Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 34: Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken

Countries or people you meet sometimes don’t like our policies on a given issue,
but what they almost universally admire and aspire to is American entrepreneurship,
innovation, education, science and technology, and volunteerism, philanthropy.

The State Department is working at the intersection of foreign policy and technology to keep Americans safe, serve the country’s interests and promote freedom of expression around the globe.

Tony_BlinkenHow and why the State Department is involving the nation’s top innovators in its efforts was the focus of my interview with Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Listen to the full interview with Sec. Blinken by downloading it from SoundCloud here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from his interview are below.

Antony J. Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State since 2015, has held senior foreign policy positions in two administrations over two decades.

He most recently served as Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy National Security Advisor, and chaired the inter-agency Deputies Committee, the administration’s principal forum for formulating foreign policy. During the first term of the Obama Administration, he was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President.

From 2002-08 Sec. Blinken was Democratic Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Before that, he was a member of President Clinton’s National Security Council staff and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs – President Clinton’s principal advisor for relations with the countries of Europe, the European Union and NATO.

Prior to joining the Clinton Administration, Sec. Blinken practiced law in New York and Paris. He has been a reporter for The New Republic; has written about foreign policy for numerous publications; and is the author of Ally Versus Ally: America, Europe and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis.

Sec. Blinken explained that the U.S. innovation culture is greatly admired and has become one of the State Department’s diplomatic devices:

Everywhere I go around the world I find one thing comes back again and again and again: Countries or people you meet sometimes don’t like our policies on a given issue, but what they almost universally admire and aspire to is American entrepreneurship, innovation, education, science and technology, and volunteerism, philanthropy.

So for us in the business of American diplomacy trying to advance our interests around the world, this is an incredibly powerful thing. It’s the best of America and it opens doors sometimes when our policies may actually shut them or keep them closed. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here 

Technological advances borne of that innovation culture are a double-edged sword, he explained:

On the one hand, technology has lowered barriers to access to that technology for all sorts of actors, some of them with very bad intentions.

At the same time, technology offers extraordinary new opportunities to better police arms control agreements, to better detect nuclear materials, chemical weapons, biological weapons, and to actually make us more secure.

At the State Department we’re trying to bring together technologists, innovators, philanthropists, NGOs, all of these groups to think about, in very practical terms, “OK, how do we use technology to more effectively deal with stopping the spread of weapons, technologies, materials?”

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Technology is a critical tool in the State Department’s efforts to foster freedom of expression around the world.

Sec. Blinken: Technology is not inherently good or inherently bad. It all depends on how you use it and who’s using it.  

What we’re trying to do is help empower the positive actors and at the same time, we try to look for ways to deny the negative actors access to technology themselves. The lines get very blurry but it’s something that we’re working hard on.

Steve: The first example I remember hearing about that was getting printing presses and Xerox machines into Poland during the Solidarity movement.

Sec. Blinken: Absolutely, or even before that in the Soviet Union. The copy machine was one of the greatest instruments of dissent, so much so that the Soviets controlled the copying machines and looked very carefully at the numbers of copies that were made. That’s what you had to do then before the Internet. That was a powerful way of spreading ideas.

Steve: Facebook, Twitter messenger, Instagram, etc., are 21st-century versions of that but it assumes you have smartphones. How do you drop those on North Korea? 

Sec. Blinken: We found that defectors getting out of North Korea have much greater access than we thought to technology, much of it coming in from China. DVD players, thumb drives, cell phones — that technology has the capacity to carry all sorts of information and ideas.

There is an organic quality to the spread of technology — often American technology — that people around the world want access to. Then the question is, will their governments allow them to use it and if not, are there workarounds?  

Much of what we see is really developed indigenously. If you go to countries where the Web is heavily regulated, people’s access to different content is blocked or prohibited. 

You’ll see extraordinarily creative people finding ways around that and sometimes we may have a good idea to share to help them do that.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here 

The State Department is working to connect DC policy-makers with the country’s top innovation leaders, he said:

So much of what we’re doing at the State Department or for that matter, the National Security Council or the White House, is really at the intersection of foreign policy and technology. The problems that we’re trying to solve — whether it’s the use of cyberspace or the use of outer space — go right to that intersection. The big things that we’re trying to do around the world — build global health security, food security, energy security – there, too, we’re right at the intersection. 

One of the shortcomings has been that there is not sufficient connectivity between the policy community in Washington and the innovation community out here at Stanford and Silicon Valley or for that matter on the East Coast or points in between.

We’re trying to build that connectivity. We started something at State Department at the beginning of the year called the Innovation Forum. We’re bringing together policy makers at a senior level with technologists, with entrepreneurs, with philanthropists, with NGOs, looking at discrete problems that we’re trying to solve and getting them to put their minds, their energy, their creativity towards solving it.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

He explained one such initiative:

President Obama created something called the U.S. Digital Service and that enables us to bring people in quickly for six months, for a year, from Silicon Valley, from other places (like the) East Coast and points in between.

They’re formed into teams and they then go out and work with different agencies on discrete technology problems that they’re trying to solve. This has been a very powerful way of bringing some of the smartest young minds, the most energetic people, into government to do it quickly but also not to make it life servitude. They come in and apply the skills and the passions and the ideas, and it benefits government and it benefits them in getting that kind of experience.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Because entrepreneurism is the ultimate freedom of expression, the State Department strives to foster a global spirit of innovation, he added:

The wealth of a nation is found in its human resources and countries that are able to free those human resources, to reach their full potential, will thrive no matter how big or small they are.

We tell other governments, “Look. You’re putting a ceiling on your potential if you are not allowing people to express themselves freely. The reason our entrepreneurs have been so successful starts almost from the time they’re born because they go to school and instead of learning by rote, they are there to question and to argue and to push back and not to accept conventional wisdom.  

That’s the most powerful thing. If it doesn’t start from that early age, and if you don’t allow it to thrive going forward, you’re limiting yourself.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interview with Sec. Blinken by downloading it from SoundCloud here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Jessica Mah, founder of InDinero and Peg Burke, founder of 1185 Design.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

Want to be a guest on the show? Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

 

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