Five things Obama's visit to Kenya said for entrepreneurialism

When American President, Barack Obama, signed off his recent visit to Kenya by telling the Kenyan people there is “no limit to what you can achieve”, he projected a sentiment that I recognise and share.

Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, was in Nairobi for the first Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in sub-Saharan Africa, a gathering which provided a symbolic meeting of his own past with the emerging country’s present and future.

In his remarks to the summit, Obama took the opportunity to speak about the importance of harnessing technology to create “incredible opportunities”. He emphasised the role it will play in shaping the African continent in the coming years, just as we are witnessing now in the western world.

Social influence is key to good leadership, regardless of whether you are the president of the world’s largest economy, or the founder of a small start-up. Aside from the headline grabbing stories of his cultural immersion and buried hatchets between the heads of state, President Obama’s presence and rhetoric during his visit said much for the global entrepreneurial climate. Here are my own top five:

1. Entrepreneurialism is fed by connectivity

You might expect me to say this as a CEO of a telecoms company, but the credit Obama gave to high-speed connectivity should not be overlooked. “High-speed broadband and mobile connectivity are on the rise, unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of even more Kenyans,” he said. Indeed, more people globally have access to a mobile phone than they do a toothbrush or running water, and that is certainly feeding the entrepreneurial and startup phenomenon.

2. Entrepreneurialism levels the playing field of opportunity

Technology has made the world a smaller place and, as Obama was keen to point out, its rapid growth in countries such as Kenya is beneficial to the wider world and its economies. In turn, entrepreneurialism is thriving and enormously accessible. Individuals like Kenya’s Suzie Wokabi, who launched the trailblazing cosmetics brand, Suzie Beauty, have proved it is possible. Entrepreneurialism can help level the global playing field of opportunity, meaning regions of Africa and Asia are now biting at our ‘western’ heels. I expect to see further evidence of this during my representation of Telefonica at One Young World in Bangkok, and will muse here further in the run up to November’s event.

3. Entrepreneurialism is achievable

Despite revealing to the summit he “can’t text very fast”, Obama undeniably recognises the transformative power of technology and innovation. He repeatedly stressed how they can improve the lives of people globally and spur on a generation to achieve. Combine the ingredients of connectivity, aspiration and ambition, and entrepreneurialism becomes eminently achievable.

This is what led to the foundation of Wayra, Telefonica’s global accelerator, first established in Latin America and now across Europe and here in London. I am lucky enough to witness the level of achievement those elements make possible on an almost daily basis.

4. Entrepreneurialism is a young person’s dream

Echoing his own “Yes We Can” election sloganeering of seven years ago, Obama’s parting message to Kenya’s youth was “You can build your future right here, right now”. Much like our own belief at O2 and the philosophy of O2ThinkBig, he vowed that young people and their native digital skills are key to unlocking the world’s entrepreneurial potential. If you can dream it, you can do it.

Telefonica’s own global survey of the millennial generation, which captures the views of 6,700 young people aged 18-30 in 18 countries across the globe, proves that young people are positive about the future and willing to work hard to create a better society. They are engaged in the world and many are passionate about tackling major world issues including poverty (44%), corruption (36%), the economy (26%) and education (26%), often through the smart application of technology.

5. Entrepreneurialism is limitless

As I talked about in my blog back in March, this year’s Mobile World Congress mantra was the ‘Edge of Innovation – where the possibilities are endless’ – something not too dissimilar to O2’s own brand strategy in recent years. Obama’s pledge to the people of Kenya that there is “no limit to what you can achieve“, not only served to engender the global entrepreneurial spirit among the Kenyan people, but reminded us all that possibilities are endless in an ever-connected society.

Whether or not the American people, or indeed you, agree with his politics, it is hard not to be impressed, or feel inspired, by Obama’s qualities as a public speaker and vision-setter. I only hope his vision receives the backing required to make it a reality.