WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to address a US-sponsored international forum on entrepreneurship. He said a lot about the value of enterprise in modern societies.
The key point
And yet this is what most international media quoted from his speech: “Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that can all too often fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.”
Let me understand this. According to world media, of all the things that Obama said, the most quotable sentence is that Africans (and others) should foster entrepreneurship because it provides a good antidote to “ideologies of violence and division”? That’s it? This is the value of enterprise? An antidote to political extremism?
This is how you narrow down what the leader of America, the most successful capitalistic economy in history –an economy, mind you, founded on free enterprise– has got so say about the value of entrepreneurship?
There is a lot more in Obama’s speech
Obama said a lot more in his speech, a lot more. He talked about the power of innovative ideas, creativity, risk taking, meeting challenges. He talked about ways in which America plans to support private sector entrepreneurship around the world. He talked about the role of women.
But none of this has been reported at any length. This is a missed opportunity. A speech extolling the value of enterprise in emerging countries, precisely because it has been delivered by an American President, illuminates why the capitalistic industrial democracy model that we would like other countries to embrace, is better.
The enabling environment
Sure enough, enterprise is not everything. You need a real “enabling environment”. You need good laws that defend private property and investors rights. You need an independent judiciary, simple regulations, and a true commitment to fight corruption.
And there is more. You need infrastructure (power generation and distribution, railways, good highways, ports, and what not). Of course you need all this. And Obama talked about this in his Nairobi speech.
Enterprise is key
And yet, the truth is that, if a society is unable to produce a robust group of future oriented entrepreneurs willing to take risks, you can have all these “building blocks” without making any real economic progress.
Look, it is very difficult to “breed” entrepreneurs. But one way to encourage more people to take a chance by starting a business is to make it clear to them that risk taking can have great rewards. You can make money. You introduce a new product or service. You can offer employment to others. You contribute to the overall progress or your society. And this is what Obama said in his Nairobi speech.
And this is why it is a great pity that most media chose to focus only on what Obama said about enterprises as antidotes to political violence. The US President said a lot more.
He said that enterprise is the engine of growth and innovation. He said that it is the best way to have faster economic growth. He said that America encourages women entrepreneurs in emerging countries. He talked about broad-based initiatives that will link US investors and technology leaders with young entrepreneurs world-wide. All this may not be revolutionary. But it is important.
Too bad that Obama’s message extolling free enterprise was not properly reported, and therefore it was lost.