President Obama calls for diversity efforts and openness with Mark Zuckerberg at GES


President Barack Obama praised tech companies’ efforts to improve diversity in their workforces and called for governments around the world to embrace openness and transparency today at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

Obama encouraged companies to continue hiring workers from diverse backgrounds, citing tech companies’ diversity reports as a step in the right direction. The president also discussed censorship of the internet in Egypt and said international leaders need to welcome free speech rather than attempt to stifle it — even if that speech has negative effects.

“It turns out that starting your own business is not that easy. That it can be especially difficult for women and young people and minorities,” Obama said. “You deserve the same chance to succeed as everybody else.”

“Dozens of top tech companies are committing to make their technology workforces look like America,” Obama said, noting companies’ increased willingness to publish diversity data.

The president also welcomed 11 entrepreneurs from Cuba to the GES. The group is the first from Cuba to attend the summit, which has been held around the world since 2010. “Hola, mucho gusto,” Obama said, waving to the Cuban contingent from his podium onstage at Stanford University. Antonio Gracias, the founder of Valor Equity Partners and a member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) program, funded travel for the group of Cuban entrepreneurs. “His support was critical in bringing these young Cuban entrepreneurs here,” Obama added.

During a discussion with Mai Medhat, the CEO of the Egyptian startup Eventtus, Obama mused on the international leaders’ willingness to censor the internet.

“It is hard to foster and encourage an entrepreneurial culture if it’s closed and if information flows are blocked. What we are seeing around the world oftentimes is governments wanting the benefits of entrepreneurship and connectivity, but also thinking top-down control is compatible with that, and it’s not,” Obama noted.

The president said his own experience with social media during the 2008 election shaped his attitudes about the openness of the internet. He described his 20-year-old advisors coming to him and telling him about “this new thing called Myspace,” and realizing how much potential social media had to shape the election.

“They had all this stuff that I had never heard of. And if I had tried to maintain control and said, ‘No, we’re going with pamphlets because I’m used to pamphlets and I can control what’s in the pamphlets,’ I might not be sitting here,” Obama said.

However, the internet has also become a potent tool for violent extremism, Obama noted, pointing to the recent mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando as an example of online speech inciting violence. Violence shouldn’t deter governments from a commitment to openness online, the president said.

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