I am incredibly proud to have been part of the inception of a global initiative on entrepreneurship. As the newly appointed Chief of the Entrepreneurship Section in 2007 at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, I had the honor of hosting a high-profile event for the United Nations. Although my small team faced challenges with security, speaker coordination, and other logistical details, we persevered and ensured that every aspect was meticulously taken care of, from the nameplates to the recording and visuals.
In July 2007, more than 50 distinguished representatives from United Nations member states, civil society, private organizations, and international bodies gathered in Geneva for a breakfast round table. The purpose was twofold: to address the role of entrepreneurship in poverty reduction and to launch the Global Entrepreneurship Week. Ambassador Richard T. Miller, the United States Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, passionately urged participants to strengthen their commitment to promoting entrepreneurship development in their respective countries.
Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Former Secretary-General of UNCTAD, emphasized the importance of entrepreneurship and the upgrading of productive capacities in facilitating the integration of developing countries into the global trading system. He stressed the need for coordinated efforts at the international, national, and local levels to support entrepreneurship development. The keynote speaker, Mr. Jonathan Ortmans from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation on Entrepreneurship shared groundbreaking research describing an entrepreneurial society with new actors contributing to a new economy characterized by an open-source culture. He also highlighted the network of angel investors and training programs available for aspiring venture capitalists and future business leaders.
The event concluded with enthusiastic discussions on potential partnerships and collaborations among the participants. The idea of creating a “Global Entrepreneurship Week” in collaboration with the worldwide UNCTAD’s Empretec network, and the Kauffman Foundation, was born. In 2008, this idea became a reality, with Global Entrepreneurship Week co-founded by the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship in the United States and Make Your Mark, a business-led, government-backed campaign in the United Kingdom. Its primary objective was to provide young people with the confidence, skills, and ambition to create sustainable enterprises.
Research has shown that successful economies thrive on vibrant communities of small- and medium-sized firms. Unfortunately, many impoverished nations lack such businesses and a culture encouraging entrepreneurship. In its inaugural year, Global Entrepreneurship Week, held in 2008, attracted over 3 million participants in 80 countries. It featured an impressive 25,000 activities organized by 8,800 local partner organizations.
Since then, this dedicated week of events has celebrated the role of entrepreneurs in driving innovation, job creation, and economic recovery. As Jonathan Ortmans aptly put it in 2023, “We have this powerful common global entrepreneurial ecosystem—a community where we have more in common with each other than what divides us.” By 2023, GEW had reached 200 countries, spanning from rural farming communities to industry hubs, smart cities, and cultural capitals. It received support from world leaders in various governments.
During the GEW event hosted by the Entrepreneurship Foundation for Graduates in Shanghai, Ortmans continued his keynote address, acknowledging both the immense optimism fueled by technological breakthroughs in fields like AI and quantum computing and the sobering outbreaks of global violence reminiscent of humanity’s darkest moments. Sixteen years later, GEW thrives as it inspires the young generation to tackle common global challenges, from climate change and energy to space exploration and the responsible use of transformative technologies like AI” Moreover, GEW extends its reach to disadvantaged communities, spreading the entrepreneurial spirit, particularly among women, and providing a platform for anyone with a good idea to transform it into action—a business, a social enterprise, or even a movement. In 2023, this global entrepreneurship movement convened an astounding 40,000 events in 200 countries, with over 10 million participants.
GEW celebrates the achievements of women entrepreneurs, recognizing their essential contributions to innovation, job creation, and economic growth. The week-long event showcases success stories of women who have transformed their ideas into thriving businesses, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps. Furthermore, GEW actively promotes gender-inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystems, encouraging governments, organizations, and communities to create an enabling environment that supports and uplifts women entrepreneurs. During the Global Entrepreneurship Week – and every week – the U.S. Department of State is recognizing the 25,000 women entrepreneurs globally who comprise the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE).
Now in nearly 100 countries, AWE provides access to online curriculum, training, masterclasses, and networking opportunities to emerging women entrepreneurs in a wide range of industries, from tourism to healthcare, to sustainability, fashion, and biotechnology.
In 2023, 200 AWE alumni from across East Asia and the Pacific gathered in Kuala Lumpur for the first AWE Alumni Summit. In July, the first East Africa AWE Summit brought together 100 women entrepreneurs from Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya. In Nicaragua, nearly 100 women entrepreneurs convened for a nationwide conference to address obstacles in expanding their businesses to virtual platforms. In November 2023, the American Institute in Taiwan, with strong support from Taiwan’s Small and Medium Enterprise and Startup Administration under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, hosted 75 women from across the Indo-Pacific region at the first-ever AWE Indo-Pacific Women in Tech Summit in Taipei.
–Fiorina Mugione, a seasoned UN Development Cooperation professional, is on the Prayaana Board, serves as an EU Capacity4Development Ambassador co-founded Ofelia International, and holds a key role on the Accelerate Africa board, driving economic growth.