THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release February 5, 1999 2:20 P.M. EST
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND THE FIRST LADY
AT MICROENTERPRISE EVENT
The East Room
MRS. CLINTON: Welcome and please be seated. The President and I are delighted to have you all here for the second presentation of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Microenterprise Development.
Each of today's awardees is showing the power of microenterprise, the power to transform welfare checks to paychecks, poverty to economic growth and income, despair to hope. Later in the program we'll hear from Carol Willoughby, who will tell us how her life and family was forever changed by microenterprise.
I had the chance to see Carol's work firsthand at a speech I gave last April at a microenterprise meeting. She had made the banners hanging behind the podium -- or, rather, I should say, her company had made them because with opportunity and hard work, that's what she has created, a thriving business. And the name of that company, as you've heard, appropriately enough, is Let The Whole World Know.
Well, when it came time to pick someone to participate in this program, it was a very difficult choice because the stories from all of these award winners are going to really warm your heart and make you understand our commitment to microenterprise. But Let The Whole World Know really sounded a theme that we wanted to make sure could be sounded here.
There are many people in this room who have worked for years to make this day possible, and I want to recognize and thank them, starting with Secretary Rubin, who has led the Treasury in exemplary ways at the micro level, but also understood the importance of the micro, as well as the macro. And so I'm grateful to him and the work that's been done at the Treasury Department.
Senator Don Riegle, I believe is here -- former Senator -- and Don, thank you for the work you did in championing the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund while you were in the Senate. And there are other members of Congress I want to thank: Senator Harkin, Senator Kennedy, Senator Wellstone, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congressman Oberstar.
And as well as our officials from the Congress, we also have the Lieutenant Governor of Iowa, Sally Peterson, and a number of the agency heads who are responsible for the government's microenterprise program, starting with USAID Administrator Brian Atwood, as well as the Deputy Administrator, Hattie Babbitt; Small Business Administrator Aida Alvarez; CDFI Director Ellen Lazar; the Director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling; Mary Ellen Withrow, the Treasurer of the United States; and a former OMB Director who was on the team for microenterprise, Frank Raines.
I want to thank all of you, and the people you work with, for the extraordinary job you have done.
You know, many of us have heard about microenterprise over a number of years. Bill and I were trying to determine when we had heard about it -- and as we get older it seems harder to remember. (Laughter.) We think it was somewhere in the early '80s, somewhere between '84 and '86. And we had heard about this because it was an idea that had been transplanted from Bangladesh to the South Shore Bank in Chicago, a place that I am very familiar with. And I was very anxious to learn more about how microenterprise was transforming both rural areas, among some of the poorest people on our planet, and urban areas in our own city.
I have been, now, around our country and around the world, meeting with people who are the recipients of microenterprise awards. And I have been just struck, time and time again, by the heroic stories that they tell. I'll never forget the look of pride on the face of a woman I met from Guatemala, who told me that with the help of a small loan, she had gone from being a mango seller on the streets to owning a market stall, and eventually running a small business with 15 employees. So from the time she had started on the streets selling mangoes, to the age of 12, she had had a long, hard effort of a lot of work, but it paid off. And she told me with great pride that she was sending her son to college in the United States.
In Western India, I walked into a women's bank, which had only one room and the teller's counter was an old kitchen table and bank clerks transcribed all of the recorded transactions by hand on yellow sheets of paper. But while I was there I met women who walked 12 to 15 hours from remote villages to take out loans -- some as small as $1, to invest in dairy cows, plows or goods to sell at market. These women were among some of the poorest and least educated of all Indians. But their loan repayment rate was nearly 100 percent, and they told me what they had done with their loans and how that had transformed their lives, enabling them to give their children better housing, health care and other opportunities.
