By Fangzhou Liu
In his opening remarks Thursday at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry charged today’s entrepreneurs with the task of tackling violent extremism, climate change and government corruption around the world.
“You provide a highly visible and very effective rebuttal to the propaganda of violent extremist groups,” Kerry said to the crowd of entrepreneurs. “Your optimism provides an alternative to their nihilism.”
The summit’s 700 entrepreneurs were chosen from over 5,000 applicants worldwide with the aim of connecting public-spirited entrepreneurs from all over the world with the capital to impact their communities. While the 2016 summit launched on Wednesday with an exclusive daylong session for 150 of the top applicants, the full program began on Thursday morning with Kerry’s address.
Opening speaker Patricia Nzolantima’s story exemplified the mixture of enterprise and social responsibility that Kerry saw in today’s entrepreneurs. A born businesswoman, Nzolantima was raising the money to buy her own sewing machine and running a dressmaking business even as a schoolgirl in her hometown in the Congo. Since then, she has come to run a Pan-African marketing agency, a magazine focusing on working women and a microcredit program exclusively for women.
Throughout her speech, Nzolantima stressed her social mission above all else.
“[My aim is] to pierce the highest and hardest glass ceiling—to see women become entrepreneurs and community leaders themselves,” Nzolantima said.
Uber founder Travis Kalanick and Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky followed Kerry and Nzolantima’s opening addresses with their own stories. Like Nzolantima’s story, their journeys combined the themes of hard-won personal success and social good.
Chesky emphasized that his ubiquitous home rental startup Airbnb began with an idea at which others laughed.
“I was telling a friend about this idea I had, and he pauses, gives me that look, and he says, ‘Brian, I hope that’s not the only idea you’re working on,’” Chesky quipped.
Chesky recounted the three launches and relaunches that Airbnb went through before it finally secured a double-digit guest count, reminding his audience that the best ideas often appear unbelievable at first.
Kalanick discussed his social vision for Uber as a labor market revolution as much as a successful moneymaking business.
“Uber is inclusive,” Kalanick claimed. “Anybody can work, and that means that in many ways, we look at Uber as being a safety net for a city–imagine if a manufacturing plant goes out of business and lays people off… This work is here for everybody.”
Kalanick’s remarks echoed Kerry’s vision of the inextricable links between the public and private sectors when it comes to dealing with global issues.
“There is a really close connection between what you do as entrepreneurs and investors, and what I do as Secretary of State,” Kerry said. “In our world today, there is an intimate connection between the creation of economic opportunity and the potential for political stability, between economic policy and foreign policy, which have long been two sides of the same coin.”