#GES2016: Applying the Lessons of Silicon Valley

Last week, the U.S. government hosted 700 entrepreneurs from 170 countries at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley. The annual summit is meant to give entrepreneurs an opportunity to create connections and networks that will support them as they grow their businesses. We believe that engaging entrepreneurs from around the world is a way of investing in our collective future; it not only helps bolster the global economy, but gives us an opportunity to learn about the latest innovations.

For generations, State Department exchange programs have brought global entrepreneurs to the United States to share best practices with their American counterparts and to develop networks that let them innovate across borders. Last week’s summit was an important reminder of just how impactful an international exchange experience can be. More than 100 State Department exchange program alumni were selected to be part of GES, and I had a chance to meet many of them. As they talked about how their international experiences helped them build their businesses and expand in innovative directions, it struck me once again how much we -- as a government and a country -- benefit from our exchange programs.

Our exchange participants spark conversations about new projects, new approaches, and new partners. By working with U.S. and foreign entrepreneurs, we are constantly inspired by their drive and creativity. In terms of exchanges, that means that we are constantly trying to improve on our model. Entrepreneurs remind us that it is dangerous to rest on the success of today’s good thing. To keep our programs relevant in a world that is changing at lightning speed, we have to iterate and to strike out into territory that is new for us.

A good example is the Global Digital Leaders Exchange. This fall, approximately 20 digital leaders from across the world will visit Washington, DC, the Bay Area, and other locations in the United States to collaborate on shared concerns and to see how governments at the local, state, and federal level apply tech-sector expertise to policy challenges. They will return home to drive digital transformation within their governments. For many years, the State Department has helped current and emerging foreign leaders gain firsthand knowledge of the United States and to build connections with each other and the Americans they meet. By embracing new professions and fields of knowledge, we are able to continue a tradition but remain responsive to a changing world.

The Global Leaders Digital Exchange grew out of an ongoing conversation with U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith about how we can continue to bring the developments of the innovation economy into government. Announcing it at GES seemed like a natural fit. Our exchanges have always been designed to build expertise and networks, to bring people together to spark new ideas and modes of collaboration, and to expand opportunity for those with great potential but limited resources. Our partnerships with Silicon Valley have helped us take that even further. For example, the TechWomen exchange brings emerging female leaders in STEM from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, where they engage in project-based mentorships at leading companies. We also partner with Facebook on a program where university students find creative methods to reach those who are most vulnerable to extremism. We are partnering with Airbnb to make it possible for more American students with limited financial means to take advantage of study opportunities in China. And just last week, on World Refugee Day, I joined Coursera to announce Coursera for Refugees, a joint initiative that will expand access to education for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. 

I am excited by all of these recent developments. I returned home, after a week full of inspiring conversations, looking at ways we can innovate our programs. That’s what happens when you spend time with entrepreneurs.

About the Author: Evan Ryan serves as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

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Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Evan Ryan poses for a photo with exchange alumni at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit. [GES Photo]
Posted by Evan Ryan
July 1, 2016


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