I was also very pleased last year in Africa when I accompanied the President and the President of the Uganda to a microenterprise site in a village some distance from the capital of Kampala. I don't think that a head of state had ever visited a village site of a microenterprise group, and I know that two heads of state at the same time have never done that. (Laughter.) And I was delighted that both the President and President Museveni had the same reaction that I always have -- a great deal of interest and a great deal of pride in what they were hearing on behalf of the people who were telling their stories.
But microenterprise had not only transformed lives abroad, they are transforming lives right here at home. I remember visiting the Mi Casa Microlending Program in Denver and speaking to a group of women who told me about how they had had good ideas, but they couldn't get any capital anywhere. One woman memorably remarked, you know, a lot of good ideas die in the parking lots of banks. (Laughter.) She said, you know, I knew I was a good baker, I knew I could open a bakery, I knew I could employ people -- but I didn't have any collateral and the amount of money that I wanted was below the lending limit of the bank. Well, thanks to microenterprise, she was doing what she had dreamed of.
The origin of these awards go back to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, when I pledged on behalf of the President and the administration a commitment to spread microenterprise and microlending through our nations; and also to have these awards, as well. We've now seen the fruits of that effort, from one end of our country to the other and you're going to hear about some of the exemplary programs in just a few minutes.
I believe that this is part of the President's strong initiative to try to bring free enterprise and capital development to those parts of our country that are still left out. You know, we've done extraordinarily well thanks to the leadership of the President and the Secretary of Treasury and the others in the administration.
But we still have a ways to go in some of our inner- city neighborhoods in some of our rural areas, and in some of our Indian communities, particularly. So what we're trying to do is to say we want a multi-pronged strategy to provide economic opportunity to every American willing to work hard to achieve it on his or her behalf.
And no one understands the importance of the free enterprise system, and the need for us to spread its benefits to every American, than someone who has worked tirelessly over the past years to ensure that every American would have an opportunity to be successful. And it is my great honor and personal privilege to introduce to you the Secretary of the Treasury, Bob Rubin. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Carol, you better watch it, before you know it you'll be running for office. (Laughter.) What a remarkable statement thank you so much.
I'd like to take a little -- a few moments more than I normally would by way of introduction today. Hillary and I and Bob Rubin are real happy today, because this is one of the things that I ran for President to do. To see these stories, to see the spirit, and to see the potential.
I want to thank Secretary Rubin. You know, I used to tell a joke about Bob Rubin. He's been here a long time now, and he left this fabulous career on Wall Street. And I used to tell everybody that I asked Bob Rubin to come to Washington in 1993 to help me save the middle class, and by the time he leaves he'll be one of them. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RUBIN: That always seems a lot funnier to you, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I don't know how much it's cost him to stay here these six years, but one of the reasons that I really wanted him to come is that when we -- even in the beginning, when we began talking about these matters in '92, he always said, you know, I'd like to get the economy going again and working again, and then we could maybe really do something for poor people in this country. Maybe we could really bring the spirit of enterprise to all these places that have been left behind.
I don't know how many Secretaries of the Treasury in our country's history have ever had that sort of driving passion. But I know we had one, and he's done a magnificent job. And I'm very grateful to him. (Applause.)
I want to thank Senator Harkin, Senator Kennedy, Senator Wellstone, Congressman Oberstar, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton for supporting this economic vision so strongly. I thank former Senator Riegle, who is here, who was the committee chairman who helped us to make this a critical part, this whole microenterprise, a critical part of our economic strategy way back in 1993.
I welcome Lieutenant Governor Sally Peterson from Iowa; we're delighted to have her here with her honorees. I want to thank our former OMB Director, Frank Raines; Mary Ellen Withrow, our Treasurer; Ellen Lazar and others who have supported our efforts here. A special word of thanks to Aida Alvarez and Betsy Myers and all the other members of her team from SBA who are here. And to Brian Atwood and Hattie Babbitt and the others from AID -- I believe that under our administration we funded 2 million of these small microenterprise loans, from Africa to Asia to Latin America, last year.
