Alec Ross is Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a role created for him that blends technology with diplomacy. As Secretary Clinton's "tech guru," Ross is leading the State Department's efforts to find practical technology solutions for some of the globe's most vexing problems on health care, poverty, human rights and ethnic conflicts.
Ross is looking at ways to use Web video and social networking sites to extend statecraft. Ross told U.S. News and World Report, "It's about how can you reach large numbers of people who otherwise would be difficult to impossible to reach." Ross is also a big proponent of aiding other countries through digital development initiatives like wiring schools, adding wireless capacity to public works, text-message reminders to HIV patients, and leap frogging communities from cash culture to mobile banking.
In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Ross visited with former militia members in demobilization camps to learn about ways to get current militia members to quit fighting. He is now working to implement a State Department outreach program based on their suggestion to use radio to communicate with fighters who are hiding out in the bush. Ross is also putting together a mobile banking program for soldiers who haven’t been paid in years, empowering them with the ability to securely transfer money and save through accounts over cellphones.
And in Mexico, Ross is leading the State Department's collaboration with the Mexican government, NGOs, and telecom companies to set up a system for tracking crimes. Some initiatives include a cellphone-base tip-off system for the police that will scrub identifying information about the tipsters from the system, and mapping activities of common criminals and narcotraficantes in near real-time on Web sites, so citizens can see where to avoid.