GES 2015 logoWorldwide Focus on Entrepreneurship,The GES Summit

This is a guest blog from Yvette Mazariegas of Belize.   Yvette attended the  2015 GES Summit in Nairobi, where there is worldwide focus on entrepreneurship. Yvette is CEO of M&M Distributors, a paper and cardboard company headquartered in Belize and selling to CARICOM countries.   Yvette is also a tireless advocate of entrepreneurship in her country of Belize and a contributor to our book “Fabulous Fempreneurship”.

More than 1500 entrepreneurs and policy makers from all over the world went to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya, from July 24th-26th. 2015.  Yvette was honoured to be invited to represent The American Embassy, Belmopan and Belize National Paper Converters Ltd.(BNPC) at this mega-event as a result in her participation in the American Embassy sponsored Coursera MOOC by Professor Michael Goldberg:  Beyond Silicon Valley, Growing Entrepreneurship in Transitioning Economies.

Here is an excerpt from Yvette’s experience attending the Summit.

The event was attended by US President Barack Obama, and several other well known figures and celebrities, amongst them Akon, Shark Tank judges, Miss World Kenya. But first and foremost it was entrepreneurs from all stages of growth, self-made billionaires meeting rural farmers from Africa, just guessing, that half of the audience was US American and Kenyan, while the rest of us were coming from all corners of the world, no continent left uncovered.

President Obama was obviously the center of attention and closely guarded during his half day stay on the US compound and the other important guests attended their panels and mingled with the crowds afterwards, but the strength of the event was the fact, that entrepreneurs from all possible backgrounds got together and spoke one universal language of creating progress, learning, challenges, growth and opportunities together.

Yvette M & delegates at GE Summit

Yvette with fellow delegates at the 2015 GES

I fit in really well with my background as a woman entrepreneur and could relate well to the gender awareness of support to female entrepreneurs. President Obama said in his speech that “Women are powerhouse entrepreneurs, and when women succeed they help drive economic growth and invest more back into their families and communities.”

Spurring Growth in Belize

This is in tune with my way of thinking. I wish to help grow my community by helping to create jobs and increase foreign exchange revenue to Belize through my paper converting company (BNPC) and also by helping families in the remote and rural areas of Belize to get better access to light and water.

One of the reasons that remote areas do not get good service of light and water is due to a lack of efficient meter reading of light/water usage. To have enough employees to read meters can be expensive and drive up the cost of the utility. Using technology via an electric meter reader would help to expedite the automatic and accurate meter reading. If this technology would get support and backing then this might help to bring much needed utilities to remote areas and uplift the standard of living. I would gladly help to spearhead this initiative and bring this technology to Belize.

Yvette Mazariegas at 2015 GES Summit in Nairobi, Kenya

Yvette Mazariegas at 2015 GES Summit in Nairobi, Kenya

Just to give you an idea of how big this event was: To protect the US president and 1500 attendees, more than 13.000 security staff were employed for this event on top of the regular Kenyan security forces. This event was clearly driven by USA to lead Africa towards an entrepreneurial culture to help economic growth and development.

The right message, clearly expressed, was that Africa needs solutions for its unique challenges and many of these can come out of entrepreneurial minds, instilled into its local youth with support from abroad.

Below is the link to the video on YouTube and a partial transcript of  highlights of the Obama speech. I agree with it because it pretty much reflects what I think. President Obama says it more eloquently, of course, in this Youtube video.

Exceprts from President Obama’s Speech at the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit

In case you don’t want to watch the whole video, I’ve included excerpts from President Obama’s speech so that you can read all about the initiatives for entrepreneurship and especially the need for women to be more involved with entrepreneurship, globally.

We are joined today by inspiring entrepreneurs from more than 120 countriesand many from across Africa. And all of you embody a spirit that we need to take on some of the biggest challenges that we face in the world  — the spirit of entrepreneurship, the idea that there are no limits to the human imagination; that ingenuity can overcome what is and create what needs to be.

And everywhere I go, across the United States and around the world, I hear from people, but especially young people, who are ready to start something of their own — to lift up people’s lives and shape their own destinies.  And that’s entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurship creates new jobs and new businesses, new ways to deliver basic services, new ways of seeing the world — it’s the spark of prosperity.  It helps citizens stand up for their rights and push back against corruption.  Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that can all too often fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.

Entrepreneurship means ownership and self-determination, as opposed to simply being dependent on somebody else for your livelihood and your future.  Entrepreneurship brings down barriers between communities and cultures and builds bridges that help us take on common challenges together.  Because one thing that entrepreneurs understand is, is that you don’t have to look a certain way, or be of a certain faith, or have a certain last name in order to have a good idea.