There's one group of people who have not been acknowledged -- and Hillary and I were talking about it -- who were out there ahead of the federal government for years, without whom microenterprise never would have really taken off in America, and that's all the members of the foundation community. I'd like to -- all the representatives of the foundations that are here that have supported microenterprise lending, I'd like to ask you to stand, please, and be acknowledged. Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
And I'll say more about this in a minute, but this whole issue has been a passion for the First Lady for, as she said, about 15 years. We had a friend who was working at the South Shore Bank in Chicago, which had a microenterprise loan program. We went there, we saw what they were doing.
Then in 1984 I was able to meet, here in Washington -- I was here at a governor's meeting, I'll never forget it. I got up early one morning and had breakfast with Muhammad Yunus, who had been trained as an economist in the United States and then gone to Bangladesh and set up the Grameen Bank. Hundreds of thousands of loans had been made -- market interest rates -- very tiny loans, almost all to poor village women. The repayment rate was better than the commercial banks in Bangladesh, and it changed my thinking about this forever.
And then Hillary scrounged up some foundation money, and other money, and I squeezed some out of the Arkansas legislature and we started a development bank with a microenterprise program in Arkansas. And after I became President, she literally has gone all across the world. She's been in small villages on every continent, where people like her never go.
And I should tell the rest of the story because I don't think President Museveni would object. I have the highest regard for the President of Uganda. He's one of the most intelligent and effective leaders of any developing country anywhere in the world. But when we were walking on this little rocky pathway into this village to see all these village women who now had their own businesses, he looked at me and he said, that's some wife you've got. He said, until you showed up here I didn't even know we had these programs in our country. (Laughter.)
So, without her we probably wouldn't be here today. And I'm very, very grateful for everything that Hillary has done to champion this cause. (Applause.)
I also want to say a word of appreciation to Carol and all the other small business owners here. It takes a lot of courage to run a small business. Hillary and I have talked about this a lot -- she talked to me about one time when she was a high school girl she worked in a small business in her home town, and there were days when no one came in. Every day, if you open a small business, you feel like politicians feel on election day. (Laughter.)
I'll never forget -- I can't remember, one of the great old Hollywood moguls said, you know, if you make a bad movie, the people will stay away and you cannot stop them. (Laughter.) Which I think is a great -- so I want to thank all of you for having the spirit of enterprise and the vision and the courage.
This whole country is basically built by entrepreneurs, whether they're in Silicon Valley or young investment bankers in Manhattan or people running the street-vending operations out here for the tourists in Washington. The genius of actually being able to have an idea and act on it, and having people respond to it and invest in it and be your customers and, as Carol said, in a way validate your ideas, your character and your hard work, it's the whole secret of America.
And because of the strength of our economy, I believe we have an obligation to give that opportunity to everyone. Just this morning we learned that what is now the longest peacetime expansion in American history has grown longer. Last month our economy created nearly another quarter-million jobs, and unemployment stayed at 4.3 percent. That's the lowest peacetime rate since 1957. Wages now rising at over twice the rate of inflation; again, unemployment rates among Hispanic and African Americans dropped to their lowest recorded levels ever.
Now, if we cannot expand opportunity into every corner of America now, we will never get around to it. We have an obligation now to spread the spirit and the opportunity for enterprise to all the American people. As you've heard from others, we've been working on this for six years now -- working to bring opportunities to some of our most distressed communities, with an agenda of empowerment. That's what we celebrate here. Not a hand out, a hand up. This microenterprise program is the embodiment of empowerment.
We know -- and I was so glad to hear what Carol said about self-esteem, because sometimes a crisis of economic distress is a crisis of the spirit as well; a shortage of confidence that is just as debilitating as a shortage of cash. And these stories today -- I want all of you to imagine not only the economic success, but what it has done to these people's lives. There are stories like this all over America and all over the world.
