Distinguished EMPRETEC Directors,
Empretecos and Empretecas,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Welcome to the 13th UNCTAD-EMPRETEC Directors´ meeting. It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you this morning. It is you who implement the ideas of the United Nations on the ground. I know that your work is not always easy, which means that UNCTAD appreciates it all the more, along with your dedication and commitment to economic development in your countries by promoting entrepreneurship, an entrepreneurial spirit and an open, entrepreneurial culture. The results speak for themselves.
I joined UNCTAD relatively recently, on the 1st of January this year, as Deputy Secretary-General. Before then I served six years as Director-General of Foreign Economic Relations in the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands. My work experience also includes positions with the Dutch Ministry of Finance and in the private sector, where I managed my own consulting firm. I also served on several supervisory and managing boards in banking, industry and credit insurance. I thus feel I understand your work and your vital role in the process of business formation and development.
I understand from my colleagues that UNCTAD´s EMPRETEC programme has trained over 120,000 entrepreneurs to date. Since its inception, the programme - which means YOU - has contributed significantly to fostering individual entrepreneurial capabilities, building institutional capacity at the country level, and encouraging employment-creating investment and linkages, both among SMEs and between small and large enterprises and international corporations. EMPRETEC is also a fine example of successful South-South cooperation, one that should be replicated and expanded. We support the joint efforts of the "EMPRETEC Community" to upgrade EMPRETEC centres in other developing countries and push the programme to new frontiers.
The role of entrepreneurship and an entrepreneurial culture in economic and social development has often been underestimated. Over the years, however, it has become increasingly apparent that entrepreneurship does indeed contribute to economic development, and in a big way. Transforming ideas into economic opportunities is the crux of entrepreneurship. History shows that economic progress has been significantly advanced by pragmatic people who are entrepreneurial and innovative, able to exploit opportunities and willing to take risks. Entrepreneurs produce solutions that fly in the face of established knowledge, and they always challenge the status quo. They are risk-takers who pursue opportunities that others may fail to recognize or may even view as problems or threats. As you Empretecos say, "Where the rest of the world sees problems, the entrepreneurs see opportunities". I understand that in your programme you also say that "without entrepreneurs there is no development", and I can see the merit of this statement. Whatever the definition of entrepreneurship, it is closely associated with change, creativity, knowledge, innovation and flexibility - factors that are increasingly important sources of competitiveness in an increasingly globalized world economy. Thus, fostering entrepreneurship means promoting the competitiveness of businesses.
SMEs are widely considered to be the main engine of economic growth for most countries. Typically, they account for over half of GDP and jobs created. They are also important for large companies, as suppliers, subcontractors and sellers of their products. Accordingly, countries should assist their SMEs and entrepreneurs in realizing their trade and investment opportunities to become internationally competitive. In the process this will also enable countries to benefit even more from globalization.
EMPRETEC directly addresses this need, helping to build innovative and internationally competitive SMEs. By enhancing productive capacities through entrepreneurship, the programme also helps develop a dynamic private sector, spreads entrepreneurial culture and improves the business environment in the countries where it operates.
Entrepreneurial capacities are probably as important an ingredient of a country´s productive capacities as infrastructure or institutions, and are a crucial part of what is commonly known as "supply capability". Indeed, the outcome document of UNCTAD´s 11th quadrennial conference, the São Paulo Consensus, noted in 2004 that "improving competitiveness requires deliberate specific and transparent national policies to foster a systematic upgrading of domestic productive capabilities. Such policies cover a range of areas, including investment, enterprise development, technology, competition policies, skills formation, infrastructure development and the institutional aspects of building productive capacity". As building productive capabilities is one of the key aims of the nascent "Aid for Trade" initiative, which emerged from the WTO´s sixth ministerial conference in Hong Kong, I strongly hope that the initiative will include programmes focused on developing entrepreneurial capacities.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The success of UNCTAD´s EMPRETEC programme speaks for itself, and you will be pleased to hear that it has received a lot of praise. A recent UNCTAD expert meeting on "Building productive capacities in developing countries", held here in September, noted in particular "the effectiveness of the EMPRETEC programme in many countries in unleashing the entrepreneurial potential, introducing behavioural change and promoting an open entrepreneurial culture".
In this context, I would also like to quote the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, who highlighted the importance of EMPRETEC in a recent speech. He said: "Many of our programmes are geared specifically to small entrepreneurs like yourselves. We have a programme called EMPRETEC, dedicated to helping entrepreneurs put their ideas into action and to helping fledgling businesses grow. I am pleased to inform you that the success rate has been high. A woman restaurateur in Uganda, for example, saw her sales quadruple after attending a workshop. Another woman entrepreneur, this time in Guyana, was able to sell her pineapple and honey hot-pepper sauces directly to supermarkets overseas. And so on". This also testifies vividly to the importance we at UNCTAD attach to the programme.
You, entrepreneurs, can make a difference. Innovation, technological advances, productivity growth and escaping from poverty demand that scarce human, physical and financial resources be used effectively and with vision, determination, persistence and rigorous demand for efficiency and quality. This world needs people who are willing to make extraordinary efforts to succeed, to anticipate problems and to keep their objectives absolutely clear - people who possess a burning desire to achieve their goals, and who take initiative and do not stop until they have completed what they set out to accomplish.
I wish you a successful meeting and look forward to hearing about further successes of EMPRETEC in your countries with the support of UNCTAD.