It’s Friday, so you know President Barack Obama wanted to keep it casual. He ditched the suit jacket to talk with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and three young entrepreneurs at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University today, where the conversation hit on serious problems of global connectivity and innovation that Brexit has brought to the spotlight.
“I do think that yesterday’s vote speaks to the ongoing changes and challenges that are raised by globalization,” Obama said in his opening statements at Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium. And his discussion with Mai Medhat, Jean Bosco Nzeyimana, Mariana Costa Checa, and Zuckerberg highlighted the issues of cultural difference and the need for innovation in a global community.
“The world has shrunk. It is interconnected. All of you represent that interconnection,” Obama said. “It promises to bring extraordinary benefits, but it also has challenges. And it also evokes concerns and fears.”
He stressed that one of the most important parts of a global community is getting the tools to innovate into the hands of all of the people who could use them. A diverse community of entrepreneurs, from all parts of the world and all backgrounds, is essential for creating an interconnected world.
Connectivity, within a community and on a global scale, was the main theme Medhat, Bosco Nzeyimana, and Costa Checa spoke about in relation to their companies.
Mai Medhat, in particular had strong praise for Facebook:
“In Egypt, we started the revolution out of Facebook,” she said, “Facebook was the only way we could communicate.” She then went on to mention that Facebook’s Free Basic internet is currently blocked in Egypt, making it difficult for her team and family to watch the live stream of her speaking at the summit.
Obama was somber for a moment, pointing out that openness is a sensitive topic in some countries. “It is hard to foster and encourage an entrepreneurial culture if a place is closed, and if information flows are blocked,” he said. “And what we are seeing around the world, oftentimes, is governments wanting the benefits of entrepreneurship and connectivity, but thinking that top-down control is also compatible with that, and it’s not.”
Finding a way to connect the world, despite cultural boundaries, access to the internet and funding is a major hurdle facing global entrepreneurs.
“Ultimately the world needs your creativity, and your energy, and your vision,” says Obama to the diverse crowd to end the plenary session. “You are going to be what helps this process of global integration work. In a way that is good for everyone and not just some.”