At Stanford, John Kerry calls for entrepreneurs to tackle world’s biggest challenges

The world is moving faster than ever, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at Stanford on Thursday, and we won’t solve major issues like climate change without the contributions of this generation’s entrepreneurs.

In a packed Memorial Auditorium today, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on the hundreds of entrepreneurs attending the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit to lead the planet to peace, prosperity and progress.

The world is moving faster than ever, he said, and we won’t be able to keep up without the contributions of this generation’s entrepreneurs.

Obama gathers global entrepreneurs at Stanford

The Global Entrepreneurship Summit, hosted by the White House, came to campus this week. In addition to highlighting Stanford's role in fostering entrepreneurship worldwide, we document the signs and sounds of this three-day event.

The 2016 GES, hosted by the White House, is the seventh annual gathering of entrepreneurs, business leaders, mentors and high-level government officials, with a goal of building strong, prosperous communities through fostering entrepreneurship around the world.

It is particularly fitting to hold this year’s GES at Stanford, Kerry said, because of the university’s leading contributions to fostering the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley, which has spread across the world.

That “get stuff done” spirit has already changed human lives in dramatic ways, Kerry said. For instance, extreme poverty has fallen to less than 10 percent worldwide for the first time in history, and he praised entrepreneurs’ roles in improving food production and delivery and in developing the technologies and medical advances that have made this achievement possible. But humans – and the planet – still face some of the biggest challenges ever.

Kerry called out the need to devise creative solutions for, among other things, educating a fast-growing generation of children around the world; improving transportation, health care and medical services for everybody; and creating infrastructures for a clean-energy economy.

“Climate change is a transcendent urgent challenge,” Kerry said. “The public and private sector alike must come together to move to a low-carbon, energy-efficient economy.”

Peace and prosperity

The burden does not fall solely on entrepreneurs and investors, Kerry said. There is a close connection between what innovators do and what he and President Barack Obama do to spur foreign initiatives and efforts, he said. Economic opportunity and prosperity are tied to peace, and economic policy goes hand in hand with foreign policy. He encouraged entrepreneurs to partner with the White House, which is committed to helping support entrepreneurial efforts around the world.

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Video by Kurt Hickman

Highlights of plenary address by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit

“We need your creativity to invest in each and every one of them. You have fundamental interest in them,” Kerry said. “As you go out from here and get engaged in whatever initiative you are planning, [the U.S. government] will be there to provide support structure for your efforts. This is a global effort, because in our era everybody here understands that new ideas can evolve anywhere, at any time.”

Earlier in the morning, Richard Stengel, under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, U.S. Department of State, took the stage and underlined the utility of the GES to bring together far-flung innovators and investors, as well as the White House’s current efforts to kindle and support entrepreneurship in developing countries.

“Innovation and creativity are universal, but access to capital is not,” Stengel said.

Stengel was followed on stage by Patricia Nzolantima, an alumna of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and founder of the Working Ladies Foundation, who encouraged investors to give more opportunities to entrepreneurial women in developing nations. Treat women with respect, she said, and they will be more likely to participate and invest.

“All of us here know from experience, for countries to succeed, women can’t be treated as second-class citizens,” Nzolantima said. “Invest in women’s projects, because women pay back. And I encourage you all to invest in Africa.”

Following Kerry’s remarks, the discussion opened into a broader format, featuring TED-style talks from Reid Hoffman, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, and Sheila C. Johnson, founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts.

There were also fireside chats with Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber; Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to Obama; Brian Chesky, founder and CEO of Airbnb; and Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures. These conversations were followed by a panel conversation, moderated by Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and CEO of Social Capital, of past GES participants sharing their success stories.