Creating a Future of Prosperity: The U.S.-Jordanian Partnership

Ambassador Wells at the Rotary International Jordan Chapters, February 8, 2015

Creating a Future of Prosperity: The U.S.-Jordanian Partnership

Alice G. Wells, The Ambassador of the United States to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Remarks to the Rotary International Jordan Chapters – as prepared

Thank you Mohammed for your warm introduction and for this opportunity to speak to so many members of Rotary in Jordan. My sincere thanks to the Rotary Club of Amman-Ammon, particularly President Suzan Barbour, and to the other Rotary clubs of Jordan for inviting me tonight to discuss how the United States and Jordan can work together to promote our shared prosperity.

Jordan today finds itself in a region unsettled by challenges. There are the security challenges related to Da’ish’s presence in neighboring Iraq and Syria. There is the burden of hosting refugees from both countries and from even further afield, which has strained social services like education and health. There is the uncertain business environment, both locally and in light of the complicated global business outlook.

But while it is easy to focus on negative news headlines, there is much to be optimistic about as we begin 2016. There is substantial progress being made in breaking Da’ish, which has lost 40 percent of the territory it used to control. Da’ish has seen a series of strategic defeats: in Tikrit, in Bayji, in Sinjar, along the Turkish border, at Tishreen dam, and most recently in Ramadi.

On the political track, no one is more determined than Secretary Kerry to push for a political solution that ends the heart-rending Syrian civil war. We look forward to the resumption of UN-led negotiations in Geneva later this month and are continuing our work to advance a national ceasefire and a negotiated political solution that alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. We have made very clear to the Russians our concerns about recent events on the ground in Syria and would like to see the gap closed between their words and actions. Only a political solution will solve this crisis.

Another reason for optimism is the strong international community support for Jordan and appreciation for the Hashemite leadership’s commitment to a moderate and modernizing state – a repudiation of the extremism we see in the region today. At the February 4th Syria Donors’ Conference the international community pledged $2.1 billion over three years for Jordan’s host communities, as well as commitments to expand private sector investment and employment, including through EU trade preferences similar to those under the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement. In terms of American assistance, in 2016 Jordan will receive an unprecedented $1.275 billion in U.S. economic and military assistance, with $100 million of those funds earmarked for the historic Red Sea-Dead Sea desalination water project.

In London we announced an additional $600 million for assistance to refugees in 2016, which brings our total humanitarian assistance in response to the Syria conflict to over $5 billion, with $730 million of that spent in Jordan, where the United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

While the regional situation is deeply concerning, Jordan’s underlying challenges are the same as those faced by every developing nation: how to create a sustainable and inclusive economy that supports and is propelled by the aspirations of its people.

And so, U.S. government assistance is just one component of our broad partnership, which also includes important and growing private sector ties. In 2015, Jordan’s exports to the United States grew almost 7 percent, despite a broader downturn following the closure of the borders with Iraq and Syria. This growth was driven by Jordanian companies – both large and small – that developed innovative and competitive new products to sell in the United States.

For example, two Jordanians founded a firm called Mixed Dimensions in 2009 to provide online tools for game developers. In 2013, the company opened offices in San Francisco to be closer to their U.S. clients — it is now one of the leading providers of 3D printing services. Another IT company, Integrated Technology Group, also established offices in California to provide U.S. schools and universities with its proprietary educational platform. And IT is not the only sector expanding in the United States. Jordanian food companies are also expanding market share, from Mohamed Abu Ghazalah’s giant acquisition of global food supplier Fresh Del Monte, to Ahmed Al Khudari, a Jordanian spice distributor, who is exporting dried spices to U.S. retail giant Walmart.

As these firms show, and as all of you in this room understand: the private sector is the engine of economic growth. Jordan’s private sector must grow faster because the government, particularly in today’s budget climate, cannot remain the employer of choice. Encouraging entrepreneurship, and helping young companies grow, is critical to tackle some of Jordan’s greatest challenges: job creation and economic prosperity.

Because companies don’t just sell products; the private sector invests in local communities because prosperity is good for business. It was Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, who decided to increase his wages in 1914 in order to attract more reliable workers. The benefit was immediate – his profits doubled in less than two years, but the decision also spurred the creation of an industrial middle class that helped to increase demand for his cars. But wages are just one example of how the private sector can promote growth and improve citizens’ lives.

