Social Entrepreneurship & the Transatlantic Business Community

Ambassador John Emerson

Carl Graf von Hohenthal, ladies and gentlemen, Kimberly and I would quite simply like to say thank you to the AmCham community.  We have had the opportunity to meet with many of your members, not only here in Berlin but in Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Neuss, and Isny as well!  And we’ve enjoyed every minute of it!  So again, thank you.  And actually, given that we’re in the midst of the holiday season, a season of hope and thanksgiving, what I would like to talk with you about this evening is how we, as trans-Atlantic partners, can make a difference in the world around us.

On a personal level, Kimberly and I have been moved and inspired by the warmth and genuine welcoming spirit with which we and our girls have been received here in Germany.  The German-American partnership obviously means so much to so many – both in terms of the longevity of our friendship and the enormous hope and opportunities the future presents.  The past three months have not been easy.  We have had many open and even painful conversations – both private and public.  But those conversations, which have often begun on the subject of trust, have almost always ended with a discussion of values – and the basic conclusions about the kind of world we want for ourselves, for our children, and for people everywhere.

In fact, one of the first such conversations I had here in Germany was with Bundespräsident Gauck.  That was on the day that I presented my credentials.  I also had the privilege of attending the official commemoration of German Unity Day in Stuttgart in October.  In a very eloquent speech, President Gauck looked back on what Germans – East Germans, West Germans, and new Germans – have accomplished in the past 23 years, as well as the challenges they face in the future.  He thanked Germany’s friends and partners for their trust; and for their belief that one day Germany would be re-united, respected worldwide for its vibrant and stable democracy, its economic strength, and its open and diverse society.

Germany has turned out to be a role model; exactly the kind of role model that leaders in the United States and Europe hoped for when, after the war, they formed a partnership that was based on a vision of peace, freedom and prosperity.  I don’t think anybody could argue that the world would be a better place today if trans-Atlantic partners had not committed themselves to that vision.  Those farsighted choices were based on common values, values that define both our national and mutual interests.

Against this backdrop, and given my understanding of the German experience during much of the 20th century, I fully understand the distress that has been caused by the recent disclosures regarding the NSA.  I have communicated the depth and intensity of the reaction here in Germany to Washington; and these concerns are being taken very seriously, at the highest levels of our government.

President Obama has ordered a review of the way the United States gathers intelligence, to ensure that we are properly balancing privacy and security in our effort to protect the lives of our citizens and allies.  He wants to ensure we are collecting information because we need it, and not just because we can.  It is clear that the technological advances of the past decade have been deployed without fully considering the broader impact of using these advances; and he wants to look at that, as well.  This review will be completed within the next couple of weeks.  The President is committed to sharing much of the results with our allies and partners, and wherever possible with the public as well.

We are talking to our German partners, again at the highest levels, about how we can better coordinate our intelligence efforts to continue protecting our citizens, while at the same time addressing the privacy concerns that all people share.  Moreover, these discussions are also addressing how we can coordinate in a manner that is respectful of our close alliance and friendship.  Finally, the congressional oversight committees on Capitol Hill are examining both the legal underpinnings of our intelligence gathering activities as well as how to increase their own oversight capabilities.

Amid all these concerns, people often ask me whether trust can be re-built.  Any long-standing relationship, no matter how strong, goes through periods of tough times; and we’re in one of those periods now.  But we will get through this because we must – and it is my great hope that, at the end of the day, our relationship will be even stronger.

And the business community here in Germany, led by AmCham, will be instrumental in that process.  When I arrived, I said that in addition to re-building trust, economic statecraft would be one of my top priorities.  The past three months have reinforced just how important economic diplomacy is and the vital role that businesses – American and German – play in advancing the mutual interests of our two countries.

A crucial illustration of our mutual interests is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  But this evening you are not going to hear my standard pitch on TTIP.  I suspect that many of you have heard it already, but allow me to say this:  By bringing together the largest market in the world with the largest individual economy in the world, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will create the largest free trade zone on the planet.

Most important, in addition to the jobs that will be created, T-TIP will strengthen our hand in a global conversation to advance the kind of rules-based public commons in which our nations thrive.  In so doing, we will also be sending a message to the rest of the world about the values a free trading system represents: fairness, rule of law, respect for intellectual property rights, transparency in our commercial dealings, respect for the environment and for employees.   And TTIP will serve as the gold standard for other trade agreements, as we look east and south.  A rules-based trading system, based on our shared values, is the best path toward prosperity.

Another conversation Kimberly and I have had almost everywhere we have gone revolves around innovation.  California, our home state, is famously innovative with its Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach.  And so, since coming to Germany, we have made a point of reaching out to young innovators and entrepreneurs, especially here in Berlin’s Silicon Allee.  Their ideas are the seeds not only of the jobs of the future, but also the prosperity of our economies.  We owe it to our young people to implement a system that encourages innovation, a system that is open and free and transparent and fair – a system where anybody can succeed.  Freedom of opportunity is humanity’s most powerful motivator.

And one other thing, As President Obama says, “Entrepreneurship is about more than profits.  It’s about how you build a society that values competition and compassion at the same time.”  Much of the work that we’re doing together isn’t just about making money.  It’s about making people’s lives better, through education, health care, and basic human rights.  .

