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State Department Launches ‘TechWomen’

by Jan Jaben-Eilon for Womenetics

June 28, 2011

Article compliments of Womenetics (www.womenetics.com)

Nearly 18 months after the idea was hatched in the U.S. State Department during a snowstorm in Washington, D.C., a project labeled “TechWomen” launches Friday, June 3, in San Francisco.

“The idea developed during the snowstorm in early 2010, and we had lots of time to think about ways to empower women and girls,” says Ann Stock, assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs. “We thought about using technology, and we started developing the concept.”

The implementation of that concept brings 37 women from the Middle East and North Africa to the West Coast where they will be matched with mentors in one of 30 technology companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter, IBM, Oracle, Cisco, Intel, and Symantec. The women will spend four weeks with their mentors in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, and then spend another week, including the Fourth of July, in Washington, D.C.

The first of its kind on this scale, according to Stock, TechWomen is part of a broader strategy goal of the State Department to instill empowerment of women into foreign policy. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced TechWomen in the spring of 2010 at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship as a way in which the United States was prepared to build greater collaboration through technology.

Last November, Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large of Global Women’s Issues at the State Department, spoke about TechWomen at a Womenetics luncheon in Atlanta. President Obama’s decision to create Verveer’s position was unprecedented and reflects the elevated importance of these issues to the administration.

Verveer coordinates foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic, and social advancement of women around the world. Coincidentally, 2011 is the100th year of International Women’s Day.

The women traveling from abroad for TechWomen come from the Muslim countries of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine.

In 2009, President Barack Obama gave an historic speech in Cairo that encouraged greater collaboration between the United States and countries with a majority Muslim population.

TechWomen was already under way, Stock says, when the popular uprisings arose in North Africa and the Middle East in the last few months. “We’ve seen how important technology has been in these countries the last six months.” She says she hopes the concept can spread to other countries such as Singapore and Indonesia.

“The idea is to have the women go back to their countries and mentor other women and girls in an ever-expanding network of people,” Stock explains. “Many of them are already mentoring younger women. We want to widen the international circle of women involved in technology. These women will have their own network within their countries and then across borders with the women they’ve met. It will have a huge snowball effect.”

This is not the first mentoring program run by the U.S. State Department, points out Stock. The experience from previous mentoring programs has been that the women “don’t lose track of each other and the mentors are always available if there’s a question or the women need help.”

Stock will be in San Francisco for the kick-off the program, which will include a series of workshops. The women will meet their mentors and then start working on Monday, July 6. The group of women includes six from Algeria, six from Egypt, seven from Jordan, five from Lebanon, five from Morocco, and eight from Palestine. The group includes academics, computer engineers, and entrepreneurs.

The women who will do the mentoring are mid-level people who actually work on tangible projects rather than CEOs at the technology companies. According to Stock, the mentees are not the only ones who will gain something from the TechWomen program. The mentors also benefit from the experience. “I’ve been a mentor my whole life,” she says. “It keeps you on your toes in your industry and helps you be a resource to others.”

About the Author: Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.

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