What does it mean to a single mom's life when she goes to the mailbox in the morning and sees a bank statement instead of a welfare check? What does it mean to a child when he or she can go to school and say, when they ask, "What does your mother do for a living?" -- she owns a beauty shop? What does it mean to a neighborhood when, all of a sudden, an old building that has been vacant for 10 years has a "help wanted" sign out in front of it?
This is about more than economics. And through our network of community development banks -- or CDFIs, as we call them, community development financial institutions -- through the strengthened and streamlined Community Reinvestment Act -- and I will say that even though that act has been on the books for more than 20 years now, 95 percent of all the investment under Community Reinvestment has been done in the last six years, in our administration. And I'm proud of that. (Applause.) And the banks are doing quite well. (Laughter.) They're doing well by doing good. And it's important to remember as the debate develops this year about that. And through these empowerment zones, we've seen the steady expansion of opportunity.
Last month, as the Secretary said, I announced this new markets initiative, to spur even more private investment in under-served areas. And we want to reach -- building a bridge from Wall Street to Harlem to Appalachia, to the Mississippi Delta, to South Texas, to Pine Ridge, South Dakota -- everywhere there are opportunities still untapped.
Today I am proud to announce that, as a part of our budget, we would more than double our support for microenterprise in America. We would continue our -- (applause) -- thank you.
We also want to continue our efforts to promote microenterprise abroad, especially in the nations that have been hardest hit by the global financial crisis, or by our neighbors hit by natural disasters. And I think that is very important, because we are giving courage and awareness to other governments, and other countries, to do more for their own people in this regard.
First, we recognize that, for the vast majority of micro-entrepreneurs, good ideas and credit are just the beginning. A little guidance -- lessons on accounting, billing, planning -- those things are essential for any business to thrive in a complex economy. The budget doubles the Small Business Administration's capacity to provide such training through its micro-loan program, triples support for SBA's one-stop capital shops, which offer micro-lending advice and other assistance in disadvantaged communities. I'm also proud to support the bipartisan program for investments in micro-entrepreneurs -- the PRIME Act, sponsored by Senator Kennedy and Senator Domenici from New Mexico, Representatives -- (applause) -- and Representatives Rush, Leach and LaFalce, so that we can expand our technical assistance through the Treasury's CDFI fund.
Second, we want to make even more credit available to low-income Americans with good business ideas. That's why I'm proposing to leverage more than $75 million in new loans by doubling our support for the SBA's micro-loan program. (Applause.)
Third, we want to keep encouraging Americans to save some of their own hard-earned money, to start or expand businesses. Last year, I was proud to sign new individual development accounts into law, fulfilling a campaign pledge from 1992, and thanks in no small measure to the leadership of Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa and former Senator Dan Coats from Indiana. We thank you very much, Senators, for that. Thank you. (Applause.)
For those of you who don't know, these individual development accounts -- IDAs -- are special accounts that provide federal matching funds to low-income Americans who save money to invest in their business, buy a first home, pay for a college education. I want to double support for these accounts in our budget.
Next, we will continue to lead the world through USAID to promote microenterprise for millions of families to get out of poverty in other countries. The recent local financial crisis and the hurricanes in Central America and the Caribbean have literally upended the lives of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people. As you have heard from the First Lady's account, we have seen firsthand how these loans -- sometimes in other countries loans as small at $10, $15, $25, $50 can make all the difference in helping families to get back on their feet.
Our balanced budget will target extra microenterprise assistance to the countries that are in trouble. And to break down the bureaucratic walls that block microenterprise in some developing countries, we'll continue to work with the World Bank and other financial institutions to reform the regulatory structures so we can make more of these loans available. There is a virtually unlimited potential abroad and at home for this, and I keep hoping if we just keep pushing and keep pushing and keep pushing we will reach a critical mass of investment which will explode it and let the whole world know that this works. (Applause.)
And this ceremony today is a part of letting the whole world know. So we come here not only to honor you with these Presidential Awards for Excellence in Microenterprise, but to say to the world that these six organizations whose vision and commitment have made such a profound difference in the lives of the business owners, their employees and their customers are but a small beginning of what we could achieve together in the United States and throughout the world if we work harder to make the economy work for ordinary citizens.
