The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) was held for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, this weekend, with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and US president Barack Obama jointly hosting the event.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, president Kenyatta celebrated the economic growth of Africa’s countries, which he said is driven by a new generation of Africans who in turn are fuelled by a wish for a brighter African narrative.
“We have built mighty civilizations here in Africa, and have sometimes suffered great harm on account of natural and at times man-made calamities. Still we rise, fired by our spirit of resilience, our undying hope for a better tomorrow,” Kenyatta said.
“You all know that, for a decade now, the economies of Africa have been the fastest-growing in the world. Behind these growth statistics is the story of a new generation of Africans, committed to an African Renaissance.”
In particular, Kenyatta said entrepreneurship is key to the economic progress being witnessed across Africa. The president said it is of vital importance that entrepreneurship is a central theme in Africa’s engagement with the world.
“Africa’s relationship with the rest of the world must be premised on mutual benefit, where our people and our resources are leveraged to secure the growth of our economies and prosperity for all,” he said.
Kenyatta named Africa’s young population as one of its key resources, and said innovations by young Africans have the capacity to transform the world and solve pressing challenges. He said Kenya provides prime examples of this, such as with the M-PESA mobile money platform, and M-KOPA solar lighting solution.
“As large parts of the world age, Africa grows younger by the day. The youthful sons and daughters of Africa are our incredible resource. They are reaching for a new future in which their innovation and curiosity will transform the world,” the president said.
Finally, Kenyatta said Africa is already on a vibrant journey of progress, through which stereotypical narratives of Africa are being changed. Now, he said, Africa is a place of “limitless opportunity”.
“Africa is the world’s newest and most promising frontier of limitless opportunity. Gone are the days when the only lens to view our continent was one of despair and indignity,” Kenyatta said.
“This country, this continent, does not claim perfection – but we can claim progress. The key insight is to see that we are at the beginning of a great journey. It is one that we invite you to join us.”
In his own opening remarks at the Summit, US president Barack Obama said the world’s young entrepreneurs “embody the spirit” of the need to tackle global problems through innovation and ingenuity. Across the world, Obama said young people are increasingly ready to step into entrepreneurship and shape their own future as well as the world.
“We are joined today by inspiring entrepreneurs from more than 120 countries, and many from across Africa. And all of you embody a spirit that we need to take on some of the biggest challenges that we face in the world – the spirit of entrepreneurship, the idea that there are no limits to the human imagination; that ingenuity can overcome what is and create what needs to be,” Obama said.
“And everywhere I go, across the United States and around the world, I hear from people, but especially young people, who are ready to start something of their own – to lift up people’s lives and shape their own destinies. And that’s entrepreneurship.”
According to Obama, entrepreneurship plays many roles in societies – from creating new jobs and new services, to empowering citizens to stand up for their rights and fight corruption. He also reiterated his belief that entrepreneurship can be a tool to prevent extremism and terrorism.
“Entrepreneurship means ownership and self-determination, as opposed to simply being dependent on somebody else for your livelihood and your future. Entrepreneurship brings down barriers between communities and cultures and builds bridges that help us take on common challenges together. Because one thing that entrepreneurs understand is, is that you don’t have to look a certain way, or be of a certain faith, or have a certain last name in order to have a good idea,” Obama said.
The US president acknowledged the many barriers to entrepreneurship, such as lack of access to capital, limited opportunities to grow skills and obtain training, difficulties in accessing networks and connections – and in particular noted the increased challenges faced by women and other marginalised groups. He said the US government is committed to engaging with entrepreneurs worldwide to help alleviate the challenges they face, as governments have a key role to play in promoting entrepreneurship.
“[…] one of the things that we have come to understand – and this is particularly relevant to Africa – is that in order to create successful entrepreneurs, the government also has a role in creating the transparency, and the rule of law, and the ease of doing business, and the anti-corruption agenda that creates a platform for people to succeed,” Obama said.
Obama said the choice to host the GES in Sub-Saharan Africa was deliberate, as the continent typifies the progress created by entrepreneurship, saying Africa is becoming a continent of global opportunity.
“So this is our first Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Sub-Saharan Africa. We wanted to come here. I wanted to be here because Africa is on the move. Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions of the world. People are being lifted out of poverty. Incomes are up. The middle class is growing. And young people like you are harnessing technology to change the way Africa is doing business […]. And that creates incredible opportunities for Africans and for the world. It means more growth and trade that creates jobs in all our countries. It’s good for all of us. This continent needs to be a future hub of global growth, not just African growth,” Obama said.