Speech by Minister Sigrid Kaag at plenary opening session of GES 2019

Speech by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag at the plenary opening session of GES 2019, World Forum, The Hague, 4 June 2019.

Your Majesty,

Your Royal Highness,

Your Excellencies Mr. Hoekstra, Ms. Chao, Mr. Moedas,

Ms Krikke,

Mr Smit,

distinguished guests,

Welcome to GES 2019.

I have to settle from that fantastic high tech show.

My name is Sigrid Kaag, and on behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands I am delighted to be your host and chair at this ninth edition of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit – together with the United States of America.

This two-day summit is the culmination of months of hard work by a top-quality team, together with our partner the US, the private sector, and yourselves from all walks of life – who’ve come from far and wide to attend.

And here we are: 2,000 participants from 170 countries. 1,200 entrepreneurs, 400 investors, 200 speakers. And that’s not even counting the many entrepreneurs, investors and knowledge institutions that have taken part in the numerous ‘Road to GES’ events held over the past few months. From Curaçao to Kansas. And now we’ve arrived at The World Forum in The Hague.

If one only looks around…. and realizes the power present in this room: collective brain power, purchasing power, networking power…. From knowledge institutions, investors, government officials, non-governmental organisations…. all present here to help ensure that we can create opportunities, generate transformation through business and solve problems…

If one only looks around… then we know that we have all the crucial parts of the ecosystem present to create a tech-tonic shift.

A TECH-tonic shift – that’s tech with a CH.

Because technology is a game changer, it can seriously speed up sustainable development for all - a true digital revolution. Of course, we do have to make sure it’s an inclusive, accessible and secure digital revolution.

We strive for a fair game – investing in conditions that allow us to benefit from the opportunities, never naïve, but also mitigate risks.

That’s the challenge before us. The more-than-full programme of this summit will help us getting there.

But before we get down to business, I’d like to mention two issues of broader relevance.


This edition of the GES is taking place against a backdrop of challenging global developments. On the world stage, big changes and tensions are afoot. We are not ignoring these. Geopolitics, or rather geo-economics are at the heart of our considerations.

One could wonder if such a context is conducive to a meeting like GES – an inverted trade mission, as I have called it before.

But the Netherlands and the US feel it’s exactly in this context that we should be holding this summit.

Geopolitics is about so much more than power relations between large blocs and groupings of countries.

It’s also about how we deal with the shift in economic and demographic balance. About how technology has changed all of our lives - offering us opportunities, but also creating new vulnerabilities. About reducing hunger and ensuring food security. About investing in clean water and affordable and accessible healthcare. It’s about the importance of upholding human rights, or the way we deal with flows of refugees fleeing oppressive governments.

Or the way we deal with climate change and safeguarding scarce resources like raw materials and water.

They’re all prime examples of cross-border problems that affect societies and their peoples.

Problems that no country can tackle alone. That no sector, country or individual can tackle alone.

And that’s also why we have an extensive system of international cooperation - to address those problems and challenges. A framework of rules and regulations that, provided everyone follows them, ensure predictability, stability, security and legal certainty.

In this connection, the Sustainable Development Goals – or SDGs guide our efforts. These 17 goals guide our efforts to keep the world liveable for everyone, now and in the future, in the face of growing populations and diminishing raw materials.

A framework that is good for peoples, but  - and this brings me to my second point: also good for business.

There’s business in the SDG’s, and the SDG’s are serious business.

That brings me to one of the goals of the GES as I see it: to tap into the enormous power of cross-sector cooperation.

To this audience, this may sounds like I am preaching to the choir: you all know there are sustainable business opportunities to be found in social and societal issues.

You all know, because you are doing it, that you can add value – working with partners from a range of sectors and still generate business. Often working in a helix fashion:

Academia, investors, government. Hackers, hipsters, hustlers. Brains, business, bureaucracy. All this is in the room to generate growth.

Of course, there are differences between us, but our strength lies in this cooperation. Work from divergence to consensus. And one thing is clear: we can’t do it without one another – SDG 17 tells us no less: partnerships are key.

Together, we’re already achieving great results; the examples are present here at GES.

We have, for example:

A world leader in microchip technology actively working to combat modern slavery.

A medical startup making complex operations more widely available thanks to robotic technology.

A company working with knowledge institutions to provide African farmers with solar powered equipment to monitor soil quality.

A company recycling carbon black from car tyres to make new products like dashboards and handrails.

That’s the TECH-tonic shift I spoke about just now!

It also shows: there are no zero-sum games when society is your next big client. That’s not just a slogan, it’s a fact.

We all know it, and it’s exactly what we’re going to show the world over the next two days.

What divides us makes headlines, but what unites us makes progress – measurable and meaningful!

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is proud to be hosting this conference with our valued partner, the United States of America. Like the US, we are a land of entrepreneurs; an ultimate ‘trading nation’. A country with a tradition of investing in international cooperation and in a rules-based order drawn from our common values. Gateway to Europe, and to the future. A country that seeks strength in cooperation. Open, inclusive and innovative.

I’m proud to say that ‘for global challenges, there’s always a Dutch solution!’.

And provided we keep harnessing the power of cooperation, we’re on the right path.

Let’s get to work. After all, that’s what you’re all here for. I look forward to seeing you again tomorrow, during the closing session.

Thank you.