US to coordinate efforts, mobilize investment for global entrepreneurship

U.S. President Barack Obama greets young entrepreneurs in the vestibule of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium prior to remarks at the 2015 Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) and Young Entrepreneurs event last May 11. Photo by: Pete Souza / The White House

Think entrepreneurship is critical for global development? This week the U.S. government indicated it does too with the announcement of a new initiative aimed at coordinating its global entrepreneurship efforts and spurring additional investment.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced the Spark Global Entrepreneurship coalition, made investing in women and youth entrepreneurs a top priority, called for greater investment in emerging market entrepreneurs and introduced nine presidential ambassadors for entrepreneurship in an event at the White House.

The goal of Spark is to generate more than a billion dollars in private investment for entrepreneurs around the world by the end of 2017, with half of those funds targeting women and young entrepreneurs.

“At a time when the world is more interconnected than ever, we’ve got unprecedented opportunities to help more people access capital and resources and networks that they need to succeed,” President Obama said in a speech announcing the initiative this week. “At a time that we’re facing challenges that no country can meet by itself — lifting people out of poverty, combating climate change, preventing the spread of disease — helping social entrepreneurs mobilize and organize brings more people together to find solutions.”

Rather than create new programs or a new institution, the effort will serve as a central coordinating role for existing U.S. government programs, including youth leadership initiatives and programs like the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Development Innovation Ventures and Partnering to Accelerate Entrepreneurship. Some existing programs will expand opportunities for women and young entrepreneurs, according to the White House statement.

This announcement precedes two events — one in Spain and the other in Nigeria — that will look to draw attention and funding to entrepreneurship in the lead-up to this summer’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, which is the first time the event will be held in sub-Saharan Africa.

There are now 17 presidential ambassadors for global entrepreneurship, which include a range of CEOs and investors from Julie Hanna, Kiva’s executive chair of the board, to Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, and Steve Case, the chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC who is perhaps best known for co-founding America Online. Those ambassadors have all created a specific initiative and committed to making contributions through time, funds or awareness-raising to help meet the $1 billion goal.

Having the private sector representatives on board as part of the initiative will allow agencies like USAID to work with them in partnership to leverage their skills, expertise and resources.

However, the SPARK initiative and the latest announcements aren’t likely to mean a significant increase in U.S. government dollars to entrepreneurship, but the effort is designed to help mobilize private capital and help the various entrepreneurship programs in different agencies better coordinate, said Ricardo Michel, the director of the Center for Transformational Partnerships in USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab.

“Our ability as U.S. government to have one place of entry to think about entrepreneurship ... will be a tremendous benefit,” he said. “Instead of shopping around [businesses and entrepreneurs] can spend time more efficiently talking to the right parties.”

Often the private sector or potential entrepreneurs will find it difficult to find the program or agency where their idea or business has the best fit. Greater coordination can help mitigate some of those problems by breaking down silos around communications and finance and allowing various agencies to better understand what options others offer.

The U.S. government partners in the Spark initiative have met once to discuss information sharing and discuss a structure, which is still being designed but what has been proposed is akin to a secretariat, he said.

The Global Development Lab’s programs will continue to focus on building entrepreneurs’ capacity and helping build the bridge to financing opportunities by working to de-risk investments and connecting investors to entrepreneurs.

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About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.