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Entrepreneurship and Internet Diplomacy in the Muslim and Arab World

Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship logoWhen President Obama took the stage in Cairo, Egypt last year, millions tuned in to hear his approach for improved U.S.-Muslim relations. In his speech, he pledged to "create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries." A key message was that better relations derive from shared business opportunities.

One year later, April 26-27, 2010, more than 260 people from over 60 countries gathered in Washington, DC for an unprecedented two-day Entrepreneurship Summit hosted by President Obama and the U.S. Departments of Commerce and State. In response to Cairo, the attendees sought to work together to forge relationships between the United States and Muslims based on respect and partnerships within the private sector and civil society organizations.

In this vein, Forum One has already has already established a number of new business relationships. Currently, we are working on building clientele in Doha, Qatar as we continue to work with longtime partners the Supreme Education Council and the Supreme Council of Information Communication and Technology. We are also engaging with the Government of Iraq through the development of new web portals that will assist with project management and connecting with citizens of the country.

In parallel to the Presidential Entrepreneurship summit, Forum One participated in the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy’s 11th annual conference and sat in on open debates on how to improve and strengthen the strained relationship. The conference, "One Year After Cairo," brought in scholars and political experts from all over the world to discuss policy, politics, socio-economic conditions and business from all walks of the Muslim world, including Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, from the U.S. Department of State and Rashad Hussain, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Following the summit, we attended an Entrepreneurship and Public Diplomacy Luncheon which brought together Muslims and Arabs with officials from the U.S. government, members of the diplomatic corps, successful business and civil society leaders, philanthropists, media professionals, academics, artists etc. Speakers included Pradeep Ramamurthy, the National Security Council's Senior Director for Global Engagement and Farouk Shami, a Palestinian-American businessman, who founded a large Houston-based company that produces hair-care and spa products.

The event’s goal was to show how diplomacy and non-traditional diplomacy are used to strengthen global relations, focusing on business. Forum One found that it had a huge role to play as staff engaged in conversation and built connections with D.C. politicians and business leaders and with those from around the world discussing online opportunities and tools for diplomacy and business efforts.

"One way to energize and sustain this (Arab Empowerment) movement is to effectively leverage influencers online to connect potential partners together and encourage participation," said luncheon guest, Lisa Mabe, Principal of Hewar Social Communications.

Undoubtedly, the main takeaways for Forum One after an eventful week of networking and relationship building are that the role of the internet and the power of the web is pivotal in bridging the existent gaps.

Online tools can greatly assist with collaboration, cultural education and developing business ideas. Misunderstandings and fear can be broken through online forums and through social media. While Arab and Muslim companies and organizations are not yet realizing and reaping the benefits of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on their sites, people are eager to learn more and jump on the bandwagon.

One year after Obama's speech in Cairo we have seen the establishment of relationships and a new chapter of open entrepreneurship. We're excited to be part of this new movement.