What an interesting dinner last night in the most exclusive section of the State Department, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited some of Silicon Valley's top innovators into her private space for a candid, off-the-record evening of food and conversation.
You can just imagine the scene. The tech entrepreneurs, taken out of their high tech offices to dwell in the ornate museum that constitutes the private digs of the secretary, forced to discard their usual work attire of blue jeans and T-shirts to get all dressed up for the occasion. Clinton and her top-tier staff, relieved to have some company not of the wonky, Washington clique, excited to have some fresh faces in Foggy Bottom.
"Suffice to say, it was not the typical dinner on the 8th floor," said one attendee, who related that Clinton seemed really enthusiastic and engaged in the talk and she even joked about the uniqueness of the event.
The tech leaders at the dinner included Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, Cisco EVP Susan Bostrom, Andrew Reseij, the founder of Personal Democracy Forum, Microsoft's Craig Mundie, Tiffany Shlain, creator of The Webby Awards, How-to guru Jason Liebman, serial entrepreneur James Eberhard, and Social Gaming Network CEO Shervin Pishevar.
On the State side of the table, in addition to Clinton, were her deputies James Steinberg and Jack Lew, Policy Planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter, policy staffer Jared Cohen (the guy who kept Twitter alive after the disputed Iranian election), Clinton's senior advisor for innovation Alec Ross, and Katie Stanton, who just came over from the White House.
The State Department is gearing up for a huge push on innovation technologies as tools of development and diplomacy, which will be announced in a major policy speech by Clinton on Jan. 21.
But they have already been busily trying out a host of programs that seek to leverage new technologies for the sake of advancing old ideas. For example, after Clinton got back from the the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she sent a team there to start a program whereby the location of threatening gangs could be disseminated over text message, so that would-be victims can avoid them.
Forty percent of the people in Congo have mobile phones, despite its being one of the poorest countries in the world, so why not use them, said one staffer who went on the trip.
In another example, a team from the State Department traveled to Mexico recently to talk technology with aides to President Felipe Calderon and business leaders including billionaire Carlos Slim. They pitched a project that would allow citizens in the battle-torn city of Juarez to send in anonymous crime tips by SMS without fear of retribution.
The innovation office at State is a section of the secretary's office and appears to be growing organically, with more and more projects and staff to come. For Clinton's own explanation of the concept she's calling "21st century statecraft," watch this.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.