There is a new, uniquely American concept of entrepreneurship that I want to share with you tonight.  It’s variously referred to as social entrepreneurship, or venture philanthropy.  And it grows out of one of the most important values that define the United States – and that is taking on the responsibility to give back.  Throughout American history and life, we have seen this culture of philanthropy and volunteerism again and again.

It is reflected in well-known government programs, such as the Peace Corps, or Americorps, where college age Americans donate two or more years of their lives to serve.  It is reflected in the network of public libraries and universities around the U.S. created by the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, and the Mellons around the turn of the 20th century; and by the “pledge” that more than 100 American billionaires, following the leadership of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have taken, pledging to donate at least half of their wealth for good works.  But it also is reflected in the daily work of the mother who raises money for the local school arts program, the father who builds a new playground at his church, or the legions of people who volunteer every day at health clinics, day care centers, and local homeless shelters, or who serve on the boards of and donate to these organizations.

Social entrepreneurism is reflected in organizations like Teach for America and Share Our Strength.  Teach for America was created to recruit recent college and university graduates, MBAs and young business leaders as teachers of at-risk youth – especially in math and science.  Thousands of talented young Americans have put their careers on hold to donate several years of their lives to this effort, and as in many successful entrepreneurial businesses, dozens of Teach for America organizations have sprung up across America.

Share Our Strength was created by my friend Billy Shore twenty-five years ago, with the idea of asking every restaurant in America to donate one evening’s profits to an effort to feed the hungry.  SOS has exploded to become one of the top hunger relief organizations in the nation, organizing food kitchens and other relief efforts in places as diverse as New York City, New Orleans post Katrina, and Haiti.  And SOS has effectively partnered with corporate America as well.

In fact, in both the United States and Germany, many companies are beginning to direct energy and know-how into the social sector: public schools, environmental health, welfare-to-work, and the inner city.  These companies have discovered that social problems are economic problems, whether it is the need for a trained workforce or the search for new markets in neglected parts of the world.  They have learned that employees who are given the opportunity to help others as part of their daily work are more energized, satisfied, and productive.  And, they have learned that applying their energies to solving the chronic problems of society stimulates business development.  Today’s better-educated children are tomorrow’s knowledge workers.  Lower unemployment in the inner city means higher consumption in the inner city.  Indeed, a new paradigm for innovation is emerging: a partnership between private enterprise and public interest that produces profitable and sustainable change for both sides.

This is a paradigm that is long overdue.  Traditional corporate volunteer activities often only scratch the surface of social problems.  Just throwing money at the problem and walking away is not a solution.  Many recipients of business largesse need change; not spare change, but real change –replicable and sustainable change that transforms their schools, their skills, their job prospects, and their neighborhoods.  And that means getting business deeply involved in non-traditional ways.

As Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter has said: it means “moving beyond corporate social responsibility to corporate social innovation.”  Recent studies show that these companies often outperform their peers in the marketplace, even when you consider narrow and short-term definition of ‘returns.’  It is, in fact, possible not only to do well and to do good; it is also possible to do well by doing good.  There is no conflict between profit and principle.

In fact, one thoughtful leader on the subject who has spoken regularly at the Davos World Economic Forum, Jed Emerson, has developed the concept of “blended value” as a broader way of measuring returns.  Jed, by the way, is my younger brother.

Many of the social problems that are addressed through philanthropy in the U.S. are addressed by government in Europe.  In times of budget stress, however, we need to recognize that government can’t do it all.  But it can certainly gain leverage by partnering with the business world.  And to highlight this, every year for the past 15 years, the State Department awards one or more globally based American companies with the Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence.  The purpose of this award is to shine a light on corporate social responsibility, and to underscore the importance of effective cooperation and partnership between the government and American businesses that operate abroad.

Three years ago, the German Federal Government adopted an action plan to promote corporate social responsibility activities and to make these activities more visible in society.  The idea is that if all social groups fulfill their rightful responsibilities, then society can collectively work to overcome global challenges – to the benefit of our economy, society, and the environment.  Governments can actively support this cooperation by establishing a suitable framework of legal, social, economic, and environmental incentives and regulations, but ultimate success depends on committed businesses integrating social responsibility into their corporate strategies.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Germany and its members are committed to upholding the standards of social responsibility within the realm of their business interests, and to meeting the responsibility they have to the communities in which they work and prosper.  AmCham’s CSR charter is based upon the values of the UN Global Compact.  Within the framework of social responsibility, the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany and its members support projects ranging from protecting the environment to enhancing diversity to sponsoring social projects in the area of culture and sports to backing fair trade initiatives that can open dialog and reward individual initiative.

I am not going to name specific projects because I could not possibly name them all, but suffice it to say that throughout Germany and back home in the U.S., I have seen companies promote these values through their know-how and their best practices.  These companies demonstrate that globalization is an opportunity to be welcomed, not a force to be feared.  They observe the highest ethical and financial standards, and obey not just the letter, but also the spirit of the law.  They know that a sustainable and healthy business environment calls for a healthy natural environment.  They care about the particular needs of their local communities, as well as the universal standards of human rights.  They are dreamers and risk takers who imagine the world as it ought to be.  They have the talents and the drive to actually build the future we all seek.

And I cannot think of a better gift this Christmas season than for all of us to re-commit to this important work for the coming months and years.  Kimberly and I wish you a very happy holidays to all of you and to your families, and great blessings for the coming year.

Wir wünschen Ihnen einen friedlichen und gesegneten Advent.  Vielen Dank.