The challenge is — as so many of you know — it’s very often hard to take those first steps.  It’s hard to access capital.  It’s hard sometimes to get the training and the skills to run a business as professionally as it needs to be in this competitive world.  It’s hard to tap into the networks and mentors that can mean the difference between a venture taking off and one that falls flat.

And it’s even harder for women and young people and communities that have often been marginalized and denied access to opportunities.  You run into old attitudes that say some people, because of where you come from or what you look like, don’t have what it takes to lead or create a business.  And sometimes it’s subtle.  You go into pitch an idea and maybe the response you get might not be as enthusiastic as if someone else pitched the exact same idea.  Sometimes women or folks from communities that historically have not been viewed as entrepreneurial may not have the means of opening those doors just to get in front of the right person.

Of course, the best answer to that kind of thinking is the example that all of you are setting — your success.  And that’s why I’ve made encouraging this spirit of entrepreneurship a key part of America’s engagement in the world.  I launched the first of these summits in Washington five years ago.  And since then, we’ve helped empower hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, giving them a boost to launch thousands of new businesses and initiatives.  Here in Africa, our Young African Leaders Initiative is empowering tens of thousands of dynamic leaders not only in business, but also in government and civil society.  Because one of the things that we have come to understand — and this is particularly relevant to Africa — is that in order to create successful entrepreneurs, the government also has a role in creating the transparency, and the rule of law, and the ease of doing business, and the anti-corruption agenda that creates a platform for people to succeed.

So this is our first Global Entrepreneurship Summit in sub-Saharan Africa.  We wanted to come here.  I wanted to be here because Africa is on the move.  Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions of the world.  People are being lifted out of poverty.  Incomes are up.  The middle class is growing.  And young people like you are harnessing technology to change the way Africa is doing business, as President Kenyatta alluded to.  And that creates incredible opportunities for Africans and for the world.  It means more growth and trade that creates jobs in all our countries.  It’s good for all of us.  This continent needs to be a future hub of global growth, not just African growth.

And the country that’s hosting us today is setting an important example — Kenya is leading the way.     Today, Kenya is the largest economy in East Africa.  High-speed broadband and mobile connectivity are on the rise, unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of even more Kenyans.  Every day around the world, millions of people send and save money with M-Pesa — and it’s a great idea that started here in Kenya.

From Zimbabwe to Bangladesh, citizens work to keep elections safe, using the crowdsourcing platform Ushahidi — and that’s a great idea that started right here in Kenya.   Here in Nairobi, startup incubators are nurturing new businesses every day — maybe some of yours — each with the potential to be the great next Kenyan innovation.

And the good news is that I’m not the only one who sees the promise of Africa.  I’m joined on this trip by some leaders not just across my administration, but I’m also joined by 20 members of the United States Congress from both parties — because supporting a strong partnership with Africa is something that unites Americans.   We’ve got some incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are well-established from the United States who are with us.  They see the promise, as well.  And they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

So today, we’re taking the next steps to partner with you.  First, we’re offering entrepreneurs more startup capital.  At last year’s Entrepreneurship Summit, we set a goal of generating $1 billion in new investment for emerging entrepreneurs around the world, with half the money going to support women and young people.  (Applause.)  A few months ago, I challenged governments, companies, organizations and individuals to help us reach this target.  Today, I am proud to announce that not only did we make our goal, we surpassed it.   We’ve secured more than $1 billion in new commitments from banks, foundations, philanthropists, all to support entrepreneurs like you.

Second, we’re connecting you with the world’s top business leaders and innovators.  We hand-picked more than 200 seasoned investors and entrepreneurs and brought them to this summit.  I’ve even brought a few of my presidential ambassadors for entrepreneurship.  These are some of America’s leading innovators and entrepreneurs.  So if you see them, don’t be shy.  Pin them down.  Get their advice.  Pitch them your idea.  That’s why they’re here.  And don’t be discouraged if they say, I’m not sure that’s going to work, and they ask you tough questions.  Because one of the things every one of these successful entrepreneurs will tell you is that along with incredible successes, they’ve had some failures as well, and they’ve learned from them, but they haven’t given up.

Number three, as I’ve said, we’re stepping it up to support women entrepreneurs.  Women are powerhouse entrepreneurs.  The research shows that when women entrepreneurs succeed, they drive economic growth and invest more back into their families and communities.  We’ve already helped build a network of more than 1,600 women entrepreneurs across Africa.  We’re launching three women’s entrepreneurial centers — one in Zambia, one opening later this year here in Nairobi —- and I’m proud to announce that the third center will be located in Mali.  We’ve got some folks from Mali in the house. 

