About the Author: Madelyn Spirnak is Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA). Ms. Spirnak is responsible for overseeing the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative, and the NEA Press and Public Diplomacy Office.
On June 4, many of you heard President Obama’s call for a “New Beginning” between the United States and Muslim communities worldwide. As part of this plan, the President offered several critical areas where we can build partnerships: women’s empowerment, education, technology, and health, to name a few. I want to highlight an especially important topic that I was excited to hear the President address in Cairo: The vital role that entrepreneurship plays in supporting economic development and opportunity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Many of you may not be aware that the State Department supports the efforts of entrepreneurs from the MENA region through the Middle East Entrepreneur Training (MEET) program. Funded by the Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and run by the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, MEET provides training to business and civil society leaders in the MENA region to help them fulfill their visions to create positive economic and social changes in their societies. Through the efforts of these individuals, jobs and opportunities are opening up to more and more people in the region. Specifically, over the last five years, MEET program participants have created more than 700 new businesses.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting many MEET alumni at a conference in Istanbul August 4-5, 2009. Over 200 MEET alumni gathered to discuss opportunities for collaboration and strategies for moving their businesses and organizations forward in a tough economy. These entrepreneurs and leaders are making a positive impact in their communities in the MENA region. For example, in Egypt, a colleague is using skills gained through MEET to energize a training program offered by a national association to enhance potential employees’ private sector business skills. In Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen, MEET alumni have founded coalitions to advocate for human rights, expand media freedom, and support environmental awareness and responsibility throughout the region.
These inspiring leaders returned to their home countries with a new understanding of the United States and of our desire to build constructive partnerships. As President Obama mentioned in his address in Cairo, he will host a summit on entrepreneurship to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world, and I look forward to interacting with these talented individuals in the months and years to come.
Thank you, and I welcome your comments.