Remarks by Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman, the Regional Economic Growth Closeout Event: “Spurring Self-Reliance in Europe and Eurasia: Catalyzing Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Opportunity”

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

 

Remarks by Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman, the Regional Economic Growth Closeout Event: “Spurring Self-Reliance in Europe and Eurasia: Catalyzing Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Opportunity” 

(Remarks as Prepared)

Thank you for taking time this afternoon for this important discussion. 

Today, I hope all of you have a chance to reflect on the incredible strides Europe and Eurasia has made.  With the support of USAID, these nations have rebuilt a healthy, diverse private sector after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.   

It is also critical to discuss the challenges which continue to hold entrepreneurs, businesses, and investors back from capitalizing on opportunities. 

Just a few weeks ago, Administrator Green spoke on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly about the importance of the private sector as the enduring bedrock for development.  “We know that the only way to create sustainable results is to turn to private enterprise, which powers results and creates real lasting opportunities, particularly for young people around the world.”

This philosophy has fueled USAID’s work over the past 25 years in Europe and Eurasia.  The United States has invested its time, money, and expertise to undo the damage caused by 70 years of Communist domination.  Communism did not foster entrepreneurship. It did not cultivate innovation. It did not nurture ambition. Communist governments feared these values, because they would inevitably lead to demands for greater freedom, greater transparency, and greater opportunity.  While the Soviets viewed liberty and ingenuity as threats, the United States considers them assets. They are fundamental to the American spirit. 

And USAID’s Regional Economic Growth project is a great example of the American spirit in action.  At USAID, we believe in working ourselves out of a job. The purpose of foreign assistance should be ending its need to exist.  We believe in providing people with the environment and tools they need to capitalize on their ideas and ambitions. When we are successful, these people will be the ones to generate economic opportunities, drive economic growth, and create greater prosperity for their nations.  A small investment in the private sector today can pay dividends in jobs created and communities enriched.

Our partner countries have come a long way.  After the fall of the Berlin Wall, these small, isolated economies had to completely reinvent themselves. Bilateral USAID activities have led the way in improving the domestic business environment within partner countries.  However, success in an ultra-competitive, modern regional economy demanded more. So we expanded to a regional approach, connecting markets and and businesses.

This approach has led to internationally-recognized successes and accolades.  The Via Dinarica Trail, which skirts the majestic Dinaric Alps in the Balkans, earned a place on the National Geographic 2017 Best Trips.   USAID’s urgent support to Ukraine's financial sector following the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 resulted in the National Bank of Ukraine garnering the award for 2019 Most Transparent Central Bank in the world

While awards and recognition are deserved and welcome, one must also appreciate this project’s broader cultural and socio-economic impact.  In the case of the Via Dinarica, USAID saw an opportunity to stimulate tourism and small business creation. But in the process of creating the trail, USAID also brought together once-warring communities under a common cause: to improve their collective well-being. In Ukraine, USAID’s work provided critical reassurance to Ukrainian citizens at a time when the economy appeared to be teetering towards collapse.  

While not everything has a USAID plaque to commemorate it, numerous examples of USAID’s success are scattered across the region in businesses which have expanded operations;  entrepreneurs who have founded new start ups; and communities where economic opportunities are plentiful.

For example, the Kosovo/Albania startup company Gjirafa.com [jerafa] launched in 2013 and made its first international appearance in 2016 at the USAID-supported TRACTION Camp in San Francisco. Gaining immediate investor recognition at that occasion, the company raised several million dollars in venture funding. Employing over 200 people in Kosovo and Albania, Gjirafa.com has become the leading internet business in four Balkans countries with over 350,000 daily viewers.

This project also showcases the unique role USAID plays in the region, providing rapid, flexible support when and where opportunities emerge.  USAID also serves as the catalyst for multi-donor efforts. These joint initiatives are mutually beneficial, strategic, and can be transformational.   

While this project may be ending, USAID’s partnership with the private sector remains strong.  We remain committed to helping our partner nations, and the ambitious citizens who push for progress, on the journey to greater self-reliance and greater prosperity. 

We will continue to invest in entrepreneurs, businesses, and governments who seek to expand their economic horizons.

We should not ignore the challenges ahead.  Youth unemployment is tragically high. Women continue to face barriers to joining the workforce. The EU accession process, while a driver of reform, is long and arduous.  Meanwhile, authoritarians are not standing idle. The Kremlin seeks to destabilize the region by using its economic influence as a lever to dominate its neighbors. China hopes to trick countries into taking on mountains of debt; giving Beijing a tool to bend countries to China’s will.  

At the same time, I am optimistic.  There are so many opportunities to open up new markets, collaborate across borders, and support up and coming innovators. 

The drivers of change are the entrepreneurs and innovators on the ground.  They will be there long after USAID, or any donor, closes its doors. We seek to empower them.

USAID appreciates the leadership and partnership that Segura Consulting, LLC, its partners and staff, and especially Jorge Segura and Filip Stojanovich have provided to USAID over the last decade.  Their expertise has been invaluable to USAID’s success.  

Thank you again for participating  today. I look forward to a lively discussion on the way forward.   

National Press Club

Last updated: November 04, 2019

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