Because the private sector also invests in innovation, science and technology that create products that benefit all citizens, like new pharmaceuticals and water treatment systems. Business development and expansion can create higher-value jobs, improve professional opportunities for employees, and better the broader community. For example, the U.S. firm GE developed an “Open Innovation” initiative that seeks to “crowdsource” innovation by inviting the public to propose new technological solutions in the fields of energy savings, health, and water conservation. GE then helps commercialize these proposals and offers both cash prizes and business opportunities to partnering innovators.

And today it is clear that the global economy is moving ideas and values, not just goods and services. When U.S. companies invest abroad, they help to improve employment practices and environmental protection. Nike, which procures athletic goods manufactured in Jordan, also regularly inspects its suppliers’ facilities here and elsewhere to make sure they meet key labor standards. When the United States enters into Free Trade Agreements, like the one we have with Jordan, we include labor and environmental standards to ensure that both sides meet citizens’ expectations.

Companies can help raise standards and promote shared values, but citizens have a role too. We don’t just accept that companies are looking out for the global good. We also have a right – and a responsibility – to scrutinize corporate actions to ensure they are in line with our expectations. We must demand accountability, transparency, respect for worker rights, and sound environmental practices. Apple, which once faced public criticism that its Chinese suppliers did not meet critical labor and environmental standards, established a Supplier Code of Conduct and organized over 600 audits of its suppliers globally in 2014 alone.

U.S. firms are also investing in Jordanians and Jordanian communities through corporate social responsibility — or CSR — programs. Because CSR is not just about planting trees, or providing food donations, it also means responsible partnerships that benefit entire towns, governorates and countries. For example, U.S. technology company Cisco has invested $10 million and collaborated with the Government of Jordan to launch a telehealth pilot project to link urban specialists with patients in underserved communities. U.S. energy firm AES is installing solar panels to reduce Jordan’s carbon footprint and providing medical care for over 1000 Jordanian citizens.

But CSR is not enough. The private sector also has a strategic interest in developing opportunities for Jordanian young people. Aramex [AIR-a-meks] co-founder Fadi Ghandour coined a new term a few years ago: Corporate Entrepreneurship Responsibility. He stressed that we all must create the environment that promotes youth entrepreneurship and sustains the growth of job-creating small and medium enterprises, including through education, mentoring, and advocacy. Fadi was the brainchild behind Ruwwad al-Tanmeya, an organization that empowers communities through education, youth volunteerism and grassroots organizing.

I’ve met Ruwwad’s Regional Director, Samar Doudeen (due-DEEN). Ruwwad’s fund has invested in 142 microbusinesses across 10 governorates, creating an estimated 432 jobs and positively impacting the lives of over 1700 additional Jordanians. Their Youth Education and Empowerment Scholarships support 450 scholars in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine each year. In return, each scholar is required to contribute 4 hours per week of community service, adding up to 84,600 community service hours per year. These are powerful, tangible examples of how an empowering partnership can literally transform communities.

U.S. companies are among those helping to propel Jordanian youth forward. Microsoft is just one example. Its support to the Jordan Education Initiative, an effort launched in 2003 by Their Majesties King Abdullah and Queen Rania, helps to enhance the use of ICT technologies in education, develop an ICT curricula, provide professional IT training for teachers, and support Jordan’s Knowledge Station Initiative that provides access and connectivity to Jordanians regardless of their economic status or geographic location.

Because, as important as it is to have a paycheck, when we create jobs that allow for young people to learn, to contribute, to lead, to grow personally and professionally, our impact extends beyond our contribution to GDP: we are creating citizens. Jordan’s population continues to get younger and younger, and there are 80 to 100,000 new entrants to the workforce each year who struggle to find jobs. In fact, the region faces the highest rate of youth unemployment in the world, particularly among women. High rates of unemployment, a private sector still struggling to come into its own, and excessive government bureaucracy need to be addressed simultaneously in order to achieve the future that young Jordanians need.

And when I talk to young Jordanians, they stress how they aspire to rewarding employment, and many hope to start their own companies. Last fall I had the opportunity to attend the Injaz National Entrepreneurship Competition and meet many of the Jordanian young people who had developed promising business ideas. I saw everything from food products to recycling technology, clothing and stationery, but more importantly, I saw the innovation and creativity that will power the Jordan of tomorrow.

