Posted by: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft
I had the pleasure of hosting Alec Ross in Kyiv from October 25 to 27. Alec is the Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and is one of Washington’s leading voices for internet freedom and the use of social media in foreign policy. Alec and his deputy Ben Scott spent three eventful days in Kyiv learning about the local status of internet freedom and discussing Secretary Clinton’s 21st Century Statecraft agenda. Their visit was part of a regional trip with stops in Estonia and Russia.
21st Century Statecraft is an ambitious agenda to use new online tools and the increasingly networked nature of the world to transform the State Department’s approach to diplomacy and development. As Secretary Clinton said in January 2010: “On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.”
Alec and Ben came to Kyiv with fascinating ideas to share about the disruptive change caused by the internet. But their main goal was to hear from a diverse range of Ukrainian businessmen, politicians, journalists, activists, and bloggers about how the internet is affecting Ukraine economically and socially, and its future potential in the country.
Alec discussed internet freedom, foreign policy, and economic innovation with over 250 students at Kyiv’s Polytechnic Institute, and spoke to a similarly large crowd at the House of Teachers as part of our Ambassador’s Forum speakers series. He met with journalists and freedom of speech activists to learn about the flow of news and information on the internet in Ukraine, and to hear their concerns about possible misguided attempts to impose controls in the name of anti-terrorism or anti-obscenity.
He also met with leading businessmen to hear about investment opportunities in the online sphere, and with telecommunications executives to learn about the challenges in expanding internet access in Ukraine beyond the current level of about 30%. Alec met with Hanna Herman at Bankova, and also with a group of Rada deputies and other politicians who actively use social media – they told him how the internet has changed their relationship with voters and the general public. He also met with a group of leading bloggers to discuss how they can be “citizen journalists” in the new world of online media.
Meanwhile, Ben found time to meet with journalism students at Kyiv Mohila Academy to discuss how the internet is radically changing the media landscape in Ukraine and around the world. He also met NGO activists to talk about how civil society activists can organize online. We already have an ambitious follow up plan for Ben to run a tech camp in Ukraine in 2012, focused on developing online interactive English teaching and learning tools.
Alec’s visit to Kyiv helped spread the word about the importance of internet freedom for protecting free speech, promoting economic innovation, creating more open government, and strengthening civil society. He laid the foundations for future cooperation between Ukraine and the U.S. in these areas. I was pleased to help him meet the right people to gain a better understanding of internet freedom in Ukraine. We hope he will visit us again soon.