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Rural Council the way to go in Global Entrepreneurship Summit season

A jamboree of entrepreneurs and investors is bound to create magic but it hardly goes beyond fixing what has already gone wrong

Ehtesham Shahid

Published: Updated:

“Strong rural communities are the key to a stronger America.” President Obama’s June 9, 2011, statement – announcing the establishment of the White House Rural Council – set the tone for a project that is bound to outlive his legacy.

The Council has been addressing challenges in Rural America, building on the administration’s rural economic strategy, and making efforts to improve the implementation of that strategy. “I’ve established the White House Rural Council to make sure we’re working across government to strengthen rural communities and promote economic growth,” the President said.

The Council is dedicated toward the welfare of 16 percent of the American population that lives in rural counties. It works on a three-pronged strategy – streamlining and improving the effectiveness of federal programs serving rural America, engaging stakeholders on issues and solutions in rural communities and promoting and coordinating private-sector partnerships.

The Rural Council is also finding new ways for the government to partner with private sector organizations in solving shared problems. It is also engaged in developing new and innovative models of partnership.

On the face of it, it’s a well laid-out plan for the betterment of those who live far away from centers of power. More importantly, it is something governments around the world can and should replicate. That, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be the case in much of the developing world today.

#GES2016

It is these worrying signs that have prompted the Obama administration to attract large number of entrepreneurs and innovators annually for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. This year’s event was held at the Silicon Valley. The Summit is evidence of the fact that Obama administration has made supporting entrepreneurs the top priority of its diplomacy and foreign policy.

If more and more governments go back to basics and adopt a bottoms-up approach, we wouldn’t need entrepreneurs to address the challenges that haven’t been resolved

Ehtesham Shahid

#GES2016 connected about 1,200 entrepreneurs from 170 countries with the biggest and brightest business players in the US. To add a sense of purpose, the administration ensured that almost one investor was available for every two entrepreneurs who attended the Summit.

Despite their overall success, such events go only half way down the road to empowerment. Indeed, they bring innovators face-to-face with those who can fund their dreams into realities, which has already thrown up scores of rags-to-riches stories. In some cases, the innovation has also benefited the masses. Yet there cannot be an app for every challenge facing the world.

Obama’s topmost diplomat had an interesting take on the role of the government in matters related to collaboration and entrepreneur-investor engagement. “The best the government can do is convene forums, make sure the coffee is hot and get out of the way,” Foreign Secretary John Kerry said at the Summit this week.

He hastened to emphasize the urgency to encourage as much entrepreneurial activity as possible because of the extraordinary challenges facing us today. “All politics is a reaction to felt needs and the needs are felt now by more people in more different places of the world in similar ways,” he said.

That indeed is part of the problem. The felt needs have snowballed into challenges that are mostly local. They need local and not global solutions. A handful of entrepreneurs looking for seed capital to fund their projects cannot deliver when 700 million people still struggle to survive on less than 2 dollars a day.

If more and more governments go back to basics and adopt a bottoms-up approach, we wouldn’t need entrepreneurs to address the challenges that haven’t been resolved. Instead what we routinely witness is concentration of power and resources, crony capitalism and corrupt practices collectively widening the divide.

This is where Obama’s Rural Council appears more relevant and indeed triumphs over the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

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Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.