Remarks by Ambassador
Managua, November 18, 2016
I am honored to speak to you today, and pleased that you have welcomed me back for a second year to celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day with you. I am so impressed by your dedication, determination, and persistence to build your businesses, create new opportunities, and realize your potential by following your passions. That is no small feat, and I applaud those here today working on that path. I want to congratulate Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua too for cultivating dialogue and know-how to support the businesswomen of Nicaragua in their efforts.
The year 2016 has been a momentous one in the world of business and technology. In July, a drone delivered a chicken sandwich, coffee, and donuts to a customer in the state of Nevada, the first-ever drone delivery in America. Also in July, a Pakistani boy received the first prosthetic hand made by a 3D printer. In October, a self-driving beer truck made its first delivery in Colorado. And just this month, a computer wrote a song that is now trending among the top ten most popular songs in America. Now all of this may feel foreign and far away from your business reality here in Nicaragua, but it is closer than you think and will force us all to look more closely at our business models, our political models, and our social models.
Today, I want to touch on three key themes I believe are necessary for Nicaragua and for businesswomen here to prosper in this new economy. They are (1) innovation, (2) women’s empowerment, and (3) sustainability rather than stability.
First, innovation. Innovation means change, transformation, new ideas, new ways of doing business. Innovation can use new technology or rethink old methods or products in a new way. For example, Aurora Zeas is one of the owners of Zeas Apícola, a company producing honey; but Aurora has also taken this traditional market and gone beyond, creating new jellies, candles and other honey-related products too. She has also obtained necessary quality certifications to be able to sell her products abroad. In my travels throughout Nicaragua over the past year, I am always impressed when I see businesswomen trying new things, stretching beyond comfort zones.
For those here today, I want you to think about your business for a moment: what could you do different? How could you reach a bigger market? How can you set your business apart from the competition? Too often, we see business-owners who think that the only way to compete is on price. But in today’s world, that is a race to the bottom. The race to the top – the race to a more prosperous Nicaragua – is through innovation for better quality, better design, better service.
Second, I want to emphasize empowering women as economic and political agents. Do you know how many women are on the boards of COSEP, AmCham, and the Chambers of Commerce? How often are women the leading voices for major industries in particular? How many publish opinion articles in the pages of Nicaragua’s leading newspapers or give interviews to TV and radio channels? How many times are there conference panels without women? This year, a study by COSEP showed that women run only 10 percent of small businesses, 8 percent of medium-sized businesses and a mere 1 percent of big business in Nicaragua. I often see scantily-clad women at company booths during the big trade shows, but I don’t see women in the boardrooms nearly enough. Similarly, I see many women in the newspapers posing semi-nude who are celebrated for their sex appeal rather than their talent and capacity.
Nicaragua needs empowered women in positions of leadership to speak for critical changes. This is what the Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua is all about. The Agenda for Nicaragua’s Businesswomen (Agenda de las Empresarias de Nicaragua) strengthens the voice of Nicaraguan women. It is important too that women across the economic spectrum and from all regions of the country are heard; inclusive dialogue and debate opens up space for new ideas and for innovation. I hope that you will be brave in letting your voices be heard about the reforms and changes needed to prepare Nicaragua for the new economic world in which we now live and for the economic world of the future.
Third, Nicaragua must work to build the foundations of a sustainable economy, not a stable economy. Let me explain what I mean. A stable economy focuses on maintaining the jobs and industries that currently exist; a sustainable economy focuses on the jobs and industries of the future and invests now in the infrastructure, workforce development, and institutions that will be needed then. Stable economies may last for a while, but they are not prepared when change comes. Sustainable economies proactively change, they innovate and adapt.
For example, harvesting timber in Bosawas may seem like a good, stable business. But it is not sustainable in the long term. As Dr. Jaime Incer has repeatedly warned us all, the Bosawas forests will disappear in the next 10 years if current harvesting practices continue, and this once stable industry will be violently disrupted. Similarly, the country’s textile sector is stable and a staple of the economy. However, trading patterns change and technology advances; 3D printers and new automation could render much of the current industry uncompetitive within the next decade. What steps are Nicaraguans taking today to plan for this future or to position the country for these new technologies?
We believe sustainability creates prosperity far more than stability. Markets rise and fall, prices go up and down, factors beyond any of our control will disrupt the most stable of economies. But sustainability focuses more on the underlying institutions, the “rules of the game” that help ease the transitions and give people a sense of direction in the future of the country. That is why the rule of law is so important, that government ministries administer regulations fairly and transparently, and that innovators and businesses are protected not by political connections but by law. The United States remains concerned that weak institutions in Nicaragua and the prioritization of stability over sustainability hinders prosperity.
New technologies and trends can be frightening, but I am encouraged when I see you here today. You are in a position to call for the change that must happen today to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s world. The United States is working with our partners here to support the aspirations of the Nicaraguan people for a prosperous, secure, and democratic Nicaragua. Prosperity is what happens when you combine innovation, empowerment, and sustainability through strong institutions.
Women’s Entrepreneurship Day gives us a chance to reflect on all we have accomplished and discuss our shared goals for the future. REN can feel proud of its work to advance the economic and social development of Nicaragua. As women leaders, your perspective is unique and valuable. Truly, it is irreplaceable. The United States supports you and looks forward to your continued success. Thank you.