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Highlights from the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit

In 2016 United States hosted the seventh Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) at Stanford University in Silicon Valley. The founder and CEO of East Africa Fruits Co. was luckily enough to witness this gathering.

Over the course of three days, I had the privilege to witness firsthand how 700 entrepreneurs and 300 investors from 170 countries forged connections and found inspiration during GES 2016. I take great pride in the work of the office that I lead at the U.S. Department of State, the Office of Commercial and Business Affairs within the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, in helping ensure the success of GES 2016 as part of a team effort across the U.S. Government and with external partners. In the wake of GES 2016, it is worth reflecting on how GES began in the first place and what made GES 2016 so special.

Seven years ago, only 19 weeks into his presidency, in a landmark speech in Cairo, President Obama said that the world needed to “create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts … to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and … around the world.”

To implement this vision, President Obama committed to holding Global Entrepreneurship Summits each year across the globe. Since 2010, an estimated 17,000 entrepreneurs, investors, foundations and entrepreneurship ecosystem stakeholders have participated in Global Entrepreneurship Summits in Washington, Istanbul, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Marrakesh, and Nairobi. For the final GES of the Obama Administration, it was thus appropriate to return to the United States and, specifically, to host GES in Silicon Valley — the world’s leading center for innovation.

President Obama headlined the event and eloquently described how entrepreneurs “represent the upside of an interconnected world and all the optimism and the hope and the opportunity that that interconnected world represents.” The President’s most compelling statement, however, was his spending more than an hour on stage with a panel of three young entrepreneurs — asking about their aspirations and challenges. Many of the entrepreneurs and foreign officials remarked how they were struck by the informality of the interaction – something they had never seen their own heads of state do — and the personable manner in which the President elevated not just the entrepreneurs but also the very idea of entrepreneurship.

In his remarks, Secretary Kerry stressed the “close connection between what entrepreneurs and investors do” and what he and the President do “in terms of our foreign initiatives and efforts.” He challenged the entrepreneurs at GES 2016 to harness and apply their energy and creativity to tackle three key policy challenges facing the world: extremism, climate change, and corruption.

In summary, GES 2016, in my view, represented the best of U.S. diplomacy: leading by example, bringing people together from around the world, and helping accelerate positive change. Over the past seven years, we have worked with partners around the world to painstakingly build the preeminent platform for entrepreneurs to connect with each other and with capital.