Now more than ever, entrepreneurs need to think like diplomats.
5 min read
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Nations rely on creative thinkers that take action by designing innovative approaches to addressing societal needs. Entrepreneurs create new businesses, products and services that help spur economic growth and development while also providing employment opportunities, often where little exist. Start-up businesses in particular are proliferating to tackle major challenges like unemployment, migration, and political instability in their communities.
For decades, the U.S. has been a hotbed for entrepreneurship. From Thomas Edison to Oprah Winfrey, American inventors and creators have harnessed a start-up spirit to create opportunities for increased security, stability and prosperity. Despite a strong domestic network of local incubators and accelerators, today there are gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem that need to be bridged so American innovators are equipped with a global perspective, cross-cultural insight and networks to become stronger entrepreneurs at home in the U.S.
As the world grows more complex and interconnected, the global business landscape is also becoming increasingly competitive. This has presented a series of challenges and opportunities that require entrepreneurs, both in the U.S. and around the world, to look beyond their borders for new markets, talent, financing and investors, and supply chain sourcing.
With entrepreneurship remaining a strong indicator of overall economic health, it is in the self-interest of a nation to invest in their entrepreneurs' global experiences by equipping them with the right set of tools to collaborate across sectors, borders and ideological lines, and prepare them to compete and succeed in global business markets.
Yet recent data (Kauffman 2018 State of Entrepreneurship in the U.S.) shows that American entrepreneurs overwhelmingly feel unsupported by the government. Around 80 percent of startups and older businesses (five years or more) did not receive government support to launch their enterprise — despite 98 percent of American firms having fewer than 100 employees (Census Bureau’s 2016 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs). This funding gap indicates the strong need for entrepreneurs to look beyond government channels in order to cultivate the expertise and experience to build innovative and economically vibrant societies.
Nonpartisan institutions like Meridian International Center help bridge this gap through global leadership programs and training initiatives that fuse together entrepreneurial thought, leadership development and multicultural understanding, all in one place. Historically, leadership programs have focused on cultivating aspiring politicians to help advance national agendas, foster goodwill between countries and people, and remain competitive in the global economy. The rise of entrepreneurship as a focus of public diplomacy efforts to engage leaders abroad demonstrates a shift in how to impact other nations and engage people who will be innovating and creating not only in their countries but in partnership with Americans.
U.S. mentors and partners are gaining valuable insight to intelligently approach international exchanges, particularly by creating shared values. This has become increasingly important for the American taxpayer whose dollars fund our country’s public diplomacy efforts. In this new exchange paradigm, young entrepreneurs are regarded as a long-term investment in economic development, as these innovators possess the skills to think globally and lead locally by spurring business growth in their own communities.
Through partnerships with a network of global business advisers, the international diplomatic corps and the U.S. Department of State, Meridian has harnessed the power of diplomacy to train emerging entrepreneurial leaders in key areas. Our curriculum combines relevant content and experiential learning to provide entrepreneurs with a holistic view of the world and a neutral space to collaborate across sectors and borders and leverage each other’s networks to spur creativity. Our programs engage global influencer networks and multicultural approaches along with the power of social enterprise and technology to disrupt systems and catalyze societal change. Entrepreneurs today have more means to create access for one another and opportunity for their communities in ways that weren’t previously feasible.
Lessons from Meridian’s entrepreneurship programs are applicable in emerging markets as much as established economies. Though the landscape of economic opportunity in these countries may vary, the best practices and global experiences that entrepreneurs gain from international exchanges are the same. They can take knowledge from the U.S. to apply back home, all while providing an opportunity for economies of scale. By necessity, such entrepreneurs must operate in societies that value economic freedom, rule of law and transparency.
Meridian is creating a new avenue to advance values and objectives that Americans share with other democracies around the world by engaging with entrepreneurs through diplomacy. Now more than ever, entrepreneurs need to think like diplomats and be equipped with the essential skills of listening, building relationships, negotiating, creating coalitions, and compromising. These tactics help entrepreneurs serve as diplomats in their own right, navigating different sectors and spreading messages and agendas that often advocate causes or national priorities through untapped channels and networks. Entrepreneurs who openly share perspectives, experiences and ideas with other world leaders will continue to benefit communities around the globe by inviting different stakeholders to the table to collectively design solutions for a common good. As these channels for collaboration between entrepreneurs and diplomats strengthen, the talent, skills and wealth of the creative community will ultimately deliver more positive impacts on society.