A phone call from Jared Cohen was all it took.
That call was for Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, which announced plans to shut down for server maintenance at a time when protests against the 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were gaining momentum. Many of the thousands of Iranians who streamed into the streets relied on the microblogging service to spread the word. While maintaining the United States’ officially neutral position, the senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convinced Dorsey to keep Twitter running. As a result, the Iranian protests will forever mark as a turning point in technology’s role in disrupting the status quo.
“I believe that being disruptive is good,” Cohen says. “It means changing the way we think about and act on old challenges in new ways. It means trying and failing. It means taking risks.”
That’s an apt description of Cohen’s own career. Prior to joining the State Department, Cohen traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, where he interviewed Hezbollah and al-Qaida terrorists to better understand the nature and root causes of radicalization.
Cohen will be called upon once again to be disruptive in his new role as the first director of Google Ideas, a new think tank aimed at finding innovative solutions to old challenges. Not surprisingly, Cohen sees technology as central to this work. However, he’s quick to point out that “while the technology doesn’t choose sides, people do.”
Says Cohen: “We need to move towards providing tools and creating space for local people to develop local solutions.”
Read the announcement of Devex’s 40-under-40 honorees.