President Obama & Vice President Joe Biden

President Obama & Vice President Joe Biden

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Renewing the American Dream for Folks Like You

At a town hall meeting in Ottumwa, Iowa yesterday, President Obama answered questions from audience members, but first took a moment to give a glimpse into his perspective:

Now, we haven’t been perfect. That’s for sure. Michelle could have warned you, I’m not perfect. But I want -- what I want you to know is that every single thing we are trying to accomplish, every policy we put in place, every day that I go to work, it’s about restoring a sense of security for the middle class and renewing the American Dream for folks like you -- because you’re the ones who inspired me to run. Whether you support me or not, it’s towns like this and families like yours that I spend my time thinking about.

President Obama speaks at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, an event aimed at identifying how to deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

Remarks by the President at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
Washington, D.C.

6:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Everybody, please have a seat. Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Washington.

In my life, and as President, I have had the great pleasure of visiting many of your countries, and I’ve always been grateful for the warmth and the hospitality that you and your fellow citizens have shown me. And tonight, I appreciate the opportunity to return the hospitality.

For many of you, I know this is the first time visiting our country. So let me say, on behalf of the American people, welcome to the United States of America. (Applause.)

It is an extraordinary privilege to welcome you to this Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship. This has been a coordinated effort across my administration, and I want to thank all the hardworking folks and leaders at all the departments and agencies who made it possible, and who are here tonight.

That includes our United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk. Where’s Ron? There he is. (Applause.) I especially want to thank the two departments and leaders who took the lead on this summit -- Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)

We’re joined by members of Congress who work every day to help their constituents realize the American Dream, and whose life stories reflect the diversity and equal opportunity that we cherish as Americans: Nydia Velazquez, who is also, by the way, the chairwoman of our Small Business Committee in the House of Representatives. (Applause.) Keith Ellison is here. (Applause.) And Andre Carson is here. (Applause.)

Most of all, I want to thank all of you for being part of this historic event. You’ve traveled from across the United States and nearly 60 countries, from Latin America to Africa, Europe to Central Asia, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.

And you bring with you the rich tapestry of the world’s great traditions and great cultures. You carry within you the beauty of different colors and creeds, races and religions. You’re visionaries who pioneered new industries and young entrepreneurs looking to build a business or a community.

But we’ve come together today because of what we share -- a belief that we are all bound together by certain common aspirations. To live with dignity. To get an education. To live healthy lives. Maybe to start a business, without having to pay a bribe to anybody. To speak freely and have a say in how we are governed. To live in peace and security and to give our children a better future.

But we’re also here because we know that over the years, despite all we have in common, the United States and Muslim communities around the world too often fell victim to mutual mistrust.

And that’s why I went to Cairo nearly one year ago and called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities -- a new beginning based on mutual interest and mutual respect. I knew that this vision would not be fulfilled in a single year, or even several years. But I knew we had to begin and that all of us have responsibilities to fulfill.

As President, I’ve worked to ensure that America once again meets its responsibilities, especially when it comes to the security and political issues that have often been a source of tension. The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq, and we will partner with Iraqi people for their long-term prosperity and security. In Afghanistan, in Pakistan and beyond, we’re forging new partnerships to isolate violent extremists, but also to combat corruption and foster the development that improves lives and communities.

I say it again tonight: Despite the inevitable difficulties, so long as I am President, the United States will never waver in our pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians. (Applause.) And around the world, the United States of America will continue to stand with those who seek justice and progress and the human rights and dignity of all people.

But even as I committed the United States to addressing these security and political concerns, I also made it clear in Cairo that we needed something else -- a sustained effort to listen to each other and to learn from each other, to respect one another. And I pledged to forge a new partnership, not simply between governments, but also between people on the issues that matter most in their daily lives -- in your lives.

Now, many questioned whether this was possible. Yet over the past year, the United States has been reaching out and listening. We’ve joined interfaith dialogues and held town halls, roundtables and listening sessions with thousands of people around the world, including many of you. And like so many people, you’ve extended your hand in return, each in your own way, as entrepreneurs and educators, as leaders of faith and of science.

I have to say, perhaps the most innovative response was from Dr. Naif al-Mutawa of Kuwait, who joins us here tonight. Where is Dr. Mutawa? (Applause.) His comic books have captured the imagination of so many young people with superheroes who embody the teachings and tolerance of Islam. After my speech in Cairo, he had a similar idea. So in his comic books, Superman and Batman reached out to their Muslim counterparts. (Laughter.) And I hear they’re making progress, too. (Laughter.) Absolutely. (Applause.)

