Remarks by AIT Director Brent Christensen at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit

April 16, 2019
AIT Official Text #: OT-1922


(As Prepared for Delivery)

President Tsai, Chairwoman Johnson, Minister of Economic Affairs Shen, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu, Legislator Yu, distinguished speakers at today’s Summit, honorable guests, ladies and gentlemen, zao an!

It is great to see all of you here.  Before I begin, I wanted to share a story with you.  Just outside my office at AIT are the photos of all of the previous AIT Directors.  Ever since we started planning this Summit with our Taiwan partners, when I pass by these photos I cannot help but notice that, so far, all of the AIT Directors have been men.  I then frequently think to myself, “We’re going to have to change that.  One day soon, we need to have a woman AIT Director!”  But for now, I guess all of you are stuck with me.

Taiwan, of course, is inspiring the world with its first woman President!  Madame President, in my view, you are a role model not only here in Taiwan, but around the world.  The United States could not ask for a closer partner and friend.

It is a real pleasure to help kick off this important summit on women’s economic empowerment.  We have representatives from over fifteen countries gathered here today, as well as some of the world’s leading women in government, the private sector, civil society, and academia.  All of you are not only trailblazers, but role models for the rest of us.

As many of you know, this year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act and the creation of the American Institute in Taiwan.  We have in town this week twenty-five high-level current and former U.S. government officials to celebrate AIT’s birthday.  Yesterday, at our New Office Compound in Neihu President Tsai joined us for a ceremony to celebrate the last 40 years of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.  Today, at this summit, we are looking at the next 40 years of our relationship!

The United States government recently launched the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity, or W-GDP Initiative.  This large-scale effort is based on a very simple premise:  empowering women is critical not only to economic prosperity, but to global peace.

Research from the World Bank makes clear that the more women are excluded from the economy, the more likely that country will be involved in conflict and will respond to a threat with immediate violence.  But when women are empowered, they bring national stability.  It is for this reason that the United States National Security Strategy recognizes the critical role of women in achieving global peace and prosperity.  From our experience in the United States, and of course here in Taiwan, I can state unequivocally that empowering women is not just about social equality, it is smart economics and smart geopolitics.

To highlight the importance of women entrepreneurship in particular, last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India brought together close to 1,500 of the world’s top women entrepreneurs, and today’s summit is the only event in East Asia to mark the road to this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in the Netherlands.  Taiwan has been one of the world’s most active participants in promoting global entrepreneurship, including by co-hosting with us last November the Global Entrepreneurship Congress dedicated to using artificial intelligence and technology for social good.

Taiwan is a leader in East Asia when it comes to empowering women, and we are proud to call it one of our closest partners in this important area.  In APEC, the United States and Taiwan work together to empower women throughout the Asia Pacific region.  The United States Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Taiwan development authorities are working together to ensure our development projects put women first.  Today’s summit launches a multi-day workshop this week under the Global Cooperation and Training Framework on women’s economic empowerment for public and private sectors participants from throughout the region.  And this summit is taking place as part of the Small and Medium Enterprise Work Plan between the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Taiwan authorities, under the auspices of AIT and our counterpart organization in Washington, TECRO.

But we don’t want to stop there.  That is why I am very pleased to announce today for the first time two new initiatives we are launching with our public and private sector partners from Taiwan, both of which will make empowering women a central priority.

The first initiative is called StartOpps.  This is a joint project between the State Department’s Office of Global Partnerships, USAID, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, multiple Taiwan ministries, Legislator Karen Yu’s office, and the private sector on both sides, including Taiwan’s AppWorks and Meet Taipei.  The goal of StartOpps is simple:  with Taiwan, we want to “go south together.”  Taiwan is quickly emerging as a gateway into Southeast Asia, which has the fastest growing digital economy of anywhere in the world.  Through StartOpps we hope to integrate the innovative startup ecosystems of the United States, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia while empowering women entrepreneurs everywhere.

The second initiative is called the Talent Circulation Alliance.  Much of Taiwan’s industry was established by young people going to study and work in the United States.  These talented individuals then came back to Taiwan to found or work for some of Taiwan’s most successful global companies.  The Talent Circulation Alliance seeks to recreate this story for the digital age.  The answer to the challenge of brain drain is clear:  promote brain circulation among like-minded economies.  We intend to work together with the public and private sectors, academia, research labs, non-governmental organizations, and others to facilitate a steady flow of circulation of talent between all of our economies.  The circulation of talent between Taiwan and its like-minded partners will create the connective tissue to ensure its future always remains closely tied with the free and open Indo-Pacific.

We look forward to working closely with our Taiwan partners to deepen our cooperation aimed at empowering women around the world.  As I have said over these last few days, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is constantly growing and evolving, and has never been more important.  One of the main reasons for this is all of the great work we are doing together for women.

In closing, I would like to thank not just the President, her ministers, and other high-ranking officials who usually get all of the credit for events such as this, but to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of the unsung heroines at the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Small and Medium Enterprise Administration, the Taiwan Design Center, the Taiwan Academy of Banking and Finance, the Sun Yat-Sen Education Foundation, and of course AIT who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to put this event together.  Without their often invisible work, none of us would be here today.

So instead of clapping for me, can we give them all a big round of applause?

Thank you!