Friday night, I waited at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, surrounded by Bomb Squad vehicles and black bulletproof SUVS, for Hillary Clinton to speak to an audience of 1,400, only her third appearance in the United States since she took office as Secretary of State in early 2009. Upon entering the room, she grinned widely and received a standing ovation, welcomed with open arms by the loyal crowd. After a brief introduction, she cut straight to the point. The government needs innovation to solve our problems and the world's problems. And she meant it.
I live tweeted much of the event, including a lengthy Q&A that brought up issues all over the world, starting with Afghanistan, leading to our neighbors, Canada and Mexico. E.B. Boyd of FastCompany described the call for tech innovators quite well in her article, and the full transcript of the event was published on the State.gov website. So while I could regurgitate many quotes from the two hour Commonwealth Club event again here, I won't. Instead, I'll focus on the fine points affecting women, girls and bloggers -- our community here at BlogHer.
The world is broken in so many ways. We're reminded of it every day with photos of flooded villages, exploding cities, and starving children. Rather than taking the "glass half empty" approach and leaving it for other people to deal with, Secretary Clinton holds onto optimism. Slowly, over generations, she believes we can solve these problems through collaboration across governments and cultures, paired with innovative thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit. Included in this, not just as an afterthought, comes the role of women and girls.
It's no secret Clinton is an advocate for women's rights, but she has also become a champion of global education for all, based not only on her personal conviction but on numerous data sources showing how educating girls can change entire communities. The State Department understands that this is a complex undertaking. But these communities also need protection. In order to help them, Clinton explains, we must equip their governments and their people with the knowhow and a multitude of resources and tools to continue developing on their own. Afghanistan is only one example of this, and the mWomen global initiative puts cell phones directly in the hands of women who need them for basic communications and commerce.
Meanwhile, in more developed regions, we can provide mentorship opportunities. That's where State's new TechWomen initiative comes in. Implemented by the Institute of International Education and the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, TechWomen will bring 38 women from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza for five weeks of mentorship by leaders in Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Twitter, HP Labs, Facebook, Symantec along with Bay Area based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
TechWomen provides just one way of opening up dialogues between women on how to innovate to solve global problems. It's part of her view on "21st Century Statecraft." The State Department has also, over the past 20 months, taken extraordinary leaps in terms of new media, for those who haven't noticed. Just look at their website now vs. two years ago (courtesy Archive.org), view their Twitter feed, or observe their Facebook page. They're not just giving the Gov 2.0 movement lip service; they're full partners.
Which brings me back to girls. The final question from the Q&A on Friday night was from a young girl. She asked, "I am 10 years old and I'm worried about my future environment. What can people do to help?" Clinton's soft spot couldn't have been more obvious. She beamed at the young girl and told her "there is a lot that you can do."
Clinton continued to explain that in her experience, "young people are much more environmentally conscious and committed to protecting the world you're growing up in than some of us older people are." (Earlier in the Q&A, she emphasized her extreme displeasure at the lack of strong environmental legislation coming out of the Senate.) She then provided a disclaimer that she can't comment on politics as Secretary of State, but noted, "speaking as a private citizen, I think people running for office should be asked to explain their positions on what they're going to do." In other words, improve transparency about what candidates plan to do for the environment and other important issues when they're elected, and hold them accountable.
After another standing ovation, Clinton stepped off the ballroom stage and departed the hotel, along with the Secret Service, Bomb Squad trucks and darkened motorcade. But she left behind a room full of proactive thinkers, dreamers and doers, the majority of whom were women, who will take her words to heart and make them happen. I implore the BlogHer community to join in this worthy endeavor.
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