By listening to each other we’ve been able to partner with each other. We’ve expanded educational exchanges, because knowledge is the currency of the 21st century. Our distinguished science envoys have been visiting several of your countries, exploring ways to increase collaboration on science and technology.

We’re advancing global health, including our partnership with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to eradicate polio. This is just one part of our broader engagement with the OIC, led by my Special Envoy, Rashad Hussain, who joins us here tonight. Where’s Rashad? (Applause.)

And we’re partnering to expand economic prosperity. At a government level, I’d note that putting the G20 in the lead on global economic decision-making has brought more voices to the table -- including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India and Indonesia. And here today, we’re fulfilling my commitment in Cairo to deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

Now, I know some have asked -- given all the security and political and social challenges we face, why a summit on entrepreneurship? The answer is simple.

Entrepreneurship -- because you told us that this was an area where we can learn from each other; where America can share our experience as a society that empowers the inventor and the innovator; where men and women can take a chance on a dream -- taking an idea that starts around a kitchen table or in a garage, and turning it into a new business and even new industries that can change the world.

Entrepreneurship -- because throughout history, the market has been the most powerful force the world has ever known for creating opportunity and lifting people out of poverty.

Entrepreneurship -- because it’s in our mutual economic interest. Trade between the United States and Muslim-majority countries has grown. But all this trade, combined, is still only about the same as our trade with one country -- Mexico. So there’s so much more we can do together, in partnership, to foster opportunity and prosperity in all our countries.

And social entrepreneurship -- because, as I learned as a community organizer in Chicago, real change comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots, starting with the dreams and passions of single individuals serving their communities.

And that’s why we’re here. We have Jerry Yang, who transformed how we communicate, with Yahoo. Is Jerry here? Where is he? He’ll be here tomorrow. As well as entrepreneurs who have opened cybercafés and new forums on the Internet for discussion and development. Together, you can unleash the technologies that will help shape the 21st century.

We have successes like Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, who I met earlier, who built a telecommunications empire that empowered people across Africa. And we have aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their businesses and hire new workers. Together you can address the challenges of accessing capital. We have trailblazers like Sheikha Hanadi of Qatar, along with Waed al Taweel, who I met earlier -- a 20-year-old student from the West Bank who wants to build recreation centers for Palestinian youth. So together, they represent the incredible talents of women entrepreneurs and remind us that countries that educate and empower women are countries that are far more likely to prosper. I believe that. (Applause.)

We have pioneers like Chris Hughes, who created Facebook, as well as an online community that brought so many young people into my campaign for President -- (Laughter.) We have people like Soraya Salti of Jordan who are empowering the young men and women who will be leaders of tomorrow. (Applause.) Together, they represent the great potential and expectations of young people around the world.

And we’ve got social entrepreneurs like Tri Mumpuni, who has helped rural communities in Indonesia -- (applause) -- harness the electricity, and revenues, of hydro-power. And Andeisha Farid, an extraordinary woman from Afghanistan, who’s taken great risks to educate the next generation, one girl at a time. (Applause.) Together, they point the way to a future where progress is shared and prosperity is sustainable.

And I also happened to notice Dr. Yunus -- it’s wonderful to see you again. I think so many people know the history of Grameen Bank and all the great work that’s been done to help finance entrepreneurship among the poorest of the poor, first throughout South Asia, and now around the world.

So this is the incredible potential that you represent; the future we can seize together. So tonight I'm proud to announce a series of new partnerships and initiatives that will do just that.

The United States is launching several new exchange programs. 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. (Applause.) So women in technology fields will have the opportunity to come to the United States for internships and professional development. And since innovation is central to entrepreneurship, we’re creating new exchanges for science teachers.

We’re forging new partnerships in which high-tech leaders from Silicon Valley will share their expertise -- in venture capital, mentorship, and technology incubators -- with partners in the Middle East and in Turkey and in Southeast Asia.

And tonight, I can report that the Global Technology and Innovation Fund that I announced in Cairo will potentially mobilize more than $2 billion in investments. This is private capital, and it will unlock new opportunities for people across our countries in sectors like telecommunications, health care, education, and infrastructure.

And finally, I’m proud that we’re creating here at this summit not only these programs that I’ve just mentioned, but it’s not going to stop here. Together, we’ve sparked a new era of entrepreneurship -- with events all over Washington this week, and upcoming regional conferences around the world.

Tonight, I am pleased to announce that Prime Minister Erdogan has agreed to host the next Entrepreneurship Summit next year in Turkey. (Applause.) And so I thank the Prime Minister and the people and private sector leaders of Turkey for helping to sustain the momentum that we will unleash this week.

