My close friends and family know that it was a dream of mine to go into international business. Unfortunately, the first 20 years of my career didn’t allow me to do this. So when I came up with the idea for Hera Hub in 2011, I knew it had to be global.
It began with helping local female entrepreneurs find space and community to launch and grow their businesses. With the help of strong advocates, we’ve been able to scale nationally and internationally in just six years. We opened just north of Stockholm, Sweden, in 2017 and have received inquiries from cities in Western Europe, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Kenya, Nigeria and Australia. My dreams were coming true!
The United States has long been synonymous with opportunity, innovation and entrepreneurship. For the most part, American companies have been seen as trustworthy.
But that perception has declined recently in international markets. I certainly have experienced this first-hand with the significant decrease in global leads we’ve received in the last year versus just one year prior.
It’s not a major leap to say President Trump could be to blame. In his speeches and remarks made nationally and abroad, Trump conveys an “us versus them” mentality that prizes competition over collaboration. He’s viewed as a bully who berates our allies and preaches isolationism. This is completely opposite the mantra of the sharing economy, which includes my co-working venture.
A 2017 Pew Research Center study surveyed people in 37 countries to gauge worldwide confidence in the President. The perceptions were at the lowest levels since the organization began assessing the U.S. image abroad 15 years ago. And the survey took place over a year ago! In terms of personal characteristics, the survey found, Trump is seen by most people around the world as “arrogant, intolerant and even dangerous.”
Like most things with the President, his patriotism is viewed as an exercise in contradiction. He has been known to side with contentious foreign leaders as opposed to his own advisers and staff. It reflects poorly on our country, and these indiscretions, combined with his continuous lies and exaggerations, are damaging our country’s reputation abroad.
“In countries where confidence in the U.S. president fell most, America’s overall image has also tended to suffer more,” Pew reports. “In the closing years of the Obama presidency, a median of 64 percent had a positive view of the U.S. Today, just 49 percent are favorably inclined toward America.”
No surprise, the steepest decline was in Mexico, where only 30 percent of those surveyed said that they had a favorable view of the United States — down from 66 percent in 2016.
In these uncertain times, U.S. brands can no longer bank on the American cachet of decades past. So I’m distancing my business from anything associated with Trump. On a recent trip to Sweden, I found myself telling people I was from California versus the United States. Given the innovation that happens here, I feel the California brand still has potential for positive international perception.
Business leaders must find new and innovative ways of communicating with potential international partners. We must put forth messaging that counters the President’s –messaging that communicates our openness to international collaboration for expansive mutual growth.
It’s an uphill battle to be sure, but business leaders can’t wait for officials in Washington to make our case. International expansion and growth is key to America’s future, and we must act now to counteract the damage the president has done.
Felena Hanson is the founder of Hera Hub, a co-working space and business accelerator where entrepreneurial women can create and collaborate in a professional, productive, spa-like environment. The company has grown internationally via a licensing model with locations in Southern California, Phoenix, the District of Columbia and Sweden. She plans to support over 20,000 women in the launch and growth of their businesses by 2020.