President, Public Forum Institute
While the power and influence of the United States remains unrivaled, global perceptions of many U.S. policies are consistently negative. Whether concerning the use of our military might, our recognition of environmental issues, or our levels of energy consumption—warranted or not—the United States in 2007 has a global public relations problem. A closer look, however, reveals one very bright beacon in the “shining city on the Hill,” as John Winthrop described his vision of the new America in 1630.
In all of our efforts to encourage a vibrant national conversation about a new breed of “entrepreneurship” in twenty-first century America, an unexpected development must be remarked upon. Thought leaders from across globe are arriving on our shores offering not criticism, but rather a high form of flattery—imitation. Clearly, our consistently strong economy explains much of the global interest in an entrepreneurial culture. However, stealing from the playbook of U.S. economic policy is nothing new and does not explain recent interest from international leaders. A new, potent strain of ideas appears to have been unleashed that has awakened widespread, positive interest in America’s entrepreneurial economy from across the globe. In an effort to verify this trend being witnessed in U.S. government agencies and foreign embassies, one finds a major force driving it—the deepening and widening understanding of what we have come to call entrepreneurial capitalism being fueled by Ewing Marion Kauffman’s vision at the Kauffman Foundation.
As is evident in Kauffman’s Thoughtbooks, the days of American dialogue about entrepreneurship focusing solely on business schools or small business loans are long gone. Rather, thought leaders are examining a steady stream of new ideas more relevant to their pursuit of finding and creating their own blend of entrepreneurship. They invite us to their countries and come to the United States because our conversations around entrepreneurship are now much more profound. In the words of William Green of the University of Miami, “we have transform(ed) entrepreneurship from a subject of narrow commercial significance into one of substantive cultural consequence that signifies the possibility of human endeavor through the exercise of our human freedom for the benefit of all.”
Overseas leaders now want to discuss how to advance the movement of innovations from university research to the marketplace; how to broaden entrepreneurship education to all higher education disciplines to create their next generation of innovators; and how to create public policy that fosters environments favorable to entrepreneurship—as opposed to creating public programs and departments to keep businesses afloat on account of their job contributions.
This last year, for example, interest from the British government rests around initiatives with the Kauffman Foundation that foster an “enterprise culture”; Czech government overtures stem from a desire to foster a less risk-averse entrepreneurial ecosphere already endowed with a rich culture of young innovation; Middle East trips to Oman and Dubai have explored ways to better use plentiful resources in establishing the next generation of innovations and entrepreneurs; and, as witnessed by the invitation to Kauffman Foundation president Carl Schramm to be the first American to address the Finance Ministers of the European Union, national economic chiefs are pursuing regional macroeconomic approaches to making their economies more entrepreneurial in the future.
Whether intended or not, the Kauffman Foundation has now established a global reputation as the intellectual epicenter of entrepreneurial thought. Indeed, perhaps unintentionally, the Kauffman Foundation has reinvented and elevated the field to a deeper understanding of how a force that built America can offer value to any nation during any era in history. The notion of transforming an idea into something that creates value is something that can be embraced by any culture, not just the United States. And the idea of opening the minds of all people to their inventive and creative potential, regardless of their field of interest, appeals to all leaders and educators, not just business people and business schools.
The Kauffman Foundation wisely maintains a U.S. focus to its grant making. However, how proud the Foundation associates must be that, as with ideas themselves, no national border is able to restrain Ewing Kauffman’s vision, burning brightly from a beacon in his hometown, lighting the way across an entire world.
This essay is an excerpt from the Kauffman Thoughtbook 2007
. To view a table of contents for the 2009 edition, or to order a printed copy of the publication, please visit our 2009 Thoughtbook page