Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Robert P. Jackson
Global Entrepreneurship Week
Sponsored by Youth Employment Service (YES)
Solomon Tandeng Muna Foundation, Yaoundé, Cameroon
November 16, 2011, 9:30 AM
Thank you and good morning. It is my pleasure to join each of you in recognition of Global Entrepreneurship Week. This week more than 118 countries around the world are joining to enhance the conduct of global affairs and support the visionary business leaders of tomorrow. It is not easy to categorize an entire group of people, but I would say, entrepreneurs from the mountain tops of the United States to the grasslands of Cameroon are essentially the same: innovative, determined, and fearless. While many see challenges as setbacks and avoid them, entrepreneurs view challenges as opportunities and face them head on. I want to thank Gilbert Ewehmeh, the Executive Director of Youth Employment Service, for organizing this week’s conference as well as acknowledge the British High Commission, Africa Opportunity in Douala, and the Ministry of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. Your collaboration with this valuable sector will no doubt lead to more well trained and supported economic leaders.
Steve Jobs, one of America’s greatest entrepreneurs, urged people to do what they love, to be passionate, to have dreams, and to want to make things better. To me, those qualities define much of entrpreneurship.
Cameroon is an entrepreneurial country. From the men and women selling bananas and beignets on the streets, to owners of large corporations like the Cameroon Tea Estate in the Northwest, Maiscam in the Great North, and CICAM in Doula. This country moves forward thanks to the enterprising nature of its people. Today, I congratulate each of you for pursuing entrepreneurship as your path. The future of Cameroon’s economic prosperity rests in your hands, and we commend your efforts to make that future as bright as possible.
Now, let’s be honest, it is no secret that many countries are facing enormous fiscal challenges. In the United States families are struggling to get back on their feet after one of the worst economic downturns in our history. And yet, this is not happening in a vacuum. Europe is facing one of the most severe financial tests since the Second World War, due to recession and debt. And across Africa, small and medium-size businesses labor against corruption and red tape, fight for access to capital, and struggle for a rightful place in the formal sector.
In such challenging economic times, how can you as entrepreneurs play a role in fostering economic development? The answer is simple. Entrepreneurs stimulate the economy. They increase competition, generate employment, boost international trade, and contribute to the Gross National Product. Promoting entrepreneurship is an integral component to boosting economic well being. Men and women, old and young deserve the opportunity to find work, save and spend money, and live up to their full potential. To achieve true economic expansion, we must unlock this vital source of growth and power. Judith Kautz, author of an online business journal states, “Government policies and programs targeted significantly at the entrepreneurial sector will have a more direct impact than programs simply aimed at improving the national business context.”
Real support for the entrepreneur can only be realized through fundamental commitments by the public and private sector in partnership. I applaud the Ministry of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises for establishing procedures that reduce time-consuming and complicated requirements for start-up businesses. Successful economies have discovered that reforming restrictive regulatory systems is a significant step towards stimulating growth and entrepreneurial freedom.
I applaud municipalities and the private sector for increasing the numbers of women in the informal and formal workforce. Research demonstrates a strong correlation between high organizational performance and high degrees of gender diversity. Secretary Clinton, in her recent entrepreneurship summit, stated, “When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations, and the world.” In that same vein, societies must also eliminate discriminatory practices against women. The World Bank finds that businesses significantly increase productivity per worker by 25-40 percent when women are treated equally.
I also applaud institutions like Youth Employment Service for building the capacity of emerging entrepreneurs to understand markets and plan strategically. In truth, sound economic policies and investment and management training are keys to reducing the social and structural impediments that block avenues of growth for potential entrepreneurs.
The U.S. Embassy also maintains our commitment to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in Cameroonian business students and leaders by nominating them to participate in educational exchange programs, conferences, and networking opportunities in the United States. The U.S. State Department recently launched the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program to provide women with information and tools to take advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The Peace Corps works with small enterprises in every region of Cameroon to assist with business skills. In 2010, Peace Corps provided business training to more than 3,450 individuals. We sent two of Cameroon’s leading entrepreneurs to the White House Summit on Entrepreneurship last year. This year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton highlighted a Cameroonian entrepreneur during the AGOA Summit in Lusaka, Zambia. We subsequently sent another Cameroonian female entrepreneur to the United States, and we are preparing to send six more. In September, the Embassy sponsored a workshop on entrepreneurship in Douala, and here we are again.
Although these developments are invaluable, there is still lots of work to be done to fully support the entrepreneur in Cameroon. In our globalized world, people, information, products and ideas flow across borders at an extraordinary rate. Entrepreneurs play a large role in facilitating this exchange. All multimillion dollar companies started with a simple idea and a conversation. I challenge each of you to take advantage of this week to build your knowledge, expertise, and networks. Remember every successful entrepreneur at some point sat in your same seat. They pondered the possibilities, weighed the risks, and evaluated their resources. In fact, billionaires like Bill Gates, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney all failed miserably during their first business attempts. The key to their success was their perseverance and their commitment to continually improve. Today, their stories serve as an inspiration to entrepreneurs around the world and one day your stories will have the same impact. I wish you all the best as you pursue your endeavors and congratulate you again on this important move towards fostering economic prosperity for your families and your country.