So as I said, there are those who questioned whether we could forge these new beginnings. And given the magnitude of the challenges we face in the world -- and let’s face it, a lot of the bad news that comes through the television each and every day -- sometimes it can be tempting to believe that the goodwill and good works of ordinary people are simply insufficient to the task at hand. But to any who still doubt whether partnerships between people can remake our world, I say look at the men and women who are here today.

Look at the professor who came up with an idea -- micro-finance -- that empowered the rural poor across his country, especially women and children. That’s the powerful example of Dr. Yunus.

Look what happened when Muhammad shared his idea with a woman from Pakistan, who has since lifted hundreds of thousands of families and children out of poverty through a foundation whose name literally means “miracle.” That’s the example of Roshaneh Zafar. (Applause.)

Look what happened when that idea spread across the world -- including to people like my own mother, who worked with the rural poor from Pakistan to Indonesia. That simple idea, began with a single person, has now transformed the lives of millions. That’s the spirit of entrepreneurship.

So, yes, the new beginning we seek is not only possible, it has already begun. It exists within each of you, and millions around the world who believe, like we do, that the future belongs not to those who would divide us, but to those who come together; not to those who would destroy, but those who would build; not those trapped in the past, but those who, like us, believe with confidence and conviction in a future of justice and progress and the dignity of all human beings regardless of their race, regardless of their religion.

That’s the enormous potential that we’re hoping to unlock during this conference and hoping to continue not only this week but in the months and years ahead. So I’m grateful that all of you are participating. May God bless you all and may God’s peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

6:22 P.M. EDT

Remarks of Lawrence H. Summers at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship

What I thought I’d do today is start by asking: What in our time is going to be historically memorable 300 years from now?

Perhaps the top story will be the end of the Cold War. But if you think about major conflicts between pairs of countries that took place three hundred years ago, they are a little hazy in our memory.

Perhaps the large story will be the relationship between the West, broadly defined, and the Islamic world and how that story plays out.

And that is certainly an issue of profound importance.

But I would suggest to you that the greatest likelihood is that what will be remembered is the rise of emerging markets in Asia and beyond, at unprecedented rates.

Consider if you will this. If you look – and historians have quite carefully – standards of living as best we can judge them in the Athens of Pericles’ time and the London at the beginning of the nineteenth century, they had changed very little.

On an optimistic view they had risen 75 percent over that 2,200-year period.

If you look at the Industrial Revolution, the reason they called it the Industrial Revolution was that for the first time in human history, living standards rose at a rate where they were noticeably different at the end of a human lifespan than they had been at its beginning. Growth had been perhaps 1 or 1.5 percent a year.

If you look at the most rapid period of growth in U.S. economic history, per capita incomes, living standards rose at perhaps 2 or 2.5 percent – a rate at which they rose perhaps as much as five times within a single human lifespan.

If we look at what is happening today in large parts of the world we are seeing growth at a rate of seven, eight, nine, ten percent a year. A rate at which living standards rise not by a factor of two, not by a factor of five, but by a factor of more than a hundred over a single human lifespan.

We are seeing it not in a single corner of Europe but in a region where the largest share of the world’s population lives. And we are seeing it in a world that is vastly more interconnected and able to feel its effects than the world that experienced the rise of the United States or experienced the Industrial Revolution.

It will, over time, I suspect, reshape almost everything – from the way in which people work, to the nature of the art they regard as beautiful, to the level of prosperity that they enjoy, to the security fears that they choose to worry about.

It’s going to be the historical story of our time.

But I would suggest to you that it is a story that will be written in no small part by entrepreneurs. Because while economic history changes, while events change, if there is a constant in economic history, it may be the power of markets and the power of entrepreneurs within them.

Entrepreneurship is not confined to new technologies. It includes the introduction of new goods, new methods of production, new markets, new sources of supply for raw materials, and new ways of organization.

As Stanford’s Paul Romer, a leading student of economic growth, has put it, and this is perhaps the single most important thing to understand about economic growth over the long run: “Economic growth springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking.”

The static strategies of accumulation, whether pursued by Russia in the ’40s and ’50s, or whether pursued by Japan in the 1980s, work for a time, but eventually run out of gas. The path to permanent and continuing change is the path of better recipes, the path of innovation, the path of the breakthroughs – organizational, intellectual, or technological – that can transform societies.

The work of entrepreneurs.

In the nineteenth century, the technologies that reverberated across the U.S. economy included the transcontinental railroad, the telegraph, and the steam engine.

In the 20th century, those technologies were the automobile, the jet plane, and over the last generation, everything associated with the personal computer and information technology.

All of that was driven by entrepreneurs.

