U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at the BlueMoon-Draper University Network Breakfast
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
November 16, 2017
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful initiative.
Thank you, Dr. Eleni, for arranging this opportunity, and for your dedication to fostering entrepreneurship and private sector development in Ethiopia.
And thank you, Draper University, for bringing this innovative program from Silicon Valley to Ethiopia.
Silicon Valley has become a global symbol for how innovation can drive economic growth, and it’s exciting to see these principles being explored and promoted in Ethiopia.
And I’m particularly excited to be here during the tenth annual celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week, when we focus on the important role that entrepreneurs play in driving economic growth.
Ethiopia has set an ambitious goal to become a middle-income country by 2025, and while tremendous progress has been made in that direction, there is much more to be done.
Globally, we’ve seen that entrepreneurship plays a vital role in economic growth and development: creating jobs and filling economic gaps in ways that can be far more effective than larger and less nimble approaches.
Even if some of these new businesses do not survive in the long term, the combined impact of new business development on economic activity and job creation is enormous.
In the United States, new businesses account for the creation of over three million jobs each year.
Organizations like BlueMoon, that identify and support talent, provide mentorship, encourage innovation, share business know-how, and facilitate financial solutions, are invaluable in helping new businesses not only survive, but thrive.
And for such businesses, there’s no limit to what they can become.
Every major U.S. company you’ve ever heard of started as an idea in someone’s head.
Microsoft, Google, Ford, General Electric, Amazon, you name it.
For each of these companies, there was no guarantee, no pre-determined path to success.
They all started as an idea, and then it took someone, an entrepreneur, to turn the idea into a successful business.
What makes a good entrepreneur?
Some say they’re born, not made.
I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but I do believe that some of us, myself not included, are gifted with entrepreneurial spirit: the ability to identify a need, envision a solution, and take risks to operationalize their vision.
The rest of us want security.
We want to know where our next paycheck is coming from, and what we’ll be doing tomorrow, or next week, or next year.
Successful entrepreneurs are willing to forsake that kind of security, and are willing to risk failure.
And if they do fail, they’re ready to try again, to fail again, and to try again until they succeed.
But a willingness to take risks and to be persistent are not all it takes to succeed.
There are skills we can teach, and learn, about how to network, how to make a pitch, how to secure financing, and how to run a business.
And there are mentors and incubators that can guide and support us along the way.
These skills and support can make the difference between a great idea and a successful business.
And entrepreneurs rarely succeed without this kind of support.
In that regard, successful entrepreneurs are, in fact, not simply born, but they can and must be made.
I’ve been in Ethiopia for a relatively short time, but I’m already impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit I see here.
And the U.S. Government, through our embassy, is committed to supporting that spirit, and to working with partners at all levels to help translate that spirit into the creation of successful businesses, new jobs, and broad-based and sustainable economic growth.
We’re working with the government to explore ways to make the business environment more conducive to entrepreneurs.
We focus on areas such as reducing corruption, minimizing red tape, increasing access to finance, protecting intellectual property rights, and improving infrastructure – both physical and technological.
American businesses, like their Ethiopian counterparts, know that opportunities for growth depend on a healthy environment for innovation, efficient supply chains, and a strong private sector that includes small and medium enterprises.
Our Embassy also works to support entrepreneurship directly, including by organizing mentorship programs between successful Ethiopian business leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs to provide business training and guidance.
We also bring in American experts who provide practical real-life strategies and motivation by sharing their stories of business successes, and of failures that led to more successes.
Our flagship Mandela Washington Fellowship program has sent dozens of young entrepreneurs to the United States for six weeks of networking, training, and experience-sharing so that they can come back energized to try out new business ideas in Ethiopia.
When they return, they join our Young African Leadership Initiative network, which has grown to over 20,000 members who are all committed to building a better future.
We’re also proud to sponsor Ethiopia’s participant to the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India next week, one of a select few from around the world who made the cut.
Of course, no effort to support entrepreneurship would be complete without broader partnerships, and that’s where today’s event is so exciting.
Blue Moon and Addis Garage represent exactly the kinds of initiatives that are needed to unlock the entrepreneurial potential in this country: an effort by Ethiopians for Ethiopians.
The involvement of Draper University, bringing American know-how into the mix, makes for a powerful combination.
Such combined efforts and innovative partnerships can contribute enormously to Ethiopia’s success.
And Success is the goal.
Ethiopia is an important partner for the United States, and we’re committed to the durability of that partnership.
That means supporting Ethiopia’s economic growth, development, and resilience.
It means supporting U.S. commercial engagement in Ethiopia, that brings the kinds of job creation, knowledge transfer, and responsible labor and environmental practices that benefit U.S. business while contributing to Ethiopia’s economic growth and development.
It means promoting the well-being of Ethiopia’s people through a broad range of development partnerships, most notably in education and health.
It means responding to the humanitarian needs of Ethiopians while working to strengthen resilience and to address the underlying causes of humanitarian crises.
And it means helping the Ethiopian people feel politically and economically empowered today to help build the future they want to see tomorrow.
I can think of few things that embody all of these concepts better than the driving forces behind entrepreneurship.
I mentioned earlier how impressed I’ve been with the caliber of Ethiopian entrepreneurs I’ve met so far.
I’ve been deeply impressed by their problem-solving ideas, ranging from farm mechanization to improving efficiencies in commodities markets to providing academic support for students.
But I’m equally impressed by the level of social responsibility I see among Ethiopian entrepreneurs, who look to benefit their communities as well as themselves and their families.
Who emphasize solutions to societal challenges.
And who prioritize the employment of disadvantaged youth, or women, or those living with disabilities.
As much as I’m proud of what America might be able to teach Ethiopian entrepreneurs, there are certainly many things we can learn from you as well.
That’s the essence of partnership.
I commend, and greatly admire, what you do.
You have my highest respect, and my sincere commitment to supporting you in every way we can.
Thank you, Dr. Eleni and Draper University, for your commitment to making real and meaningful differences in the lives of Ethiopians, their families, their communities, and their nation.
I’m confident that your efforts, and the efforts of those like you, will help secure the prosperous future that all Ethiopians deserve.