US Secretary of State on Innovation and American Leadership

Worth reading are US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s remarks on Innovation and American Leadership to the Commonwealth Club of California on October, 15 2010. The speech gives examples of the concept of 21st century statecraft, which integrates the tools and social practices of information and communication technologies and new media with US Foreign Policy interests and diplomacy. An extended quote from Secretary Clinton follows:

“One aspect of what we’re doing to promote diplomacy and development that is quite new and has special relevance for the Bay Area in Northern California is our emphasis in innovation and our use of technology. We have been working very hard for the last 20 months to bring into the work we do the advances that many of the companies and the innovators, entrepreneurs here in California have brought to business, have brought to communications in particular.

Innovation is one of America’s greatest values and products and we are very committed to working with scientists and researchers and others to look for new ways to develop hardier crops or lifesaving drugs at affordable costs, working with engineers for new sources of clean energy or clean water to both stem climate change and also to improve the standard of living for people. Social entrepreneurs who marry capitalism and philanthropy are using the power of the free market to drive social and economic progress. And here we see a great advantage that the United States that we’re putting to work in our everyday thinking and outreach around the world.

Let me just give you a couple of examples, because the new communication tools that all of you and I use as a matter of course are helping to connect and empower civil society leaders, democracy activists, and everyday citizens even in closed societies.

Earlier this year, in Syria, young students witnessed shocking physical abuse by their teachers. Now, as you know, in Syria, criticism of public officials is not particularly welcome, especially when the critics are children and young people. And a decade earlier, the students would have just suffered those beatings in silence. But these children had two secret weapons: cell phones and the internet. They recorded videos and posted them on Facebook, even though the site is officially banned in Syria. The public backlash against the teachers was so swift and vocal that the government had to remove them from their positions.

That’s why the United States — (applause) — in the Obama Administration is such a strong advocate for the “freedom to connect.” And earlier this year, last January I have a speech our commitment to internet freedom, which, if you think about it, is the freedom to assemble, the freedom to freely express yourself, the right of all people to connect to the internet and to each other, to access information, to share their views, participate in global debates.

Now, I’m well aware that telecommunications is not any silver bullet, and these technologies can also, as we are learning, be used for repressive purposes. But all over the world we see their promise. And so we’re working to leverage the power and potential in what I call 21st century statecraft.

Part of our approach is to embrace new tools, like using cell phones for mobile banking or to monitor elections. But we’re also reaching to the people behind these tools, the innovators and entrepreneurs themselves.

For instance, we know that many business leaders want to devote some of their companies’ expertise to helping solve problems around the world, but they often don’t know how to do that, what’s the point of entry, which ideas would have the most impact. So 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.

One of my first acts as Secretary was to appoint a Special Representative for Global Partnerships and we have brought delegations of technology leaders to Mexico and Colombia, Iraq and Syria, as well as India and Russia, not just to meet with government officials, but activists, teachers, doctors, and so many more.

This summer, an entrepreneur named Josh Nesbit from Frontline SMS, which designs communications tools for NGOs, joined a State Department delegation to Colombia. And on the trip he learned first-hand about one of the biggest problems in the country’s rural areas: injuries and deaths from unexploded land mines. He was so moved that this month he is going back to work with the government, local telecom companies, and NGOs on a mobile app that will allow Colombians to report the location of land mines so they can be disposed of safely.

Similarly, in Washington, we are bringing together groups of experts from various fields to join us in working on big foreign policy challenges. Last year we held our first TED@State conference. Just last week, Cherie Blair and the cell phone industry around the world, we convened a group to talk about how to advocate for girls and women to get access to cell phones. It’s a new initiative called mWomen, which will work to close the gender gap that has kept mobile phones out of reach for 300 million women in low- and middle-income countries.

At USAID — (applause) — we’re pursuing market-driven solutions that really look to see how to involve the business community and we just unveiled a new venture capital style fund called Development Innovation Ventures, which will invest in creative ideas that we think can lead to game-changing innovations in development. As part of our first round of financing, the fund has already invested in solar lighting in rural Uganda, mobile health services in India and an affordable electric bicycle that doubles as a portable power source.

The door is open to each and every one of you. I just met with a group from Twitter and I know that there area a million ideas that are born every day here. And if you have a good idea, we will listen. Because despite all the progress that we’ve made, we cannot take for granted that the United States will still lead in the innovation race.”

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