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Road Trip! Social Tech Execs Make State Department Visit to Iraq

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, April 21 2009

Representatives of Google, YouTube, Twitter, Blue State Digital, MeetUp, Automattic/WordPress and other well-known American social technology companies currently have boots on the ground in Iraq, according to a press release from the State Department that targets the group's mission as "explor[ing] new opportunities to support Iraqi government and non-government stakeholders in Iraq’s emerging new media industry," such as it is. The group includes YouTube director of product development Hunter Walk, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Blue State vice president David Nassar, and MeetUp's Scott Heiferman.

Below is the full list of members of the delegation, running from April 19 to April 23. (You might notice that the trip manifest comes up a bit light on participants of the female variety -- as in, not a one.)

  • Jason Lieberman, Chief Executive Officer-Founder, Howcast
  • David Nassar, Vice President, Blue State Digital
  • Scott Heiferman, Chief Executive Officer, MeetUp
  • Raanan Bar-Cohen, Vice President, Automattic/WordPress
  • Richard Robbins, Director of Social Innovation, AT&T
  • Jack Dorsey, Chairman-Founder, Twitter
  • Kannan Pashupathy, Director of International Engineering Operations, Google
  • Ahmad Hamzawi, Head of Engineering, Middle East/North Africa, Google
  • Hunter Walk, Head of Product Development, YouTube
  • Steven Levy, Senior Writer, Wired Magazine

Gathering together representatives of the U.S.'s most talked about (if not most profitable) technology firms and sending them to spread some American tech magic in Iraq seems to be the brainchild of the State Department's Jared Cohen, described by the New Yorker in a profile two years ago as Foggy Bottom's " starter." Cohen is also known for pulling together the Alliance of Youth Movements, a nascent State Department initiative aimed at supporting the global youth's use of social media to create social change.

Here's the full text of the State Department's press release announcing the trip:

The Department of State is facilitating the travel to Baghdad, Iraq of a delegation of nine senior high-technology company representatives Sunday, April 19 to April 23. This will be the first delegation of its kind to Iraq. While in Iraq, the group will explore new opportunities to support Iraqi government and non-government stakeholders in Iraq’s emerging new media industry.

The delegation includes a mix of CEOs, Vice-Presidents and senior representatives from AT&T, Google, Twitter, Howcast, Meetup, You Tube, Automattic/Wordpress, and Blue State Digital. During their visit to Iraq, they will provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building. As Iraqis think about how to integrate new technology as a tool for smart power, we view this as an opportunity to invite the American technology industry to be part of this creative genesis.

During the trip the delegation will meet with representatives from the Government of Iraq, the public and private education sectors, Iraqi technology companies, and groups active in Iraqi civil society.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been a strong proponent of using the full range of tools, including emerging new media and communication technologies, to leverage capabilities that will allow for diplomacy not just with governments, but also with people and between different societies.

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