And so this, too, is a part of letting the whole world know. And when you come up here and get your awards I hope that you will not only feel enormous pride, I hope that you will not only feel an enormous sense of rededication to further success, I hope you will feel that you are sending a message to people who will see this all over America, or read about it in their newspapers. And you may be sparking someone else's conviction either that, A, they ought to set up one of these funds, or B, they ought to find one and get a loan.
And I believe that we will continue to see the steady march of progress here. This has the potential to revolutionize not only the lives of ordinary Americans, but the whole way we organize our economy here and around the world.
So, first: For excellence in the category of Access to Capital, the Microcredit Industry Rural Organization. Since 1987, MICRO has provided some $5.5 million in loans to more than 1,000 entrepreneurs living in rural Arizona's poorest Hispanic communities. Accepting this award is Executive Director Frank Ballesteros, and entrepreneur Maria Jesus Gaxiola, a former migrant farm worker who used a $1,500 loan to build her own cosmetics business -- and I might say, she's a remarkable walking advertisement for her success. (Laughter.) Please come up here. (Applause.)
Next, for excellence in Developing Entrepreneurial Skills, the Detroit Entrepreneurship Institute. Founded at Wayne State University, the Institute has worked to teach low-income clients the full range of business skills. Clients can also take advantage of a free computer center, a tax preparation service, and graphic design department to help launch and expand their businesses. Accepting this award is Cathy McClelland, the President and CEO; and Jackie Tucker, who started a successful catering business after training at the Institute. I'd like to ask them to come up now. (Applause.)
Also for excellence in Developing Entrepreneurial Skills, the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund of Virginia, Minnesota. (Laughter.) In the Iron Range, north of Duluth. Serving rural communities throughout a 20,000 square mile area, the Fund offers one-on-one counseling to clients, helping them to tailor their studies to specific needs. Accepting this award is the Fund's President, Mary Mathews; and our star speaker today -- (laughter) -- Carol Willoughby. (Applause.)
For excellence in Poverty Alleviation, the Institute for Social and Economic Development of Iowa. One of the earliest statewide microenterprise efforts in the nation, the Institute -- listen to this -- has helped 90 percent of its welfare clients free themselves from lives of dependency through self-employment.
Accepting this award today is John Else, founder and president; and entrepreneur Rhonda Auten, a former welfare recipient who started her own dance school with help from ISED. (Applause.)
(The award was presented.)
For excellence in private support for microenterprise development, the Corporation for Enterprise Development. For two decades -- through research, public advocacy and technical assistance to microenterprise organizations -- the Corporation has fostered so much of the progress we see today, including the success of three of this year's award winners. We are all -- including all of us in this administration -- profoundly indebted to the awardee, the Corporation, and its founder and chairman, Mr. Robert Friedman. (Applause.)
(The award was presented.)
For excellence in public support for microenterprise development, the Montana Microbusiness Finance Program. As part of the Montana Department of Commerce, this program has helped to launch or sustain a dozen microlending organizations serving communities throughout that vast and beautiful state. Accepting this award are program officer Robyn Hampton and entrepreneurs Kevin and Heidi Snyder, who used a microloan to start their racquetball and fitness centers. They are two walking advertisements for what they're doing, as you can see. (Laughter.) Come on up. (Applause.)
(The award was presented.)
Now, don't you feel better than you did when you got up this morning? (Laughter.) Isn't this great?
Henry Ford -- a small entrepreneur -- once said that the best Americans were those with "an infinite capacity to not know what can't be done." We honor today those kinds of Americans -- testaments to the power of enterprise, and the strength of the human spirit.
I ask you to leave here committed to work in the years ahead to bring this spirit, and this opportunity, to every corner of every community in our land and on our globe.
Thank you very much, and God bless you. (Applause.)