaving in their wake for generations of young girls. They remarked at how surprised they were by the generosity and kindness of Americans and how face to face we really are different than the stereotypes they see portrayed in movies and on television. In my short two days with them, I was changed forever.
Working with the New Beginnings program got me to thinking about the impact entrepreneurs have on the global economy and how integral they are to our collective national and economic security. Supporting and empowering high-growth, high-potential entrepreneurs, and giving them tools to succeed more quickly, will be critical in job creation and creating economic stability. Which brings me back to New Beginnings. Can there be any better investment in our economic future than bringing leading entrepreneurs together to help them do what they do best and expand on a global scale? When entrepreneurs come together, magic happens. Innovation, growth, prosperity for all. I hope politicial candidates on both sides of the aisle are listening and paying attention.
Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of this country and there is no going back to a time before it was critical to our national prosperity. Entrepreneurship should be aggressively nurtured and encouraged at every level of American society. As Andy Grove underscores, “Don’t bemoan the way things were. They will never be that way again.”