And as part of that $1 billion that I mentioned earlier, the United States Overseas Private Investment Corporation is contributing $100 million to support Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women initiative, making more capital available to women-owned enterprises around the world.    So, congratulations.

So as you leave here today, I want you all to know that I believe in you.  I believe that you have the drive and the passion to change the world.  You can unlock new solutions to the pressing global challenges that we face.  I believe that.  I believe that as you make these innovations, you’ll make life better for all of us. ….

one of the advantages of this technological revolution that we’re going through is that it can be tailored and adapted to different countries, different environments, different circumstances, in some cases enabling countries to leapfrog over old technologies, to individualize what’s done for a particular market or a particular need.

And the kind of thing that Jahiel is talking about — the share economy concept — we’ve got the founder of Airbnb out here, and you can talk to him a little bit.  He’s doing pretty good.   But there’s a recognition that through these technological platforms, what might have previously required huge investments of capital, and as a consequence, big barriers to entry, now you can get a startup moving, and if it’s the right idea, it can travel with the speed of how fast you can text….

And so I think that this makes a place like Africa, or Croatia, or other countries that historically may not have been viewed as right at the center of the global economy, suddenly they can compete on a level playing field.  And if you have a good idea in Zagreb or in Abuja, or wherever, now you potentially have access to a global marketplace in ways that you haven’t had before.

What President Kenyatta said is absolutely correct, though, and that is for us to take full advantage of this we have to support programs like Judith’s so that our young people are being trained in this technology, that there are no barriers for girls to be trained in this technology.  If half of your team is not playing, you’ve got a problem.  And in too many countries, half of the team — our women and girls — are not participating enough in this.

So we’ve got to invest in human capital so that everyone has the opportunity to access this information and there’s got to be the framework for access to capital; reduce regulatory barriers; the ability to start up businesses effectively; making sure that governments are facilitating as opposed to being parasitic on entrepreneurial efforts — that’s our job.

And I think that the good news is, is that we’re seeing that recognition in more and more governments around the world.  Not all of them always are practicing what they preach, but it’s a start when governments feel obliged through, for example, initiatives like the Open Government Partnership that we started through the United Nations — where they feel obliged to acknowledge that they’ve got to get these rule of law issues and accountability issues and human investment issues right — then that gives us a lever to start continually improving the environment for all of you and your operations.

And, last point I would make — and President Kenyatta alluded to this — I think it’s very important for the business leaders who are here, the established business leaders, to understand that this is still a neglected market, and accessing capital for entrepreneurs here is still too hard.  And we can help — U.S. government policy can help — but some of this is exposure and people having a vision of what’s possible.

When I was here in Nairobi 10 years ago, it looked very different than it does today.  The incredible progress that’s been made — (applause) — imagine what could happen if more and more of our global business leaders and global capital paid a visit and actually had a conversation, as opposed to just being blinded by some of the stereotypes that are so often promoted.  This thing could move even faster.    And that’s part of the reason why this summit is so important.


After President Obama’s speech the workshops began at a grueling pace. There were lots of interesting topics discussed at the same time. I decided to attend as many of them as possible, even if only for 15 to 20 minutes each, just enough time to get the gist of what they were talking about. I stayed longer and participated in the question and answer of the more interesting topics to me.

  • Workshop 7: What attracts Venture Capital / Private Equity
  • GIST Tech – Competitions for Startup Capital
  • Speed Networking and Coffee Break
  • Challenge Hack: New and Better models for training entrepreneurs. I liked this one a lot. Some similarities in challenges faced in the early parts of my business. I participated and contributed to the question and answer section.
  • Conservation 9: Leveraging Technology for Entrepreneurship
  • Conservation 10: Energy for the Bottom of the Pyramid: Opportunities and Innovations.
  • Workshop 9: The Creative Economy.
  • Workshop 11: Payment Platforms.
  • Workshop 12: Scaling Your Business Operations.
  • Workshop 13: Connecting With Your Customer.
  • Speed Networking and Coffee Break.

Paying It Forward – Helping the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

I made many new friendships during my trip the the Global Entrepreneurship summit and it strengthened my belief that we are all on this entrepreneurial journey together and it important for all of us to pay it forward and help the next generation grow entrepreneurship.

Yvette can be reached via email at

Fabulous Fempreneurship empowers, supports and mentors women entrepreneurs, worldwide.