Remarks by Ambassador Gene A. Cretz
(as prepared for delivery)
Thank you so much for inviting me to join you this evening. Tonight’s theme of celebrating entrepreneurship and recognizing those that embrace its spirit shows that the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Ghana understands the critical role that innovative private sector actors play in Ghana’s economy. It is my pleasure to join in this important celebration and I’m very honored and humbled to receive your honorary entrepreneurship award.
We’ve all heard it many times, but it bears repeating: Small business is the backbone of an open economy. According to our Small Business Administration, Microbusinesses (firms with 1-9 employees) are the most common kind of employer firm, accounting for over 75% of American employers in 2013. Although many in this room have scaled-up from starting out as a small business, we believe these are important facts to keep in mind.
In 2009, President Obama elevated entrepreneurship as a critical pillar of U.S. global engagement and a means to deepen the partnership between the United States and the international community. Since then, the United States government has committed to supporting entrepreneurship to help channel the creativity, innovation, and potential of millions of individuals around the world to create economic opportunity. I view our support of entrepreneurship in a three letter acronym: P – E – P
Preparation: We recognize that from start-up to scale-up entrepreneurs value and appreciate access to information, planning guidance and best practices.
Encouragement: There’s not one of you in the audience today who’ve reached success alone. We all benefit when professional networks are built or strengthened and mentorship provided.
Promotion: Each of us has a responsibility to recognize good work and valuable service. Media attention can transform a small business, but I would suggest we all have a contributory role. Whether it’s spotlighting small businesses within one’s own institution, recognizing outstanding work on social media, or sending letters of appreciation, we can all help a small business to grow by building its portfolio.
I would like to share with you some of the ways that my government has played a role in helping to foster entrepreneurship in Ghana.
The Public Affairs and Economic Sections of the embassy are heavily involved in preparing the entrepreneurial ecosystem by: regularly sharing electronic information sources; bringing in experts; and working with incubators, tech hubs, angel investors, NGO’s, agricultural cooperatives, and technical and vocational institutions to create an enabling environment where the spirit of innovation is vibrant.
Public Affairs hosts exchange programs such as the International Visitor Leadership Program and Fortune/U.S. Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership that celebrate innovators and job creators who launch businesses that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth, and expand human welfare. They also support StartUp Cup Ghana, a preeminent business plan development initiative and GIST (the Global Innovation through Science and Technology) program.
We recently had the privilege of spearheading TechCamp West Africa, a public-private partnership that hosted 100 social and private entrepreneurs from across the region. These professionals are exactly the backbone nations need to spur growth and prosperity. In that one event, we witnessed more than 40 senior professionals from the private sector, government and academia mentor and guide the next generation and become inspired by the promise of what’s to come.
We have also created the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), an outreach and education initiative, as a way to create an enriching and enabling environment for African women entrepreneurs. It builds networks, offers mentorships and training, and tries to remove unnecessary barriers that limit women from fully participating in the economy.
Since I arrived in Ghana we’ve welcomed and encouraged no less than five trade delegations. The largest by far was the trade mission lead by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker last May. In addition to the over fifty American businesses that accompanied her, she made it a point to also bring with her the very first White House-appointed Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship overseas, Nina Vacca. The Secretary and Ms. Vacca devoted several hours to encouraging young Ghanaian entrepreneurs to be dogged and persistent in their quest for business success.
In my interactions with Ghanaian businesses, I have seen that the innovative spirit critical to economic development is alive and well, but without increased access to credit the ideas that arise from this innovative spirit will never materialize. Since access to credit was identified by a team of Ghanaian and American economists as a binding constraint to Ghana’s economic growth, we have been working with the Government of Ghana – under the umbrella of President Obama’s Partnership for Growth – to undertake the reforms and build the technical capacity to lower the cost of financing, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Given the Ghanaian economy’s dependence on commodities, easing access to credit will help foster the economic diversification and localization needed to accelerate more Ghanaian SMEs and spur more long-lasting economic growth.
The USAID West Africa Trade Hub is on the cutting edge of promotingentrepreneurship by helping local businesses obtain access to finance. The Hub has recruited a cadre of six local financial advisors to assist Ghanaian companies in the cereals, mango, shea, cashew, and apparel sectors to access finance for business development, value added processing expansion, operating capital, and developing exports. The advisors’ fees are partially covered by the Trade Hub, but on a strictly pay-for-performance basis linked to key milestones—primarily when their client receives a loan from a financial institution. Since the Trade Hub officially re-launched in September, they have already signed contracts with Ghanaian financial advisors that will result in almost $1.6 million in financing in targeted sectors and are currently evaluating additional opportunities that may provide a similar amount for value-added business in Ghana.
Agricultural growth has been a major driver of poverty reduction in Ghana. Through programs implemented by the United States Agency for International Development, we continue our collaborative effort to growing agribusinesses in the north, where it is needed most, to promote production, market linkages, and access to finance to increase food security and combat poverty.
Feed the Future is the U.S Government’s largest commitment to food security and nutrition in developing countries. Through this initiative, the U.S. Government, the Government of Ghana, and our partners are fostering an entrepreneurial spirit that is re-shaping the agricultural sector and driving economic growth. More than 20,000 farmers and other producers applied new technologies and management practices for the first time on more than 21,700 hectares of land. Together with our partners, we are giving farmers the tools to be entrepreneurs who are making change.
Another important U.S. initiative fostering entrepreneurship is the Young African Leaders Initiative or “YALI” which embodies President Obama’s commitment to invest in the future of Africa. It is not by fluke that entrepreneurs are among the three focus areas of this initiative. President Obama launched YALI in 2010 to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship, which began in 2014, brings 500 young leaders to the United States each year for academic coursework and leadership training and will create unique opportunities in Africa for Fellows to put new skills to practical use in leading organizations, communities and countries. Next year we anticipate doubling our efforts and welcoming a thousand young leaders to the United States. We hope that you will encourage rising young entrepreneurs, public servants and civil society advocates to apply.
We recognize too that promotion and exposure matter. We were pleased that rising businesses, such as Leti Arts a business nurtured by Meltwater, were included in the African Leaders Summit in Washington last August. We were particularly proud that 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow Ethel Cofie, successful founder and president of Edel Consult, was featured at the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit. And we all can look forward to African entrepreneurs gaining more important exposure and recognition during July’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which President Obama will attend.
We also promote in our own community, as we invite local small businesses into the embassy to exhibit and market their products to our staff and visitors.
We strive to embody the lessons that we impart regarding the importance of building professional networks, creating business objectives and striving to obtain them. On Monday we will host the first Washington Mandela Fellowship Regional Conference which I will have the honor of opening with the renowned Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful ways for individuals to improve their own economic circumstances. I firmly believe that the economic potential derived from entrepreneurship is crucial to catapulting countries, such as Ghana, to become established middle income countries. My government is committed to partnering with individuals like those of you here this evening to make this happen. Let’s all contribute some P-E-P — preparation, encouragement, and promotion — and help Ghana’s small businesses grow.
Thank you again for inviting me to celebrate with you and our congratulations to all the award winners here this evening.