The recent Middle East uprising has had U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton thinking about innovation and the future of women’s rights in the region. In order to capture the technological momentum the Arab Spring has set, this summer the State Department will bring 25 tech-savvy teen girls from the Middle East and North Africa to Silicon Valley for intensive training with their American counterparts.
The program – TechGirls – will include meetings with movers and shakers in American tech innovation, as well as working on designing new products and training in cloud computing, Web design, mobile communications and social networking.
TechGirls is an offspring of TechWomen, a similar program for adult technologists from the Middle East who come to the United States for professional development. This is part of Mrs. Clinton’s “smart power diplomacy” initiative to use foreign policy to empower women worldwide through technology.
The idea here is to build relationships with female innovators who could likely one day be influential back in their home countries. As popular as technology is in the Arab-speaking world, female representation in tech firms is even lower than in the United States and Western Europe. In turn the State Department hopes to build future connections that can benefit American tech companies by branching out to emerging markets in the Middle East and North Africa.
“Technology can be a great facilitator. […] It can also be used by governments and others to prevent people from being able to communicate,” Clinton said in July 2011. “So we have to stay a step ahead so that people are never deprived of their opportunity, as we saw how important that was in both Tunisia and Egypt over the last months. We’re seeing it in many other settings as well.”