HYDERABAD, India - U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump kicked off a global business summit in southern India on Tuesday calling for better opportunities for women entrepreneurs battling heavy odds around the world.
Ivanka, also an informal adviser to her father, received a warm welcome in India's high-tech hub of Hyderabad with all the trappings of a state guest.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined her in the opening of the U.S.-backed Global Entrepreneurship Summit which New Delhi is hoping will further boost political and economic ties with the United States under the Trump administration.
Ivanka, wearing a bright green floral dress, said fuelling the growth of women-led businesses and closing the gender entrepreneurship gap could help expand global GDP by 2 percent.
"Women still face steep obstacles to starting, owning and growing their businesses. We must ensure women entrepreneurs have access to capital, access to networks and mentors," Ivanka said to loud cheers from a packed audience in a heavily-guarded conference centre.
In developing countries, 70 percent of women-owned smaller businesses were being denied access to capital, she said, leading to a near $300 billion annual credit deficit for them.
GES is an event conceived by former U.S. President Barack Obama. It has previously been held in countries such as the United States and Turkey, but this year's edition is the first under the Trump administration.
The theme of the conference this year is "Women First, Prosperity for All". More than half the participants at the summit are women, and all-female delegations are representing countries such as Afghanistan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Ivanka, who ran an eponymous clothing and jewellery business before becoming an adviser in the White House, has made women's issues one of her main policy areas.
She cited a Harvard Business Review report that found that in the United States investors ask men questions about their potential for gains, whereas they ask women questions about their potential for loss.
Billboards with pictures of Ivanka dotted many parts of Hyderabad which is also home to major U.S. firms such as Microsoft. In recent days, authorities took beggars off city streets in a clean-up drive before the meeting, media said.
More than 10,000 police officials were deployed in the city and sniffer dogs as well as "spotters", or men trained to detect any suspicious activity or people, were on stand by, a police officer said.
On the sidelines, Ivanka held talks with Modi, as well as Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj. Later she toured the conference centre with Modi and met a few entrepreneurs, before watching traditional Indian dance performances in the inaugural session.
"This event not only connects the Silicon Valley with Hyderabad but also show-cases the close ties between the United States of America and India. It underlines our shared commitment towards encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation," Modi said.
India has become a major market for the United States, with two-way trade of about $115 billion last year. They aim to raise that to $500 billion by 2022. Military and strategic ties are also improving as China's influence rises in Asia and beyond.
"The Trump administration sees India as a strategic partner and wants to engage with India more. When you look at sending of Ivanka Trump, it is sending a very strong signal," said Mukesh Aghi, president of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum.