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Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett recently hosted a group of business pioneers during the closing panel of the historic Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, one of several initiatives laid out in the President's groundbreaking speech in Cairo last June. This particular panel crystallized the promise that the "new beginning" he called for at Cairo University has the potential to create new economic and social opportunities both at home and abroad.
The panel was introduced by Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities at the State Department. Seated on stage were Faridah Nambi Kingongo of Uganda, who earned the moniker "The Oprah of Uganda" by building a television empire with her Nambi Talk Show; Dina Powell who leads the 10,000 Women Initiative and spoke of her work to provide access to mentoring opportunities and leadership training around the globe; Tamara Abed who shared how she is using micro-financing to help more than 65,000 women in Bangladesh develop small businesses around their handicraft skills; and last, but not least, was Professor Muhammad Yunus -- the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and pioneer of social entrepreneurship through micro-lending. While Yunus' initial focus was on poor people generally, he quickly discovered that micro-finance yielded greater and more sustained benefits for communities at large when women were involved. In fact, 97% of loan recipients from Yunus’ Grameen Bank are women.
The conversation was spirited as the panel touched on issues of societal or cultural barriers that sometimes exist for women seeking to enter the business world, the importance of mentoring, and the underlying reasons why -- when given a chance -- women entrepreneurs have thrived more than their male counterparts. Senior Advisor Jarrett closed the panel by sharing the progress that had grown from the Summit, including the experience of 20 year-old Palestinian businesswoman Waed Taweel, who so impressed the dean of Babson College that she offered Waed a scholarship to their MBA program. Also announced were exciting new exchange programs including TechWomen, a new professional mentorship program for women in the field of technology.
The President opened the summit by calling entrepreneurship "the most powerful force the world has ever known for creating opportunity and lifting people out of poverty." The panel was an apt way to continue the conversation on ways that powerful force can reshape our world for the better by ensuring that women play an integral part.
Paul Monteiro is Deputy Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement