TechWomen in Washington DC

I wrote previously about being a TechWomen mentor.  After three weeks Rola Issa wrapped up her project at SugarSync at the end of September.   We celebrated with dinner at our home as well as some cultural indoctriniation attending my son’s high school football game.  She then spent two additional days in various training programs at Google and Fenwick & West then all of the women in the program went to the Grace Hopper Celebration in Baltimore.  Several program participants from last year presented papers.  ­After Grace Hopper the group traveled to Washington DC.  They got to take a tour of the White House and visit some of the more important sites in the Capital.

I met up with the group on Monday.  They were at my masters degree alma mater Georgetown for a leadership training day with Barbara Fittipaldi.  Barbara had some great techniques to encourage the women to think big in terms of their plans and goals – to get beyond self-limiting thinking.

Tuesday and Wednesday we had a variety of briefings at the State Department.  One of the most interesting to me was regarding the web communication and social media strategy and operations at the State Department and White House.  We heard from Macon Phillips, White House New Media Director and Victoria Esser, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.  Both of them have private sector communications backgrounds.

I found it really interesting to learn about the size and scope of the State Departments web presence.  The main website gets nearly three million unique visitors per day.  They are present on all of the major social media platforms in multiple languages.  For many years technologies such as phone, fax and email had enabled a greater centralization of diplomatic functions in headquarters but it seems to me that the advent of social media has changed that trend to one of greater decentralization.  Most of the Twitter and Facebook presences are managed in-country by the local embassy.  I think this is a healthy phenomenon – particularly in this era of real-time communication and the importance social media has played in such political changes such as the Arab spring.

There were also representatives from both major parties who briefed the group on their Foreign Policy initiatives and did some education for the TechWomen about the US election process e.g. electoral college.  Things got a little sticky during the Q&A when several of the TechWomen pressed on our Iran policies.  There was clearly a sentiment amongst some of the TechWomen that nuclear non-proliferation policies were unfair to developing countries and many of them had a very different point of view as compared to almost any mainstream point on the US political spectrum as to the origin of the conflict in Syria.  The speakers were fairly deft in sidestepping some of this given the public forum.  Actually Rola and I had some very open and frank conversations about Middle East politics.  Her family, as is common in Jordan is Palestinian.  We didn’t always agree but we could discuss the topic respectfully which was such a great opportunity for both of us.

While disappointed that Secretary Clinton wasn’t able to meet with our group we enjoyed a formal luncheon in the Benjamin Franklin dining room at the State Department where we were addressed by Assistant Secretary, Ann Stock.  She talked about the various programs  that were part of the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

Overall it is hard to imagine a more educational program being prepared for the TechWomen – from entrepreneurship, leadership, technology, women in technology and public policy I believe they got a tremendous amount of training in 6 weeks.  It is certainly rewarding to participate in people-to-people programs such as this one. How much leverage there is in a program such as TechWomen is hard to know but I do think it can have an impact with the participants and their first level contacts on both sides.  I’m glad I and the rest of the SugarSync team was able to be a part of this program.

In the Loy Henderson Auditorium for our briefings

And on the deck overlooking the mall

The Benjamin Franklin Dining Room