Entrepreneurship for Development
Delivered to the United Nations by Ambassador Ron Prosor on 26 June 2013
Secretary-General, President of the General Assembly, ladies and gentlemen, and of course, entrepreneurs:
As one of the opening speakers, it’s my job to give a few words at this event’s "Initial Public Offering".
I want to thank the President of the General Assembly for his personal engagement and leadership. We have a wonderful program and I want to thank the panelists who have joined us from far and wide.
Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who just celebrated his 90th birthday, proves that you can remain engaged at any age. He is fond of saying, “The Jews’ greatest contribution to history is dissatisfaction. We’re a nation born to be discontented. Whatever exists we believe can be changed for the better.”
For centuries the Jewish people have taught their children to question the status quo. Generations of parents had few material possessions to offer their children, but they knew that education could unlock a better future. And so we encouraged our children to ask questions, seek alternatives and challenge the accepted and conventional wisdom.
To some it might sound like a cacophony of voices. But if you listen closely, you will hear that it is in fact a symphony of expression. Lively debate and impassioned discussion are the only way to deepen understanding and see new possibilities.
We look forward to the day when mothers encourage their children to be entrepreneurs. Many of you know that one of the founders of Google, Sergey Brin, dropped out of his Ph.D. program to create, what is today, the most popular and profitable search engine. Despite his tremendous success, I have no doubt Sergey’s mother continues to ask when he will return to school and finish his degree.
Ladies and gentleman,
Today belongs to those who are not afraid to fail, to question, and to dream. Those who are not restrained by the confines of how things are; but rather see the world as it could be and as it should be.
This spirit of entrepreneurship can be seen in Evans Wadongo. Evans grew up in a small mud home in Kenya with no electricity or running water. As a child, he struggled to complete his school work by the dim light from a kerosene lamp. Years of exposure to its harmful smoke eventually damaged his eyes.
As a college student, Evans came up with the idea of replacing kerosene lamps with solar-powered lanterns. His lamps are illuminating a path to a better future for thousands of people in Kenya and Malawi.
Throughout the world, individuals like Evans are using their ingenuity to find solutions that are making entire communities safer, healthier and more productive.
To all the entrepreneurs here today I say this – thank you. It’s not easy to stand up for what you believe in. And it’s not easy to push the boundaries. But every obstacle you overcome helps pave the way for future entrepreneurs.
And we need you. We need you to help change the world. We need you to tackle the most pressing problems - poverty, disease and suffering.
You come from many nations and speak many languages. But today you have converged to form a global tapestry of imagination woven by common threads. You share boundless ingenuity. You have the courage to reject the status quo. And you understand that in order to succeed, you first have to fail.
There is a Hebrew expression that says, “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.” While most people fear and avoid failure, you know that it’s impossible to live without failing. You also know that every setback is a lesson and a stepping stone on the path towards success.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, said, “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”
The State of Israel is proof that against all odds, it is possible to succeed. We are a tiny nation with few natural resources, difficult farming conditions and persistent adversity. Every step in our journey has been a struggle.
Just a few weeks ago we celebrated Israel’s 65th anniversary. In just a few decades, we have built a state that today has more start-ups per capita than any nation on the planet. It has the third highest number of companies on the NASDAQ, surpassed only by America and China. And one of our cities, Tel Aviv, was named the second most entrepreneurship-friendly city in the world.
The secret to Israel’s success is the investments we make in our greatest natural resource – our human resources. By engaging and empowering every member of society – particularly women and youth - Israelis have pushed our small country to the forefront of the global economy. Today, thousands of ideas born in Israel are benefitting people all over the globe.
MASHAV, Israel’s agency for international development cooperation, was created when Israel was still very much a developing country. Today it oversees an extensive program of cooperation throughout the developing world, sharing Israeli ingenuity with those who need it.
Ladies and gentleman,
Israeli innovations are revolutionizing entire industries. After engineer, Dr. Amit Goffer was paralyzed he developed a device called the ReWalk that would enable people with spinal cord injuries to walk again.
Today, people who were told they would never stand again can not only stand - they can walk and even climb stairs. Claire Lomas from the UK, however, set her sights on an even more ambitious goal.
Seven years ago, a horse-riding accident shattered Claire’s spine and left her paralyzed. Doctors told Claire that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, but Claire was determined to regain her independence. Using a ReWalk she learned to stand on her own two feet and then set her sights on a new goal – completing a marathon. It took her 17 days, but last May, Clair completed the 42 km London Marathon using her ReWalk.
Ladies and gentleman,
Entrepreneurship is a marathon and not a sprint. You must pace yourself, you must persevere, and only then will you prevail. Entrepreneurship is the key to unlocking the challenges of the 21st century. It should be a central focus of the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda. Working together we can take another step towards a world of new possibilities.
Winston Churchill famously said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” So let us be courageous in the pursuit of our dreams. And let us be undaunted in the face of obstacles. Together, we can lay the foundation for entrepreneurs to create a more secure, more prosperous and more peaceful planet.