President Obama this week announced yet another initiative to promote entrepreneurship around the world. It’s a great idea (as it has been for the six years of his presidency so far). Unfortunately, it risks not being well executed—again.
This issue has been a constant theme of his administration, beginning with his famous “New Beginnings” speech at Cairo University in June of 2009, continuing through 5 Global Entrepreneurship Summits, of which the White House hosted the first in Washington DC, followed by Summits in Turkey, Malaysia, Morocco and later this year, Nairobi Kenya. Obama has always understood the connection between joblessness and political instability and extremism. The policy has been right and clear for a long time. But as the saying in the start-up world goes, “its 5% inspiration, 95% perspiration” and the execution of this policy seems always to fall short.
This time, Monday’s announcement at the White House included the launch of a new program called the “Spark Global Entrepreneurship” Coalition that is designed to “generate more than a billion dollars in private investment for entrepreneurs around the world, with half of those funds targeting women and young entrepreneurs.” It also includes a cool new feature, which of course has a cool acronym, PAGE, Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship that now includes 17 rocks tar entrepreneurs like Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky and the ubiquitous Steve Case of AOL-fame.
What the program does not include though, is a realistic way to actually implement programs and most especially, any money. As DEVEX, one of the development industry’s leading players observed today, “The SPARK initiative and the latest announcements aren’t likely to mean a significant increase in US government dollars to entrepreneurship…” Similarly, the initiative does not create any organizational change other than “centralizing” US government programs in this area at USAID. In order to effect real change, the myriad competing and duplicative efforts throughout the government (State, OPIC, Commerce, SBA, the White House itself, and several un-connected USAID programs just to name a few) will need to be formally organized and most importantly, real dollars will need to be allocated. “Leveraging the private sector though public-private partnerships” has too long meant talking the talk but not walking the walk.