To encourage young Jordanians’ aspirations, and their ability to turn them into realities, it is critical that we all seek opportunities to mentor young people. Mentors, be they relatives, teachers, coaches or neighbors, give young people the advice and support they need to build confidence, gain knowledge, and develop the strength of character to succeed inside and outside of the classroom. Studies show that young people with mentors have better attendance in school, higher self-esteem, a greater chance of pursuing higher education, and a reduced risk of substance abuse.

Mentoring can also take place on the job or between professionals. Those who have already climbed the ladder of success have much to share with the next generation. The future leaders of Jordan can surely benefit from the advice and counsel you have to offer. Each year the Embassy sends approximately 200 Jordanians to the United States on a variety of exchange programs, some of which include a formal corporate mentoring component such as the Goldman Sachs, Fortune and Tech Women programs. We then tap into this expertise when these people – we call them our alumni – come back, by pairing them with younger Jordanians so the cycle of learning and growing continues.

So as Jordan seeks to improve the educational and entrepreneurial environment that will allow all to prosper, you can count on the United States to support these efforts. The majority of the U.S. Government’s assistance to Jordan is promoting employment and education, particularly among youth and women. In November, we announced a $100 million grant to build 25 new schools, and renovate and enlarge 128 more, to alleviate overcrowding in urban areas. Through our Reading and Math Project, we are investing in early grade learning and expanding reading and math initiatives that provide children with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

The United States is also implementing $200 million worth of projects to support private sector development that will drive job creation and small and medium size business growth. Our workforce development project, launched in August, aims to improve vocational and technical education as well as to facilitate job placement for graduates by connecting them to companies looking for employees. We also support microenterprises by linking businesses to growing markets where there is demand for their products and helping them obtain commercial finance. SMEs are the backbone of the Jordanian economy, representing 98 percent of all businesses and 60 percent of the workforce, and creating 50 percent of GDP.

The Jordan Loan Guarantee Facility, established in partnership with USAID and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, is guaranteeing $250 million to participating Jordanian banks to fund small businesses; and over 10 percent of the guarantees thus far have benefitted women. For instance, Oula Farawati established a firm specializing in design and printing products. Oula used her loan to fund the firm’s production and distribution, an expansion that has increased profits by over 50 percent.

But the answer to Jordan’s growth is not just mentoring and encouraging entrepreneurship. We must also improve the business environment, and neither governments nor business nor individuals can address this alone. We know that the role of any government is to support the private sector, not hinder it. But this requires partnership between government, businesses, and citizens. The government’s responsibility is to create the enabling environment for businesses to grow and create jobs and prosperity for its citizens. But governments need the private sector to tell them what works and what doesn’t – where opportunities exist and where challenges remain. Both businesses and citizens must advocate for policy transparency and ways to improve the ease of doing business. Because there is no doubt that prosperity is good for all we all must do our part to create it. And we must hold each other accountable.

This is where Rotary comes in. Your “service above self” is an international phenomenon that has improved lives all over the world. It is a great source of pride for me that this humanitarian and service organization was born in the United States. My father has been a proud Rotarian for many decades, working to improve our hometown, and I still remember the thrill of being selected as a Rotary club high school scholar. But it’s your work here in Jordan that is so critical to your fellow citizens.

The Rotary Club of Amman’s recent effort to procure a Braille machine for blind children and computers for a visually impaired club is a great example of investing in the enabling environment that will help young Jordanians contribute to their future prosperity. Your efforts to support a youth football team helps to promote team building, friendships and healthy lifestyles that will serve these children throughout their lives.

I’m also proud that U.S. Rotarians are also working locally. Last year, a Connecticut Rotary member helped establish a fund to support Syrian refugees after visiting Za’atri camp. He ended up raising almost 100,000 dollars to distribute food and supplies to refugees in the camp, and these efforts continue, helping to alleviate the burden on Jordanian communities and also improving the lives of individual refugees.

The United States is committed to Jordan, but our partnership is much broader than the U.S. government in Washington. Our companies are your partners, our educational institutions are your partners, our citizens are your partners. Across the United States, Americans are committed supporting your efforts to create the economic prosperity that so many young Jordanians aspire to. Together, we will help build a Jordan that not only overcomes the challenges of today, but also represents the hopes and dreams of its citizens and the region.

Thank you.