U.S. Ambassador Thorne Remarks at the Digital Economy Forum in Venice
Venice, May 10, 2012
[The Digital Economy Forum is an Embassy-sponsored initiative but also supported by companies and other institutions. It aims to catalyze innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Ambassador Thorne envisions The Digital Economy Forum as another pillar of strength in the relationship between U.S and Italy. International exchanges between Italian and U.S. organizations, as well as from the rest of Europe, promote digital culture that in turn can contribute to market access and transparency that will create a more “level playing field” for trade, commerce and governance.]
Benvenuti al Digital Economy Forum! This is the second Forum we have organized here in Venice, and we learned last year that this is a unique event in Italy’s digital landscape. I would like to thank President Baratta and his staff at the Biennale for hosting us again this year. It is a delight to see so many of you here. And I am especially pleased that Minister Passera and Minister Profumo are joining us today. The Ministers’ presence and yours attest to the importance of the digital world for the future of Italy.
In the U.S., we have no doubt that much of the current and future strength of our economy will depend on growth and innovation stemming from digital technologies. These technologies also go beyond the business world and have penetrated deeply into American politics, entertainment, and culture.
Today’s conference is focused on how the strategic use of online content can help companies expand their markets. I’ve decided, though, to leave the online content discussion to our expert speakers – many of whom are less than half my age. I can’t decide whether I’m getting older or our speakers just keep getting younger! Which leads me to my point: investing in young people.
Many of the founders of some of the great tech companies launched their businesses at quite a young age. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were 27 and 28 when they founded Hewlett Packard in their one-car garage. Steve Wozniak was 27 when he quit HP to co-found Apple with Steve Jobs, who was then 21. Airbnb was co-founded by a 28-year-old Brian Chesky. I’m sure many of you have heard of a small but valuable company called Instagram – its co-founders are in their 20s. And here in Italy, Venere, Yoox, Dada and Vitaminic all had founders in their 20s and 30s.
The young tend to be less constrained by norms and traditional ways of doing things. Lack of experience can translate into more flexible thinking and openness to different ideas – skills necessary to innovation.
This is not to say that older entrepreneurs aren’t also an asset to any economy. A study from Singularity University in Silicon Valley revealed that twice as many entrepreneurs were over 50 as were under 25. But there is one thing these older entrepreneurs have in common. When they were younger, they worked at companies that let them gain valuable experience, take on responsibility, and create networks of contacts – all elements that helped them eventually launch successful startups. Or some entrepreneurs, like Mark Pincus the founder of Zynga, started launching startups in their 20s. Zynga is Pincus’ third startup and without a doubt his most successful – built upon the experiences he had in his youth.
In the U.S., as in Italy, young people currently face record unemployment. So earlier this year, the White House announced a public-private partnership to provide work experience and job opportunities for low-income and disadvantaged youth. The goal is to provide 100,000 paid jobs and internships for young people this summer. As part of this partnership, the Department of Labor will be launching a Summer Jobs Bank, an online tool to connect youth to summer jobs, internships, and mentoring programs in their area. This search tool is being created in collaboration with Google, Internships.com, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Several companies have already announced their commitments to this program: Bank of America is supporting 1500 paid internships; Gap, a popular clothing store, is helping 80,000 young people find work experience; Starbucks Coffee will provide hands-on experience for 5,000 and place another 20,000 youth in organizations to obtain job skills. Also, several U.S. Government agencies are offering young people tens of thousands of work opportunities ranging from agriculture to health care to natural resources management. Working together the public and the private sector are trying to ensure young people get the valuable work experience they and our economy need.
These types of opportunities are crucial to helping young people develop practical skills and create networks of contacts that will prove useful in their career. Networking these days often takes place via social media, but those contacts developed through working with colleagues remain invaluable.
As the father of two kids in their 20s who are confronting the reality of finding jobs, I know all too well how important it is to give youth a chance – to prove themselves, to gain experience, to understand what they want to do and, just as importantly, what they do not want to do. Without these chances, it is difficult to gain real experience and to nurture a sense of discovery. Internships and summer employment give kids and college students a sense of achievement in the real world.
Young people are an asset – unemployed youth represent missed opportunities. In order to learn and grow, they need to be invested in and to be allowed to take risks, and sometimes to also fail. They need mentorship.
The corollaries to investing in youth are creating meritocracy and increased flexibility in the labor market. These take time, but without them, the young will always be disadvantaged. And we can’t afford not to invest in our youth and in our futures.
I encourage all of you to take advantage of these two days to develop your networks and your opportunities. Both Italy and the United States depend on the skills and enterprise of people like you!
Now I would like to invite Minister Passera to say a few words.