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Clinton Calls on Barnard Grads to Engage in "Digital Diplomacy"

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, May 19 2009

The zeal of a convert is perhaps not an inapt phrase to described the passion with which Hillary Clinton has taken to social media since being appointed Secretary of State. Her presidential campaign wasn't known for tapping into the power of the web. But Secretary Clinton has been making remarks of late that, to a striking degree, frame the future of diplomacy as something we'll be doing in large part with computers, social networks, and connections made online. For yesterday's commencement address at the all-women's Barnard College in New York, Clinton focused on the special opportunities that online connections might present women:

Some months ago here in New York, I had the privilege of meeting a young girl from Yemen. Her name is Nujood Ali. When she was nine years old, her family offered her into marriage with a much older man who turned out to be violent and abusive. At ten years old, desperate to escape her circumstances, she left her home and made her way to the local courthouse where she sat against a wall all day long until she was finally noticed, thankfully, by a woman lawyer named Shada Nasser, who asked this little girl what she was doing there. And the little girl said she came to get a divorce. And thanks to this lawyer, she did.

Now in another time, the story of her individual courage and her equally brave lawyer would not have been covered in the news even in her own country. But now, it is beamed worldwide by satellites, shared on blogs, posted on Twitter, celebrated in gatherings. Today, women are finding their voices, and those voices are being heard far beyond their own narrow circumstances. And here’s what each of you can do. You can visit the website of a nonprofit called Kiva, K-i-v-a, and send a microloan to an entrepreneur like Blanca, who wants to expand her small grocery store in Peru. You can send children’s books to a library in Namibia by purchasing items off an Amazon.com wish list. You can sit in your dorm room, or soon your new apartment, and use the web to plant trees across Africa through Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt movement.

And with these social networking tools that you use every day to tell people you’ve gone to get a latte or you’re going to be running late, you can unite your friends through Facebook to fight human trafficking or child marriage, like the two recent college graduates in Colombia – the country – who organized 14 million people into the largest anti-terrorism demonstration in history, doing as much damage to the FARC terrorist network in a few weeks than had been done in years of military action. (Applause.)

And you can organize through Twitter, like the undergraduates at Northwestern who launched a global fast to bring attention to Iran’s imprisonment of an American journalist. And we have two young women journalists right now in prison in North Korea, and you can get busy on the internet and let the North Koreans know that we find that absolutely unacceptable. (Applause.)

These new tools are available for everyone. They are democratizing diplomacy. So over the next year, we will be creating Virtual Student Foreign Service Internships to partner American students with our embassies abroad to conduct digital diplomacy. And you can learn more about this initiative on the State Department website.

The full remarks are here.