U.S. President Barack Obama is hosting a conference of more than 250 entrepreneurs from 50 countries, many with large Muslim populations, to encourage greater economic ties between the United States and the Muslim world.
Fulfilling a pledge he made in his Cairo speech to the Muslim world last June, President Obama invited to Washington successful business and social entrepreneurs to strengthen America’s engagement with Muslim-majority countries.
In a speech to the summit, Mr. Obama announced new programs designed to bring together entrepreneurs, so they can learn from one other.
“The United States is launching several new exchange programs,” said President Obama. “We will bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.
The president announced a new program to assist women in technology fields who will have the opportunity to come to the United States for internships and professional development.
“And since innovation is central to entrepreneurship, we are creating new exchanges for science teachers,” said Mr. Obama. “We are forging new partnerships in which high-tech leaders from Silicon Valley will share their expertise in venture capital, mentorships, technology incubators, with partners in the Middle East, in Turkey and Southeast Asia.”
President Obama said that a Global Technology and Innovation fund he announced last year in Cairo has the potential to mobilize more than $2 billion in private capital for investment in sectors like telecommunications, health care, education and infrastructure. Mr. Obama said a second summit on entrepreneurship will be held next year in Turkey.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke opened the conference, saying that boosting Muslim business would help not only the Islamic world, but also would advance U.S. security and trade.
Locke says it is time the United States broadened its relationship with the world’s Muslims through stronger economic partnerships.
“This entrepreneurial force extends across our respective shores,” said Gary Locke. “It unites America and Muslim-majority countries in a shared vision of promise.”
The two-day conference brings together established business people, young entrepreneurs, government officials, bankers and other experts.
Indonesian entrepreneur Sandiaga Uno lost his job during the Asian economic crisis in the late-1990s.
Uno says he started his own business simply to pay off credit card debt and put food on his table. More than a decade later, he is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth about $400 million.
“I basically, successfully, built the first private equity firm in Indonesia, focusing on natural resources and infrastructures, from four employees to about 15,000 employees now in Indonesia,” said Sandiaga Uno.
Palestinian Waed al Taweel is a 20-year-old student from the West Bank town of Ramallah. With help from a mentor at the Arab Bank, she and her friends entered a contest for young entrepreneurs and started an event planning business.
In seven months, her shareholders earned a 200 percent profit on their investment.
“So it was a great opportunity for us to learn how businesses are made,” said Waed al Taweel. “And we learned that a good idea can succeed in Palestine, if we have the determination, the perseverance to work on it even if we were young or not really experienced in this field.”
Topics at the conference include innovation and technology, encouraging youth entrepreneurship and empowering women in business.