Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Alec Ross, says it’s time to reboot US diplomatic efforts abroad. Ross calls for 21st century statecraft based on the innovative use of new media. Previously, Ross co-founded One Economy, a nonprofit devoted to closing the digital divide, and brought his expertise to then Senator Obama’s presidential campaign.
Ross formerly helped launch the nonprofit One Economy, a group dedicated to closing the digital divide for social causes, and brought his expertise with new media to the Obama campaign.
A couple of days ago, we were introduced to an Australian choreographer – Zolli introduced him as having come furthest to the conference. Alec explains that, as someone coming from the federal government, he may have conceptually come furthest to this conference, and wonders if appearing on this stage, not wearing a suit, will precipitate a drug test on Monday.
“I’m here not to introduce a breakthrough innovation or take a bow, but to share chapter one, page one of how I and other colleagues are reimagining America, specifically in terms of its relationship and role in the wider world,” he tells us. “It was tough to be an American the last five or six years of the Bush administration and travel abroad.” It’s time for a reboot, a reimagining of how we engage in the wider world.
The new frame for this thinking is 21st century statecraft. It’s made possible both by the election of Barack Obama. But it’s also made possible by a tin toy maker in Togo. He shows us a beautiful set of tin scultpures made by a craftsman in a Togolese village, brought to him by a dear friend who travels frequently to Togo. The craftsman told the woman, “You come to me every few months and buy whatever I have on offer. If you just had a smartphone, like me, you could send me an email with a request for what I could make for you.”
Alec Ross, photo by Kris Krüg
We need technology that’s empowering, not overpowering. How do we migrate America’s foreign policy, understanding that power is the currency in Washington. The connection between power and information is longstanding – that’s how the Catholic church maintained spiritual and political hegemony for centuries. It wasn’t until the printing press and its miniaturization that power devolved to individuals, leading to the Protestant Reformation. After the Catholic Church lost political hegemony, we saw the formation of small nation states, and the emergence of early modern-day diplomacy.
Diplomacy is largely done government to goverment, white guys in white shirts with red ties to other white guys in white shirts with red ties. In the Obama administration, we want to go beyond communicating government to govermnent. There’s nothing to keep us from going into the Oval Office and having the president address Iranians and Farsi speakers directly. For the first time in years, America was talking to Iran… and it went viral very quickly.
“If Paul Revere were alive today, he wouldn’t have made a midnight ride – he would have tweeted. And the lantern hangers would be retweeters.”