Anyone who doubts the significance of Hamilton students’ research should have a talk with Arthur Williams ’16. His summer research, focused on the impact of microfinance loans on Cuban entrepreneurship, attracted the attention of President Obama’s senior director for speech writing as the president prepared for his historic trip to the island nation this week. Williams, an international student from Jamaica, also presented that research at SUNY Binghamton, and he attended Nasdaq’s Cuba Opportunity Summit.
Major: Hispanic Studies
Minors: Africana Studies and Public Policy
Hometown: Kingston, Jamaica
Visiting Assistant Professor of Government Omobolaji Olarinmoye is Williams’ advisor for the project and Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Reynaldo Ortiz-Minaya, an expert on Cuba, is his mentor.
The Hispanic studies major and public policy and Africana studies double minor was enjoying his first week of spring break in New York City after the Nasdaq summit when he got a message that the White House was trying to reach him. Williams confessed that he first thought the call was “a bad prank,” but when he called back he learned the request was legitimate. The caller wanted to talk about Williams’ Emerson grant research on Cuban entrepreneurship.
“(The speechwriter) said that there wasn't much scholarship on the subject so he wanted to hear about the findings of my research. His main question was what were the obstacles that entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs face,” said Williams, who travelled to Cuba last summer. They spoke for about 15 minutes and at the speechwriter’s request, Williams sent him his preliminary research draft.
After the phone call, Ortiz-Minaya emailed the speechwriter about the possibility of Williams joining the presidential delegation to Cuba and, although the delegation was already finalized, the White House staffer praised Williams in an email to the professor.
“I had the opportunity to speak with Arthur yesterday and read the draft of his research into Cuban entrepreneurship. He is impressive indeed. … I can assure that the President will discuss entrepreneurship on his visit and Arthur's work is helping me get a better understanding of this emerging sector," the speechwriter wrote.
Ortiz told Williams about The Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies (LACAS) Program conference at Binghamton University, and, as a result Williams was invited to present on a panel about Latin American Political Change on March 12. “It was a great opportunity to network with other undergraduates from different institutions that also have strong interest in Caribbean and Latin American affairs and to learn about their work and areas of focus,” said Williams.
On March 17 Williams attended the Second Cuba Opportunity Summit at the Nasdaq in New York City, which featured an audience representing more than $20BN in investable assets.
“I was curious about the kind of conversation that was going to take place at the summit surrounding Cuba, so I reached out to the founder of the event Ben Greenzweig (co-founder/co-CEO of Momentum and Summit founder),” Williams explained. “I told him about my research and my interest in attending and after following up a couple times he decided to allow me to attend the event, free of charge (The tickets were almost $2000). When I met Mr. Greenzweig at the event he commended my initiative to contact him and my persistence,” Williams recalled.
Attending the summit allowed the Hamilton senior to gain an understanding of the current discourse on Cuba and the Cuban market and economy. The summit featured top industry and policy experts examining various opportunities for business, investment and collaborations in Cuba, particularly since the opening up of relations between Cuba and the U.S.
“I learned about the economic and geopolitical climate of Cuba and what top players in the Cuban market are doing and/or hope to do,” Williams said. “I also heard about the possibilities for investment and the unique obstacles that exist doing business with Cuba.”
The keynote address by Alex Lee '72 (Deputy Assistant Secretary for South America and Cuba, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State) provided perspectives from both Washington and Havana.
Williams made the most of time at the Summit, speaking with a researcher on the Cuban economy, a Cuban diplomat, and top representatives from many different firms. “Attending the summit provided me with greater insight beyond my Emerson research project on the feasibility of microfinance in Cuba and its potential impact on Cuban entrepreneurship,” he observed.
The Hamilton senior also made an alumni connection at the Nasdaq event, Guillermo Artiles ’07, corporate counsel at Greenskies Renewable Energy.
“It was very encouraging to see Hamilton alumni operating within this space and also paying keen attention to the developments between the U.S. and Cuba,” Williams remarked.