Entrepreneurs from more than 50 mostly Muslim-majority countries
are gathering at the summit on entrepreneurship in Washington to
learn more about how individual action can expand opportunity in the
Muslim world and beyond.
Like George W. Bush, Barack Obama has a vision for transforming
the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.
But whereas Mr. Bush emphasized change through democratization,
Mr. Obama has tended to eschew the political in favor of individual
endeavors in the economic and social arenas.
One result is the "summit on entrepreneurship" that Obama is
hosting in Washington this week. Entrepreneurs from more than 50
mostly Muslim-majority countries are gathering Monday and Tuesday to
share and learn more about how individual action can expand
opportunity and improve living conditions in their nations.
Speaking to the gathering Monday, Obama said the summit was
motivated by "a quest for new partnerships, not simply between
government, but between people." And he gave two reasons for the
focus on entrepreneurship: first, "because you told us this was an
area where we could learn from each other"; and second, "because
throughout history, the market has been the most powerful force...
Placing particular emphasis on "social entrepreneurship," Obama
said he learned as a community organizer in Chicago that "real
change comes from the bottom up." In that vein, he paid special
tribute to summit participants ranging from a West Bank university
student planning recreation centers for Palestinian youths to an
Afghan woman risking personal danger to promote universal education
for Afghan girls.
Unlike the president's recent nuclear-security summit, this
conference involves no country leaders or officials, but instead
features private-business and social-organization representatives.
It's the result of a pledge Obama made last June in a speech in
Cairo to enhance US involvement with young and rising entrepreneurs
in Muslim-majority countries.
"We made a very conscious choice to have this be focused on
individuals, on people-to-people exchanges, if you will, rather than
simply just having governments represented at the summit," says Ben
Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic
communications. At the same time, he adds, "We wanted to have a
combination of important business leaders, but also smaller and
medium-sized entrepreneurs, younger people just getting started."
After years of a relationship with Muslim countries driven by
terrorism and focused on political change, the Obama approach makes
sense, some regional experts say.
"The attempt here is to have more of a dialogue with the Muslim
world that focuses on something other than terrorism and that does
more on the people-to-people level, the market side and the economic
side of the equation," says Isobel Coleman, director of the Council
on Foreign Relations' women and foreign policy-program in New York. …