Indeed, a culture of entrepreneurship has been central to the economic success of the United States. We are, perhaps, the only place in the world where you can raise your first $100 million before you buy your first suit, if you have a sufficiently good idea.

So, too, entrepreneurship will play an important role in the renaissance of China, India, and the rest of the developing world.

What transforms villages is whether they have an entrepreneur or whether they don’t. In the wake of such creative effort, entrepreneurs create jobs and spur economic activity.

I would suggest that entrepreneurship drives economic growth in three critical ways.

First, it fosters competition and dynamism in a world economy whose shape is rapidly changing.

It used to be that a country’s success could be judged by the size of its skyscrapers and steel plants. And yet at the turn of the 21st century, Microsoft had a greater market capitalization, a greater market value than the entire American steel, auto, and aerospace sector combined. And that was before people had heard of a start-up company called Google.

We think of Wal-Mart and it is an enormous retailer. But compare that with eBay and its online marketplace of 85 million active buyers and sellers.

Joseph Schumpeter, the economist whose name is practically synonymous with the creative destruction of innovation, observed that there is no such thing as a dynamic equilibrium. Competition breeds more competition. Entrepreneurship breeds more entrepreneurship. And change can come quickly.

In understanding why the business landscape is profoundly different than it once was, consider this:

In 1960, it took twenty years for a third of the Fortune 500 companies to turn over. Today, it takes just four years for similar turnover.

Second, entrepreneurship facilitates the incorporation of the new technologies that fuel economic growth. I was reminded of this many years ago, now, in the mid-1990s, when as Deputy Secretary I visited Cote d’Ivoire. We did something that government officials too frequently do. We journeyed several hours away from the capital to a small town in Cote d’Ivoire where I was to have the privilege of turning on a water well which had been a USAID project that would provide for clean water for that village.

The village was across a small lagoon and eight or ten of us were on a boat that a few people were paddling to get across that lagoon. We had gotten there, done our thing. We were on our way back and as we were on the boat someone stuck a cell phone in my face and said, “Secretary Rubin needs to talk to you.” All I could think about was how different that was than any world that I live in. Here we were, three hours away from the capital city of a desperately poor country in or near a village that was getting clean water for the first time, and I was able to be talking to Washington with a perfect connection and nobody was thinking very much of it.

That was about information technology.

As you’d expect, that was about the private sector, and, yes, that was about entrepreneurship.

4.6 billion people today have access to mobile phones. Nearly two thirds of the people on the planet. To take just one example, in 1995, Vietnam had one phone for every 100 people. Today it has 33, and two thirds of them were mobile phone.

And it’s been estimated that a 10% increase in wireless penetration in emerging economies can result in a half-a-percent increase in the GDP.

These examples are pervasive. You will hear them throughout your conference and I am not going to try to describe them in detail. But if you ask what will make a difference over the long-run, it is disruptive technology of the kind that entrepreneurship brings.

A final thought. Entrepreneurship provides opportunity and it supports freedom. If you look at some of the greatest entrepreneurs in our country, people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, they dropped out of college.

One study claimed that an amazingly high fraction of entrepreneurs – more than ten times as high of executives in large companies – had had some kind of learning disability when they were children.

But the opportunity to break out, to break the mold, had changed their lives and it had changed the lives of others.

George Bernard Shaw once observed, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore,” Shaw concluded, “all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

And so it is with entrepreneurs.

Social scientists have debated for two centuries and no doubt will debate for several more the complex relationships between free markets and free societies. I’m not going to resolve those issues here today. But I would suggest to you this: Free societies are the best breeding grounds for entrepreneurs.

An important test of the freedom in a society is whether it enables Shaw’s unreasonable man to try to change the world.

Are its consumers open to using new products in new waves?

Is its financial system willing to take a chance on someone with a compelling vision but a short track record?

Do its institutions enable people to bet their future on a dream?

If we in the United States have been successful over the last century, our ability to do these things relatively well is no small part of the reason. And if it is true that free societies create entrepreneurs, it is also true that a strong entrepreneurial class makes a society freer.

They provide choices for consumers.

They provide options for those seeking jobs.

They provide perspectives in the public sphere that do not come from the public sector.

They provide for independence from large, hierarchical organizations.

Through the competition, they check the power of large businesses and large governments that would otherwise be unchecked.

President Obama observed last night that “throughout history the market has been the most powerful force the world has ever known for creating opportunity and lifting people out of poverty.”

When history is written 300 years from now the story of our times is likely to be one of unprecedented economic transformation. But it will be a story whose running theme, what entrepreneurs do, is what many of you live and what we all know very well.

Thank you very much.

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