Honorable Prime Minister Rama, Chairman Granoff, Members of the AAEF Board, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In July, the Prime Minister and I spoke to the graduating class of the University of New York Tirana. I told them that I wanted to come back to Tirana in the year 2025 with my children and described the kind of country that I hoped we would find — an Albania that was prosperous, fiercely democratic, strong and secure.
What I love about the Albanian-American Enterprise Fund is that it is not just the empty words of a diplomat, but an institution that has been working hard for 20 years to create this vision of a new Albania. In its first years, AAEF provided capital to build a world-class airport, to create the American Bank of Albania during a chaotic period in the Albania’s economy history, and to develop the insurance industry in a country desperately in need of stability and reassurance. And more amazingly, it did these things and made money — a lot of money.
Today, we stand in awe of the many, many remarkable projects of AAEF’s legacy institution — the Albanian-American Development Foundation. Most Albanians know AADF through its rehabilitation of the historic pedestrian boulevards and business centers of Korca, Kruje, Berat and Shkoder and for bringing Skanderbeg’s helmet and swords to the National Historial Museum.
But what I have been most impressed with is AADF’s investment in young people. In partnership with the U.S. Peace Corps, AADF has sponsored leadership camps for girls, after school programs on the environment and a popular nation-wide children’s essay competition. And I have twice met with the LEAD Albania program which places uniquely qualified young professionals in key government ministries, modeled after the White House fellows program. These young people really are the future of this country.
Governments are generally pretty bad at taking a vision and transforming it into reality. We a slow. We are expensive. And we are seldom successful. Tonight, let us celebrate the decision of someone in the White House, in the Congress or in USAID who decided some 20 years ago to invest $30 million into this private investment fund with only the faint hope that this small investment could begin to transform a country.
We look forward to see how this investment will continue to blossom over the next 20 years.