A Bright Beacon in the “Shining City on the Hill”

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

Although the reputation of the U.S. has gone through some bumpy air of late, we have consistently been held in high regard for our entrepreneurial prowess and culture.  Even during these times of great economic stress, we are flooded with enthusiastic visitors from overseas (both in person and on-line) searching to understand and replicate the ecosphere that has fostered so much job creation and growth. 

This is a key foreign policy card for America now that the world has given America a new chance to prove it is still the shining city on the hill by providing leadership during a deep global recession. During her confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the importance of America’s "smart power" tools and this has been backed up in the President’s budget released this week. I can’t think of a better tool in our smart power chest than our ability to teach entrepreneurship. Using our country’s understanding about high growth entrepreneurship can help us achieve our foreign policy objectives from fighting the war on poverty to national security.

Incorporating entrepreneurship into existing programs should not be a challenge. In fact, foreign officials have long been visiting and consulting with our most important entrepreneurship powerhouses from MIT on the east coast and Stanford on the West coast to the Kauffman Foundation in America’s heartland.  The Kauffman Foundation, for example, has become a magnet for global leaders seeking to build innovative growth economies with proven programs and robust research on most key issues ranging from how to help those all important high growth entrepreneurs who attract capital and create jobs to which public policies and programs best encourage entrepreneurial innovation.

As Carl Schramm, President of the Kauffman Foundation has been advocating for some years now, using entrepreneurship as a smart power tool requires improving the American economic model for development assistance. The “Washington Consensus” has failed to reproduce a key element of the U.S. economy, entrepreneurship. He is right - we cannot approach economic development in a piecemeal fashion.  New firms do not appear as a natural by-product of having free-market institutions. They are the result of an innovation ecosystem, a concept that unfortunately has not had a place in the traditional development models.

Recently, the State Department has begun recruiting 4,250 federal workers to serve in the Civilian Response Corps. The corps will comprise personnel in fields such as public health, law enforcement, engineering, and economics. The fiscal 2009 omnibus appropriations package (HR 1105) calls for continued support for this initiative. Having our best experts dedicated to helping build economies by promoting new concepts in entrepreneurship advancement abroad is a first step toward using American expertise in entrepreneurship to achieve our foreign policy objectives.

In light of the global economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever for the U.S. to invest in programs that foster an entrepreneurial environment worldwide. Jump-starting growth will require understanding and building effective entrepreneurial systems across countries. Entrepreneurship across the globe should translate into partnerships, commercial relationships and jobs, not to mention, into solutions to our global public relations problem and the innovations and answers that our globe’s entrepreneurs bring to so many of the challenges of the 21st century.

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