10 Questions with Suzanne Hall
Name: Suzanne Hall, @SuzKPH
Occupation: Senior Innovation Advisor, Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs, @StateDept
Digital Influence: As all my friends and colleagues painfully know, I’m not a coder. I’m not a techie. I’m just fascinated by the tools as I’ve seen how they can help bridge critical gaps in societies around the world. The simplest solutions are always the most elegant and effective – especially in the digital space.
1. FB or Twitter?
Both. Different audiences, different capacities, can’t live without either.
2. Blackberry, iPhone, or Android?
3. What mobile app are you most excited about right now?
One that we don’t yet have but are excited to build: a State Department-developed English language learning mobile app that we can make available to populations around the world who are hungry to learn more English and line up better educational and professional opportunities.
4. What new startup are you most excited about right now?
We recently stood up a fantastic program at the State Department called TechWomen. The idea behind TechWomen is a simple and awesome one: we pair rock star women in the San Francisco Bay Area with their rock star counterparts in the Middle East and North Africa for a professional mentorship and exchange program at leading technology companies. Through TechWomen, State is working to foster the next generation of women leaders in the technology field by providing them with the access and opportunity needed to pursue tech-based careers. …So the new startup I’m the most excited about is the first one that we will see come out of the incredible group of young women technologists from the Middle East and North Africa taking part in TechWomen!
5. TechCamps: what are they?
TechCamp is a program under Secretary Clinton’s Civil Society (CS) 2.0 initiative – an effort to galvanize the technology community to assist CS organizations across the globe by providing capabilities, resources and assistance to enable CS organizations (CSOs) to harness the latest ICT advances to build their digital capacity. @StateDept hosted our first TechCamp in Santiago, Chile last November, and I had the honor of participating. It was really amazing to see firsthand a regional network of technologists and influencers coming together to make real change in the spaces of financial inclusion, citizen safety, environment and education.
6. How do you decide who attends?
We are really looking to involve as varied and inclusive a group as possible. We try to keep TechCamps relatively small – definitely under 100 people – so that participants can engage directly with technologies as well as with each other. We want to touch as many people through these events as possible, not recycling through the same personalities. We try to invite about half technologists and half civil society representatives so that we create a great and relatively even environment to encourage learning and networking. Ideally, participants come away with both a better awareness of the mobile and online technologies out there and how they can leverage them to further their own goals, as well as build new and fantastic contacts.
7. You recently spent a month in Tunisia: tell us about some of the young people you met there:
I had the opportunity to meet so many incredible young Tunisians during my stay in their country. From inspiring kids in Sfax age 14 – 17 years old studying English after school at State Department-sponsored programs (more here on ACCESS microscholarships), to the amazing young brain trust behind Tunisia Live. Tunisia is a country that is alive right now with opportunity and talent. Nowhere is that more visible than among Tunisian youth, many of whom will be voting for the first time in the upcoming elections on October 23rd. While in Tunisia, I was connecting with youth, learning about what they’re interested in and figuring out how we can work together. I don’t think I can ask for a better job than that.
8. What are your biggest take aways from your time in Tunisia?
Raw talent. Anyway you cut it -- whether from a linguistic standpoint (the population is basically bilingual, with a sizeable portion trilingual), tech standpoint (impressive start ups, incubators and research facilities), or anywhere in between – Tunisian youth are poised for success. Tunisians succeeded in broadening their horizons following their January 14th revolution, and they’re now running to seize those opportunities.
9. How can Movements.org supporters help Tunisian activists?
When I first learned I’d be heading to Tunisia, I reached out to my buddies at Movements.org to help me navigate and identify some of the digital broadcasters of the revolution, the folks using technology to get their story out to the world and make real changes going forward. Movements.org has done a great job of identifying and building relationships with some of the key changemakers in Tunisia. The digital talent in Tunisia is already rocking out on a number of fronts – whether setting up start up weekends, barcamps or hosting the next TEDx Carthage. I think that the best value add that Movements.org, State or any other entity can bring to the table when it comes to Tunisian activists is to engage them directly, listen to what they’ve accomplished and help out where needed to ensure that the Tunisian people can enjoy a smooth transition to a lasting democracy.
10. Any tips for other activists out there that they can learn from the success of the Tunisians?
All of the Tunisian activists I spoke with are very open to building relationships with counterparts around the world. For example, I had the opportunity to participate in early discussions between Tunisian civil society groups and the folks behind the U-Shahid project in Egypt to figure out the best way to implement an Ushahidi instance in Tunisia in the run-up to the elections. If there are people looking to learn best practices, look no further than Twitter! Just tweet the Tunisian activists themselves! No better way to learn than through a direct connection – and there couldn’t be a warmer and more hospitable community.