More than 250 entrepreneurs, investors and academics from around the world are gathering in Washington next week (April 26-27) for the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship. The U.S. says this is an opportunity to highlight and support business and social entrepreneurship in Muslim communities around the world.
The two-day summit that begins Monday is the delivery on a promise President Barack Obama made in a speech last June in Cairo, when he called for a new beginning in relations between America and the world's Muslims.
"On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries," Mr. Obama said. "And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world."
U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley emphasizes that this conference is for and about entrepreneurs who make a difference, and not about government officials.
"The summit will include 275 of the most pioneering business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim communities, representing more than 55 countries and five continents around the world, a very diverse group ranging in age from ages 20 to 70, and diverse in terms of geography, gender and professional endeavor," he said.
There will be religious diversity, too. U.S. officials say that while the participants are from Muslim-majority countries or countries with large Muslim minority populations, not all participants are Muslim.
Farah Pandith, President Obama's Special Representative for Muslim Communities, says entrepreneurship is a tool that sets people free because it means they do not need a government or another person to turn an idea into a reality; they can do it for themselves.
She says this summit gives participants an opportunity.
"to connect with some of the best resources in America that actually have worked on entrepreneurship, whether they are our universities, or our foundations, or are actual entrepreneurs," said Pandith.
The selected delegates were chosen from a pool of people who submitted online applications or were nominated by others. Conference organizers say U.S. embassies will play a key follow-up role by helping entrepreneurs build on connections made at the conference.
State Department spokesman Crowley says the summit illustrates that the U.S. is changing its approach to global engagement and the ways it partners with people in Muslim communities.
"And this will be an unprecedented event. No president or secretary of state have done this before."
Speakers and participants include President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and senior White House and State Department officials.
Panels will address topics ranging from ways to access capital and to mentor others, cultural factors that can encourage or discourage entrepreneurship, and ways to empower women through entrepreneurship.