Devex is the world’s largest community of aid and development professionals. The organization, which delivers business information and recruitment services to the international development community, recently released its list of the Top 40 International Development Leaders Under 40. The selection criterion for the list was based on each individual’s impact on the development agenda along with his or her impact on development results. In order to receive a nomination, the professional had to have been based out of Washington DC, and each had to be under the age of 40. Despite their youth, these leaders have made significant advances in the ICT4D world and deserve to be recognized for their contributions to society. Among these leaders are some that we have encountered over the course of the semester, like Wayan Vota, and many more that we have not. One leader that caught my eye was Jared Cohen, a public policy expert, social media adviser, and director of Google Ideas.
Jared Cohen was born in Weston, Connecticut. As a child, Jared’s family vacationed in Africa, which is when Cohen’s interest in development first began. Cohen took a 5-week service trip to Tanzania during High School and went on to receive political science and history degrees with a minor in African Studies. Cohen later studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University where he received his master’s degree in international relations. During college, Cohen held an internship for the US State Department that landed him a full time position as the youngest Member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff- he was only 24 years old. After being kept on the Policy Planning Committee by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Cohen began to shape counter-radicalization strategies while advising on US policy in Iran and the Middle East. Cohen traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, where he interviewed Hezbollah and al-Qaida terrorists to better understand the nature and root causes of radicalization.
In April of 2009, Cohen started leading technology delegations that focused on connecting technology executives with local stakeholders in countries such as Iraq, Russia, Mexico, Congo, and Syria. Shortly after undertaking this position in technology delegations, Cohen played an instrumental role that marked the turning point in technology’s role in disrupting the status quo. During the 2009 reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, thousands of Iranian were taking to Twitter to protest. At this time, the Twitter server was scheduled to be shut down for scheduled server maintenance. However, Cohen changed that with one phone call to Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, in which he requested that the popular micro-blogging site stay running. Cohen argued that because many other outlets had been blocked or shut down by the government, Twitter was one of the few ways for people inside of Iran to get information to the outside world. He considered it an important way for people around the world to join the protests and convinced Dorsey that this was the proper decision. This phone called essentially changed the course of the Iranian election.
After working for the State Department for a number of years, Cohen left the position to take on a new task as the director and founder of the new think/do tank, Google Ideas. Says Cohen: “We need to move towards providing tools and creating space for local people to develop local solutions.” Google Ideas focuses on places in the developing world where challenges are significant, technology solutions are underexplored, and Google can make an impact. The focus areas include counter-radicalization, illicit networks and fragile states.
In addition to his professional roles, Cohen has authored numerous publications and has appeared on different media outlets. Cohen’s book, Children of Jihad, won a spot on the “Best Books of 2007” list. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, BBC, The Colbert Report, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and many more. It will be interesting to see the impact that Cohen and Google Ideas will have on the world in the years to come.