Public officials swinging by Silicon Valley usually are on the prowl for precious campaign dollars. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a point of stopping by the Bay Area on Friday night to ask for something completely different: the tech world’s energy and expertise. “The new communication tools that you and I use as a matter of course are helping to connect and empower civil society leaders, democracy activists, and everyday citizens,” Clinton said in a speech at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club. “We need your help.”
You might have heard how, over the past couple of years, the State Department has been reaching out to the tech world for help with their diplomatic and development goals, particularly through delegations of tech innovators and entrepreneurs to places like Iraq, Russia, and Mexico, where they’ve explored how the the Internet, mobile phones, and other tech tools can be used to build democracy and combat violence. The initiatives have apparently been working so well that Clinton carved time out of her globe-trotting schedule to make a public speech—only her third since becoming the country’s top diplomat—to implore the Bay Area’s innovators to join the State Department’s efforts. “Whether you care about Haiti … violence in Mexico from the drug cartels … national treasures in Iraq,” Clinton said, “we want you to know there’s a place for you.”
Part of our approach is to embrace new tools like using cellphones for mobile banking or to monitor elections. But we’re also reaching [out] to the people behind these tools, the innovators and the entrepreneurs themselves.
We know that many business leaders want to devote some of their companies’ expertise to solving problems around the world, but they often don’t know how to do that. What’s the point of entry? Which idea is going to have the most impact?
To bridge that gap, we are embracing new public-private partnerships that link the on-the-ground experience of our diplomats and development experts with the energy and resources of the business community.
Since taking office, Clinton has appointed a Special Representative for Global Partnerships to catalyze collaboration with the private sector, hosted conferences like “TED at State,” and, most recently, set up a seed fund within US AID, Development Innovation Ventures, to provide start-up money to potential development game-changers, like a new idea for solar lighting in Uganda and a bicycle that doubles as a power source.
“Diplomacy and outreach can’t just be left to our government,” Clinton told the audience in San Francisco . “There are so many ways that we can influence what goes on in other countries.” Technology “is not a silver bullet,” she noted. “But all over the world, we see [its] promise.”
“If you have a good idea, we will listen.”