Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship: Obama’s New Diplomacy

The United States is continuing to revise its relations with the Islamic world. On Tuesday, 27 April 2010, President Barack Obama opened a 'Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.' The participants in this forum were business leaders and social entrepreneurs from the United States and from countries with majority Muslim populations.

From Indonesia nine persons participated, one of whom was Tri Mumpuni. In fact, Tri Mumpuni was one of eight people who was singled out for praise at the forum, which was attended by representatives from 60 countries. Other representatives from Indonesia included Sandiago Uno, Vice Chairperson of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, and Putera Sampoerna, former owner of the cigarette company Sampoerna.

New US Approach
This is a new approach being taken by the United States after the tragedy of the 9/11. The president dubbed this approach 'new partnerships.' The attempt can be advantageous for both sides. However, if Indonesia and other nations with a majority Muslim population do not make use of this opportunity, it could turn out otherwise. In any case, we should appreciate this initiative. We hope that the follow-up meeting in Turkey will yield a concrete result.

Up to now, attempts to lessen the tension between the United States and the Muslim world have only been approached from the perspective of security and politics, including developing inter-faith dialogue. This has taken place at the level of governments, nations and civil society in bilateral, regional and multilateral programs. Now, the United States is trying something new by bringing together business entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs at the same time and carrying it out at the civil society level. Thereby Obama is clearly offering to entrepreneurs of Muslim-majority countries an opportunity for business development. Although the level of trade between the United States and the Islamic world continues to grow, it is still only at the level of trade between the United States and Mexico.

Suspicion and Misunderstanding
However, the involvement of social entrepreneurs gives the initiative a wider dimension, because it means dealing with matters of communications, culture and social development. It is at this entry point that the United States wants to try to enter into the heart of an entity. Social entrepreneurs are very valuable for the development of the US values. Meanwhile, the final goal of all this is the lessening of tensions and the elimination of suspicion and misunderstanding. At this dimension we need to be clever enough to make the opportunity yield advantages that are balanced. At a certain level, the United States has to restrain itself from being offensive and when necessary empower its partners if they are still weak. At another level, the United States also has to be careful in choosing its partners. Only the right partners can support us to reach the goal.

We have seen that as a result of choosing the wrong partner, American aid to Indonesian society can in fact increase antipathy to the superpower. This is certainly an irony. Not only a flawed strategy, but the choice of the wrong partner can result in failure. If the local partner is only an opportunist who cannot truly understand the country's issues, at a certain point they will only become a receptacle for receiving charitable funds. Therefore, it is necessary to choose a partner appropriate to the social and economic map, not a partner who is uprooted from their origins, nor a partner who is incapable of fully understanding the feelings of the people.

Reducing Tension in Muslim World
In another perspective, the government must make use of this American initiative for the advancement of the Muslim community. If we examine the substance of Obama's new diplomacy, we will find an understanding and a determination to examine the tense relations between the United States and the Muslim world from the social and economic points of view, not only as a matter of religion. Also, a determination not only to see things from above, but also from the grassroots level.

On one hand, there are poverty, ignorance and backwardness. Therefore, tensions between these countries and the United States shouldn't be approached with weapons or by making an issue of religious values. On the other, here is an attempt at achieving equality through jointly sharing and learning together.

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