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U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Karen Kornbluh

 On Enhancing the Business Enabling Environment

At the OECD-MENA Women's Business Forum

November 24, 2010

Beirut, Lebanon

Good morning everyone. Thank you for coming to this Conference on Enhancing the Business Enabling Environment for Women in Arab Countries.  I would like to thank the OECD and Union of Arab Banks for organizing the event and also the Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Finance.  Also to Morocco for its leadership in the OECD-MENA project.  And thank you to all of you - for your commitment.  I am honored to be here.  I send you warm regards from Ambassador Dina Kawar, the Jordanian Ambassador to France, and my Co-Chair at the Women's Business Forum (WBF).  She will be sorely missed today and greatly regrets that she was unable to be here with you all.

As many of you already know, the United States is committed to engaging with the Middle East and North Africa to help women entrepreneurs in the region. This is part of the Administration's broader commitment to building new partnerships that will advance opportunity in Muslim-majority communities around the world.

The U.S. is proud to support the OECD-MENA program and to work with our partners in the MENA region and at the OECD on strategies to remove the remaining obstacles to women's economic opportunity.

By closing gender gaps we can increase both equity and growth.  It is simple economics: There is broad consensus that when women prosper, their children prosper, communities are stronger and economies are more productive.  

We hope to address the gender gap with our own GAP -A Gender Action Plan. This plan can take advantage of three assets of WBF to help in this region

  • First, Information Gathering: The Women's Business Forum has embarked on a stock taking of the barriers to success for women-owned businesses, and begun to inventory the policies, institutions and programs in existence in the region to address these challenges.  Going forward, the WBF members will work with their governments to overcome these barriers to greater prosperity.
  • Second, Business Involvement: Businesses have the greatest interest in producing more consumers and productive employees, but obstacles such as a lack of capital and limited access to markets remain. By working to identify these obstructions and soliciting solutions that make business sense, the OECD - MENA Women's Business Forum will play a critical role as it works with regional governments to lift women-owned businesses over these hurdles. WBF also creates powerful networks among women in the region, women in OECD countries, businesses, organizations and banks. 
  • Third, Political Commitment: WBF is connected to OECD-MENA so its activities and recommendations will have an impact. In November 2009, MENA leaders declared women's empowerment is critical to economic growth and committed to work through the OECD to remove barriers to the economic advancement of women. Looking around this table today, we see there is already strong political commitment.

As for our work ahead today, during the access to Finance Session please help us answer the questions - what are hurdles?  Once we have identified the barriers - then ask yourself how best can the WBF address these hurdles?     

After lunch - bring the same energy to Session Two and review the questions for discussion on page 18 - could business incubators play a role to support women-owned businesses? For those of you who live in countries that have incubators, how could they be improved?

During Session Three, we will review the seven country inventories.  We need to know - did we get it right? What information is missing?  How can these inventories be improved?  It is critically important for us to have the benefit of your insights into the inventories because they will form the basic research for the Action-oriented Task Forces that we hope to form in each country to help carry forward the work of the WBF.

The great American inventor Thomas Edison once said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." To all assembled, please consider being a member of a WBF National Task Force.  We would like to start up a national task force within each of the seven countries already inventoried to take the work of the inventories and today's discussions to the next level.  These Task Forces would ideally be made up of participants from the business and financial sectors, government, and civil society. 

My hope is that today's discussions will serve as building blocks for future action. In other words, the work is just beginning, and I very much look forward to hearing your insights and ideas.

And with that, I again want to thank you all for coming and I welcome you all to join me for coffee and tea.



About U.S. Engagement at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

The United States is a founding member of the OECD, a global policy shop - or "GPS" of the world economy - composed of 33 democratic countries with market-based economies. Shared goals include achieving a rising standard of living in member countries, as well as engaging with non-members to contribute to the development of the world economy. Through its public policy research, ‘soft law,' and peer reviews, the OECD -  which turns 50 later this year -  provides the United States an opportunity for engaging with other countries on economic regulatory issues.

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