Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks at the American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo Charity Dinner Gala

Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks at the American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo Charity Dinner Gala, December 9, 2022

( As Prepared )
It’s a pleasure to be with you this evening.

I want to recognize the organizers of this Charity Gala for their efforts to raise funds to support the AmCham Foundation.

Thank you to the Board of Governors, including President Rudi, and Executive Director Zeka – and to all who donated to these laudable fundraising goals.
Through these efforts, you are prioritizing giving back to the community, most notably through assistance to educational, social, and health initiatives to improve peoples’ lives here in Kosovo.

As members of Kosovo’s private sector, you play a vital role in addressing three of Kosovo’s key challenges: energy diversification, inclusive economic empowerment, and rule of law.

These are challenges – but I think we can also look at them as opportunities. At the U.S. Embassy, we see them as priorities to tackle together.
To achieve our shared goals, we need continued and robust engagement by the private sector, government, and citizens to find solutions.

So tonight, I’d like to spend a bit of time highlighting how our collective efforts are helping to advance our goals in these areas.

A few years ago, my team conducted a study that found that the lack of reliable energy in Kosovo costs businesses here about 335 million Euros annually.
That number has probably only increased in the intervening years. That’s where you come in.

As Kosovo – and Europe – face a dire energy crisis, exacerbated by Putin’s unjust invasion of Ukraine, we are focused on supporting Kosovan efforts to improve its energy security.

To this end, we are engaging across the country’s energy sector. Through USAID, we focus on making the enabling environment for private sector investments in renewable energy easier, strengthening Kosovo’s integration into regional energy markets, and helping to improve energy sector governance.

I recognize that many of you have already started investing in solar – we think Kosovo is ready for more. Investing in Kosovo makes sense. The country has clear geographic advantages and is a crucial piece to a fully interconnected regional energy grid.

Strengthening Kosovo’s energy options would serve not only Kosovo, but the broader region.

But we still need to improve Kosovo’s energy infrastructure – something my team at the Millennium Challenge Corporation is focused on.
MCC’s investments include battery storage that will increase flexibility of the network and enhance energy security by facilitating a transition to renewable energy.

We are also investing in creating new training pathways that will support Kosovo’s energy transition by providing the skills that employers demand in the energy sector.

The program also aims to increase women’s representation in the energy sector by promoting gender-equitable practices within companies, training opportunities for women, and assistance to energy sector employers.

Our emphasis on women’s economic empowerment is strong across our programs in Kosovo.

I believe strongly that the full participation of women is fundamental to building and sustaining a vibrant, inclusive democracy.

We all have a moral responsibility to champion diversity and inclusion wherever and however we can.

The AmCham sends a powerful, visible message with Afrore Rudi from Deloitte serving as the first woman President of the Board of Governors in AmCham’s eighteen-year existence – and Jeta Zagragja serving as Secretary General.

And in the local elections in the fall of 2021, we saw more than 60 percent of women elected without reliance on a quota – quite impressive.

Still, there is a lot of work to be done.

Whether it is on corporate boards, governmental councils or in political parties, it is not hard to imagine a table of decision makers that is still predominantly – or even exclusively – men.

It is so common that men drastically outnumber women that, frankly, we often don’t even notice.

Such disproportionate representation means that men not only form consensus on final decisions, they have an outsized influence on which decisions are discussed in the first place.

This kind of imbalance is out of step with our values. Diversifying the body of decision makers is crucial to making sure we don’t miss key inputs and solutions that will make us all better.

Inclusive decision-making allows more issues and perspectives to be part of discourse. We should be striving to make this our new normal.

Empowering women economically and making them central to solutions is a moral imperative – and it makes good economic sense.

A growing body of research shows that enhancing women’s economic participation improves national economies, increases household productivity and living standards, enhances the wellbeing of children with positive long-term impacts, and helps increase women’s agency and overall empowerment.

We focus on this potential in Kosovo through programs that help broaden awareness and access to property, and better equip women-owned businesses to access finance.

These programs help ensure that potential entrants to the workforce have the skills they need to succeed – and get hired by all of you!
But we can only realize these economic benefits for all if we address root barriers to economic prosperity.

One of those barriers is corruption.

Fighting corruption is a key strategic priority for the United States Government both domestically and overseas.

One indication of how seriously we take this is reflected in what our top leaders have to say. President Biden has termed corruption to be a “national security threat in the 21st century.”

And here in Kosovo, we are taking a whole-of-mission approach to fighting corruption.

For example, USAID’s Kosovo Municipal Integrity Activity aims to limit the opportunities for fraud, waste, and abuse in the public procurement system, and help citizens and municipalities better respond when abnormalities are found.

We will continue to support Kosovan institutions as they build on this momentum and the impressive gains they have already achieved.

Of course, there are still long-standing corruption vulnerabilities that Kosovo urgently needs to address.

As Kosovo’s premier business organization, AmCham is well-positioned to capitalize on Kosovo’s landmark rule of law reforms by deepening the business and trade ties between our two countries and advancing our shared vision of a prosperous Kosovo.

American companies are among the world’s most reputable for corporate responsibility.

They model best practices in transparency, innovation, employee relations, and philanthropy.

Ultimately, these U.S. companies want to invest in markets in which they can compete on a level playing field, free of corruption, and know that their investments will be protected.

That is why we’ve partnered with Kosovo to help set up a Commercial Court – so you all have access to experienced legal experts involved in resolving thorny issues when you need them most.

So once again, thank you for all that you’re doing to help move these shared priorities forward and advance our vision for Kosovo’s continued and enhanced economic prosperity.

This vision is one of a Kosovo that has fully unlocked its potential – whether we are talking about energy, youth employment, inclusion of women and minorities, or addressing systemic corruption issues.

Thank you.