What words come to mind when you think about entrepreneurship? Maybe it’s big ideals like freedom, innovation, and empowerment. Maybe it’s the positive concepts of profit, job creation, social impact, or success. Maybe it’s the negative terms like risk, failure, or burnout. Or maybe it’s the names of trailblazers like Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk.
My view of entrepreneurship is informed by the perspectives through which I’ve witnessed its power -- as a high school student growing up near Silicon Valley, as a young person passionate about civic action and social impact, and now in my role as the Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues at the U.S. Department of State.
I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to and inspired by entrepreneurs throughout my life, but what has struck me most are the incredible young entrepreneurs that I’ve met at past Global Entrepreneurship Summits (GES) overseas, whether in Turkey, the UAE, Malaysia, Morocco, or Kenya.
I was inspired by a young woman from Saudi Arabia who started an Uber-like carpool service for women in her country to help them overcome legal barriers that prevent their full participation in the economy; a young male fish farmer from Indonesia, who after being frustrated by the inability to affordably and efficiently feed his stock, created e-Fishery, a smart feeding system that can sense a fish’s appetite and feed them automatically; a young woman from Morocco who launched an innovative company and online community, Voyaj, which seeks to connect globally-minded travelers with host families eager to expand their worldview through cultural exchange. There are countless more examples of dynamic young entrepreneurs like these from all over the globe.
These youth leaders embody the spirit of entrepreneurship -- identifying a challenge or inefficiency in their community or country and then taking responsibility for finding an actionable solution.
For so many reasons, young people are natural entrepreneurs. They are proven risk-takers, unafraid to question the status quo, undaunted by complex challenges, and unwilling to accept the world as it is. Instead they push us to imagine the world as it could be. Today’s youth are also the largest and most empowered generation the world has ever seen, with the ability to utilize technology in a manner never before possible. And they are shaping their communities and countries in profound ways.
So why does the U.S. government take entrepreneurship so seriously? Why do we invest in regional initiatives for innovators and entrepreneurs like YALI,YSEALI, YLAI, TechGirls, TechWomen, and others? And why do we make a concerted effort and dedicate time to specifically empower youth and women entrepreneurs during a global conference like the Global Entrepreneurship Summit through our GES+ event?
The truth is that we recognize entrepreneurship as an incredibly powerful vehicle for youth and women’s empowerment. We know that it advances economic and security interests, opening new avenues for international trade, partnerships, and job creation. We know that problems can be solved, voices can be amplified, information can be democratized, and society transformed through social entrepreneurship. And we know that entrepreneurship as a concept builds on American ideals of innovation and opportunity. It also offers a strong positive alternative to extremism, violence, and crime.
Incredible youth and women entrepreneurs exist all over the world. Yet we recognize that extra resources are needed to further showcase and lift up the dynamic youth and women entrepreneurs who continue to create and scale meaningful businesses — many of which also tackle local challenges.
And that’s why before the official start of this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit (now in its seventh year) a day-long intensive program called GES+ will showcase 150 of 2016’s most dynamic global women and youth entrepreneurs whose businesses have the potential to scale and catalyze change. This program will also connect these global innovators with leading industry experts and investors. The GES+ event will be co-hosted by Rick Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and Catherine Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. GES+ and the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit as a whole reflect the U.S. government’s longstanding commitment to supporting and empowering youth and women entrepreneurs, recognizing the unique challenges and opportunities they experience in starting and growing their businesses.
Among this year’s GES+ participants is a young woman who launched Malawi’s first tech hub, the founder of an app which makes cities safer for women traveling alone in India, the creator of a mobile technology connecting Indonesian students to subject matter experts, and 147 others from a variety of industries.
While Silicon Valley is home to tech industry giants, GES+ and its participants remind us of the importance of starting small and dreaming big. Even the most successful companies began with an idea and one or two people determined to transform it into a reality. The world desperately needs the talents and passion of entrepreneurs, especially youth and women entrepreneurs who bring a diverse set of experiences and perspectives, to help us tackle some of the most pressing challenges we face -- in education, housing, employment, combating violent extremism, poverty eradication, global health, and more. These may seem to be challenges so large that making a dent in them is but a pipe dream, but as so many GES+ participants and alumni have shown us, the best place to begin is in your own community, and the best time to start is now.
Young people today share a set of common traits: a relentless drive to effect change, the courage to try something new, and the willingness to lead. That’s what the spirit of entrepreneurship is all about. And so I’d like to end with two calls to action:
To youth innovators everywhere: keep dreaming big and continue pushing your businesses forward. The world needs your ideas and your energy.
To investors, policymakers, and employers: take a chance on global youth and women entrepreneurs. You won’t regret it.
We look forward to engaging with you on the Road to GES 2016 and at GES+ on June 22, 2016.
About the Author: Andy Rabens serves as the Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues at the U.S. Department of State in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
Editor's Note: This blog also appears on the Global Entrepreneurship Summit publication on Medium.com.
For more information:
- Find out more about GES2016, which will take place on June 21-24 at Stanford University in Palo Alto.
- Join the conversation on social media by following @GES2016 on Twitter and using #GES2016!
- Read other DipNote blogs on entrepreneurship and youth empowerment.