Silicon Valley luminaries become technology ambassadors to Russia


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Silicon Valley is playing a much larger role in international diplomacy in the Obama administration than in the Bush administration. That’s in large part thanks to Jared Cohen, who has played a role in both.

Cohen joined Condoleezza Rice’s State Department policy planning staff as its youngest member in 2006. A Stanford University graduate who won a Rhodes Scholarship and earned a master’s degree in international relations at Oxford, Cohen advised the State Department on youth and education, particularly in the Muslim world. He gained notice for his book: “Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East,” which was based on his travels there. He advised Rice on how to reach young people in the Middle East who were increasingly using social media tools.


Now Cohen is on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s team and helped with her speech on Internet freedom. I spoke with him while he was waiting at the airport to board a flight for Moscow. He’s part of an effort that Secretary Clinton calls “21st Century Statecraft.” In January, Clinton held a dinner in Washington to explore how to use technology to promote diplomacy.

“Statecraft as much about building connections as it is about negotiating,” Cohen said.

That’s what Cohen will be doing for the next five days. He has teamed with Howard Solomon of the National Security Council and White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra to lead an all-star U.S. delegation to Russia to see how technology can mutually benefit both countries.

The State Department has always sent business delegations to other countries. But sending technology delegations is something new. Last year, a tech delegation traveled to Iraq and Mexico. After the Iraq trip, the government there set up a YouTube channel and tech companies helped set up a website to catalog arts and artifacts in the national museum that was looted after the U.S. invasion. After the Mexico trip, the country set up an SMS hotline to report crimes anonymously.

Cohen’s contention: The U.S. can open doors to other countries and cultures through its technology sector that produces many of the tools that young people around the world use to connect with one another.

Among the luminaries headed to Russia with Cohen are actor Ashton Kutcher; EBay CEO John Donahoe; Shervin Pishevar, executive chairman and founder of Social Gaming Network; Twitter co-founder and Square founder Jack Dorsey; Mozilla Foundation chair Mitchell Baker; and Cisco System CTO Padmasree Warrior. They will meet with Russian ministers of health and education, advisors to President Dimitry Medvedev, leaders of technology companies and more. They will tackle issues such as encouraging entrepreneurship and e-government initiatives and combating child trafficking and corruption.

The participants were chosen because they represent a microcosm of the technology industry and they make efforts to do social good. Kutcher, and his actress wife Demi Moore, for example, have a foundation that works on trafficking issues. Kutcher is also active in social media.

“They are taking off their CEO and commercial hats and putting on their expert hats,” Cohen said

-- Jessica Guynn