Guatemalan President And U.S. Commerce Secretary Among Attendants
Small-business owners met for a panel discussion with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on Monday as part of the Americas Competitiveness Forum, held in Santiago Sept. 27 – 29.
Locke was one of hundreds of high-profile attendees of the forum, including: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet; Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom; representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Development Bank; a slew of economic and labor advisors from governments across the Americas; and academics from top-level universities. Private industry made an appearance, including the president of Wal-Mart Latin America and vice president of Dell Computers, Latin America, among others.
One forum was comprised of students at the Cisco Entrepreneur Institute, a partnership between Cisco Systems – a multinational corporation and one of the world’s biggest high-tech hardware manufacturers – and several local NGOs. Cisco representative Guillermo Moya said the program was part of Cisco’s US$6 million annual investment in entrepreneurial training worldwide. The program intends to help local business owners expand their businesses through Internet and database technology as well as give them basic management and finance advice.
“We have a goal this year of 800 (students), but we think this can grow exponentially,” he said. “We have half a million small businesses in Chile.”
The seven small-business owners present, speaking in a mix of English and Spanish, discussed their businesses and the challenges they faced, and many complimented the classes they had taken with local NGO Acción Emprendedora.
“I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer before,” said Marisa Carvajal, who runs a weaving business out of her home, and presented Secretary Locke with a homemade scarf. “I started a website last week, and I’ve already had 70 visitors . . . It’s changed my life. I’m very thankful.”
Fellow student Jose Marcelo Castillo, who works in family business in alternative therapy, agreed. “Many of the mistakes of small business come from a lack of knowledge,” he said, particularly how to handle tax matters. “Now we have the ability to run our businesses better.”
Locke, a former two-term governor of the state of Washington, asked occasional questions and wished the entrepreneurs luck. He praised Cisco for its actions, which he called “the new model of corporate social responsibility, to help other businesses grow and expand, so that the countries in which American companies operate are more prosperous.”
Locke also mentioned his mother, an immigrant from Hong Kong, who went back to school at age 50 to learn English.
“You’ve already indicated you want more, and you’ve got that taste for education,” he said. “The future is endless. You have the opportunity and the skills, and most of all you have that determination, drive, strength to learn more, to improve yourself, to help your businesses grow and get stronger, and ultimately to provide more jobs, not just for you and your family, but for your friends and your community.”