SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much. First of all, I’m so glad that you were able to get class outside today, and I’m really happy to participate in that. We’re here in part to ask you to think about the possibility of public service and including the possibility of service in the State Department. And I know that that may not be the first thing that comes to mind as you’re thinking about what to do when you’re at Stanford or at some point later in your career, but I’d like to just take a moment (inaudible) suggest why actually this would be an extraordinary time to think about not just (inaudible) some kind of public service but actually coming to the State Department and working on what America is doing around the world.
We were talking about this, and some of you may have been there with Condoleezza Rice just a short while ago, and some of your in many cases classmates. This is in many ways an inflection point, an inflection point because the world that existed after the end of the Cold War – the post-Cold War world – has really come to an end. And there’s an intense competition that’s underway to shape what actually comes next, and a big part of that competition is going to be driven by technology.
Technology is going to be at the heart of retooling our economies for the future. It’s going to be at the heart – in some cases of reforming our militaries to make them more effective and fit for purpose. It’s at the heart of reshaping lives in our country and around the world. But maybe most important, it’s at the heart of a positive vision that I think is responsive to the needs of people not just in our own country but around the world.
The things that so many of you are thinking about, are working on, studying – how to make sure that we can use technology to cure disease and to have a stronger global health system after COVID-19; how do we think about making sure that people can feed themselves sustainably at a time when we’re dealing with profound food insecurity around the world; how we deal with climate change so that we have a planet that can power itself, but doing it in a way that’s not dependent on fossil fuels; how do we think about supply chains to make sure that the things that people need in their daily lives are not disrupted because of disruptions to the supply chain; how do we think about good jobs for the future – all of that has technology, innovation, entrepreneurship at the heart of the answer. And all of that is what can – powerfully resonates around the world. And when we get it right, it directly goes to how the rest of the world sees us. I feel that every single day in the job that I’m doing.
So at our own Department of State – and I want to kind of make in a minute – a lot of these issues have not necessarily been front and center in what we do or what we’re seen to be doing. People think of the State Department, they think of diplomacy, they think of issues of war and peace and trying to make peace where there’s war, trying to prevent conflict.
But we know that the big issues that are really having an impact on people’s lives – whether it’s climate, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s the impact of new technologies – each of those has to be front and center in what we do as well because there’s not a solution set to any of those problems that does not involve, in some way or another, collaboration, cooperation, coordination with countries around the world, with companies around the world, with innovators around the world. And that’s where the State Department comes in. That’s where diplomacy comes in – trying to advance, to facilitate that cooperation and that coordination.
We were talking about this earlier: we’re trying to solve the climate crisis. Even if we do everything right at home, if we’re 15 percent of global emissions and we’re not dealing with the other 85 percent, we don’t solve the problem. Diplomacy is a big part of that. If we’re dealing with COVID and trying to make sure that we don’t have another pandemic, building a stronger global health system that’s only going to be as strong as the weakest link in the chain – that’s necessary. And again, even if we got everything right at home, if there’s another outbreak of disease and there’s a variant that undercuts what we’re doing at home, we can’t succeed.
And all of these technologies that many of you are actually studying, working on, helping to develop, how they get used – the rules, the standards, the norms by which they’re used, which are decided not necessarily in the United States but maybe in some windowless conference room around the world – that will decide if technology is used for good or for less good, whether privacy, whether security, whether human rights and our values, as well as our competitiveness is actually upheld.
And again, that’s exactly what diplomats are doing. We have a new bureau in our department for cyber and digital policy to make sure that we’re organized in a way that allows us to really engage on these issues. And a big part of making sure that that works, as well as a new office we’re standing up to deal with emerging technologies – everything from AI to quantum to bioengineering – that we have a lead role to play in making sure that the United States is well represented around the world.
And that’s where all of you come in. The very things that you’re interested in, that you’re passionate about, that you’re working on, that you’re studying, there’s actually a way to pursue them as part of the State Department, and maybe spending a little bit of time of working in the public sector, in public service, and doing something that I’ve found over 30 years has given tremendous meaning to my own life, and that’s being able to go to work every day with an American flag behind my back either literally or figuratively. And for some of you, that may be an attractive proposition, even if it’s only for a little bit of time.
We’re finding new ways to bring those who are steeped on STEM into our department, and we can talk a little bit about that. But I really just wanted to encourage you to actually consider that, to think about that as an opportunity, whether it’s in a few years; whether it’s in 10 or 15 years. But we need you: we need the talent, we need the insight, and we especially need a new generation of people to look at these problems that are incredibly daunting, but that have solutions, and increasingly they’ll have the solutions that you’re finding and developing.
So with that, Nate, do you want to say a few words about what we’re doing?
AMBASSADOR FICK: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And thanks, everybody, for being here. It is – it’s real treat for me to be back in Silicon Valley. As the dean mentioned, I built a business here and was an operating partner in a venture capital firm here for 10 years. I spent a lot of mornings running around The Dish, worried about raising money, and whether a (inaudible) feature would work, losing a customer, hiring a key person. And so it is terrific to be back here.
I have now had a few weeks of experience building this new bureau at the State Department, and I’ll tell you, there’s one big point of commonality between what I’m doing now and what I was doing before, building a tech business. Both the bureau and our company were what I called elevator assets organizations. At the end of the day, we had some computers, we had some chairs, but basically, all of our assets went down the elevator at night and went home. That’s all we had. Human capital, people, it’s all we had.
And so the fundamental challenge in building either of these organizations, any organization, is finding the right people to come join the team. The Secretary mentioned getting in his conference rooms, right, and setting standards, kind of the unsexy work of moving the ball down the field. My first week on the job was doing exactly that. I got sworn in on a Thursday to get a passport on a Friday to go to Romania on a Saturday in order to spend the better part of a week meeting with delegations from countries around the world to persuade them to vote for an American candidate to be secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union, a standard-setting body that’s been around since 1865. It was set up to make sure that European telegraphs could talk to American telegraphs, could talk to Asian telegraphs. And this stuff really matters. We may not think about it every day, but it really matters.
And I got on the phone with my wife at the end of the first day and she said, “So how is it?” And I said, “Well, the people are tremendous. The people are just incredible, and the sense of purpose is incredible.” So I think that the – we need American companies building and scaling technology around the world in accordance with our values. And we need American diplomatic leadership on topics like setting the standards and the norms for tech also in accordance with our values.
So I think our invitation to you is something like the following: if you – as products of at least a few years in this place, if you really believe that the innovation economy is a wellspring of our attractiveness and economic health and national security as a nation, if you believe that; and if you believe in the intrinsic value of diplomacy, if you believe that talking about our differences is the most effective way to bridge them or resolve them; and if you believe that tech is the next frontier in diplomacy, just as it’s the next frontier in every aspect of our lives – if you would believe those things, then we have a place for you. And I can say that with conviction because there was a place for me.
I did not see myself five or seven or 10 years ago at the State Department. But I’ll tell you, now, having spent a little bit of time in this great organization, it reminds me of a recruiting slogan the Marines used in the ’90s when I graduated from college and joined the Marines. They said, “We never promised you a rose garden.” The same is true at the State Department. There are things you can do coming out of Stanford where you’re going to make more money and maybe you’ll work easier hours. But I would challenge you to find something that will give you the same sense of purpose.
The Secretary has talked about the, I stand a little taller walking behind my desk with the American flag there, and I come through the turnstile every morning with a big grin on my face. And so whether it’s four years of your career or 40 years of your career, please consider giving a portion of your time and your energy to public service because we need you.