Alec Ross, senior adviser on innovation at the U.S. State Department. Photo by: personal collection

Alec Ross makes no small plans. When he founded One Economy, a nonprofit aimed at closing the digital divide, the organization boasted two employees working out of a cramped basement. But that didn’t stop Ross from sending fundraising appeals to the titans of the technology industry.

Showing the tenacity (and audacity) that would earn him the nickname “the pitbull,” Ross didn’t take no for an answer and convinced many – including Bill Gates – to join his effort.

Ross grew One Economy into a global leader, delivering the power of technology and information about education, jobs, health care and other vital issues to low-income people. And his work certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed: after serving as a key architect of the Obama campaign’s technology and innovation plan, Ross was asked to join the State Department under Secretary Hillary Clinton – in a post created specifically for him.

Accepting the role of senior adviser on innovation required Ross to put his work for One Economy on hold, but he describes working for the Obama administration as a “dream.”

His work comes at a critical time: “2009 was the worst year in history in terms of Internet freedom, with one third of the globe accessing a censored Internet,” he said.

He hopes to play a role in freezing and reversing this trend under Secretary Clinton’s Internet Freedom Initiative.

As for the future, Ross sees more blending of private and public-sector approaches, fostering entrepreneurship in the developing world, with a recognition that “innovation is more powerful than development.” And he’ll continue to dream big, citing the inspiration of Teddy Roosevelt’s words that it is “far better to dare mighty deeds … even though checkered by failure, than … live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.”

Read the announcement of Devex’s 40-under-40 honorees.

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