American Internships Play A Key Role In Helping Women Entrepreneurs

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Dr. Jennifer Clinton CEO of Cultural Vistas
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Janai Kavarana grew up in India but she learned essential business skills in America. She came to the United States to intern at a company in New York City. When she returned to India she was able to start her own business.

Last month in Hyderabad, India hundreds of entrepreneurs and investors gathered at the White House-sponsored Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which this year focused on helping women like Janai. Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter led the U.S. delegation and high-level conversations around what more can be done to help young women entrepreneurs.

As an organization dedicated to forging new connections around the globe, we embrace the goals of the summit. We applaud the Trump Administration and its partner, the government of India, for promoting innovation and creating new job opportunities for women and for all entrepreneurs. Nowhere the entrepreneurial flame burn brighter, especially for women, than here in the United States. To truly succeed, the summit needs to translate energy into enhanced efforts by American businesses to support the entrepreneurial aspirations of young women from around the world.

One clear way to capture that momentum is by supporting professional internships and training for emerging women entrepreneurs through the existing J-1 non-immigrant visa program. These temporary visas allow tens of thousands of foreigners to learn American values and business skills. They then take these American business skills to back to their own countries where the benefits are magnified, reshaping workplaces and economies.

“I am learning how startups function and grow, I am learning how to make business decisions, I am learning how to strategize and position the company — skills I could not have learned this quickly anywhere else,” Jenai said during her internship experience. Those skills helped her create a new design agency in Mumbai, India.

The internships are a two-way street. American businesses, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, benefit from access to important international insights. They build their global brands and expand their access to new markets. Interns exposed to American products and services regularly reach back for them when they’ve returned home.

Every year more than 20,000 young professionals come to the United States for these internships and training programs that can last from a few weeks to several months. These fully vetted participants get visas only for temporary stays under the J-1 program, which is administered by the U.S. State Department.

Young women like Jenai don’t always have access to business and entrepreneurial training programs in their home countries. Even where they do, many barriers remain. An immersion in American entrepreneurship enables them to see firsthand the skills necessary to succeed in business, to gain the confidence to pursue their dreams, along with access to vital US-based resources and relationships. Women often aren’t afforded the same opportunities and mentors in their home countries. They emerge from the internship programs in the United States armed with critical new skills and business insights. More importantly, perhaps, they gain a sense of empowerment that increases the odds of success when they start their own businesses back home.

At the same time, the American companies benefit from temporary access to some of the top minds from around the world. They learn new perspectives on innovations and products. And they get first hand insights into the new markets.

The benefits are long-term. Foreign business leaders who understand and appreciate American business skills are better customers for U.S. firms doing business overseas. More foreign business leaders with American business skills means American business sells more overseas. That leads to more jobs here in the United States.

These programs, which do not cost the taxpayers a penny, break down harmful gender stereotypes for male and female participants. As we have seen so clearly in recent months, more equity and even safety for women in the workplace requires men to be involved. Bringing young businessmen from countries that are not adequately addressing these issues to the American workplace can help make progress.

That is why this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit’s emphasis on women is so important. But, it must be more than spectacles and speeches. We must expand the existing tools we have to empower women entrepreneurs around the world. The U.S. Government can and should lead that effort. Yet, more American businesses ought to open their doors to these young women. Many companies say they are committed to expanding opportunities for women around the world. But, that work can and should start in their own offices.

I know how valuable internships and mentors here in America was in my career. The question being asked after the Global Entrepreneurship Summit is what more can be done to support women entrepreneurs around the world? Governments and businesses rolled out new initiatives with fancy names. Yet, a simple solution is to just look back to that transformative experience so many of us enjoyed early on in our own lives. For women like Jenai and hundreds of thousands of others, it made a critical difference.

Dr. Jennifer Clinton is CEO of the Cultural Vistas, one of the largest international exchange organizations in the world.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.