Diana Hollmann

From Cairo to DC: Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship kicks off today

Back in his June 2009 Cairo speech, Barack Obama announced that he would “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 in Muslim communities around the world.” Despite a slight delay, the Presidential Entrepreneurship Summit finally kicks off in Washington DC today.

Co-hosted by the Department of State and the Department of Commerce, the summit convenes roughly 250 participants; 150 of them are delegates carefully selected (you would have had to be suggested by an US Embassy or apply already half a year ago) to represent their home countries, regions and communities. Business leaders, organizations, and entrepreneurs from the US, Muslim-majority countries and Muslim communities from around the world come together and discuss issues revolving around the importance of entrepreneurship, job creation and community development.

The summit is intended to

  • highlight successful entrepreneurs,
  • identify ways to build and strengthen environments conducive to economic and social entrepreneurship,
  • discuss opportunities to replicate successful approaches,
  • expand networks of the stakeholders involved, and
  • provide a platform for participants to emphasize current or announce new entrepreneurial initiatives.

The agenda foresees remarks by President Obama and a series of plenary sessions on topics such as technology and innovation, access to capital, unleashing women and youth entrepreneurship, mentoring and networking, fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, promoting entrepreneurship and enabling business, as well as on social entrepreneurship. Familiar names from Muslim communities and from the US that appear on the list of attendees include Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned from Qatar, Queen Rania from Jordan, Muhammad Yunus, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Pepsi Cola chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi, as well as Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt.

As outlined in my previous post on the state of the Base of the Pyramid in the Middle East and North Africa, there is a variety of creative and innovative (social) entrepreneurs in the region. However, one of the major challenges is to bring together actors from all sectors and connect them across boundaries to partner and to learn from each other. Creating awareness for the potential of entrepreneurship amongst policy makers, relevant institutions and the public at large is essential to help establish an enabling environment that economic and social entrepreneurs can flourish in.

To quote Dr. Iman Bibars, head of Ashoka Arab World and panelist speaking at the summit: “As the Summit is focused on mutual interests and marks a new beginning for our worlds, we (Muslims) cannot be complacent with solely U.S. efforts. We must recognize this as an opportunity to actively strengthen our own citizen and business sectors through our own entrepreneurs. Only through doing so will we be able to capitalize on the opportunity we have been given.”

Considering the number of events and initiatives preceding and following the main event, the summit certainly has the potential to help create a momentum to advance entrepreneurship in Muslim communities and beyond.

So if you’re in DC but didn’t receive one of the rare invitations to the Summit itself, you should try to make it to one of the related events. If you can’t make it to DC, good options to stay up-to-date are to follow web casts of live discussions and speeches as well as web chats via the Department of State website or to see what participants post via twitter under #Esummit.

We’ll keep an eye out for what the Summit on Entrepreneurship brings, and will also keep you updated on upcoming events including the launch of the first in-depth study on the state of social entrepreneurship and social investment in the Middle East and North Africa, and the Arab World Social Innovation Forum in Cairo.