Alec Ross


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Alec Ross
Alec Ross Teaching at Oxford

Alec Ross at Oxford Internet Institute on November 7th, 2013
Born November 30, 1971
United States Charleston, West Virginia, U.S.
Education Northwestern University
University of Bologna, Italy
Occupation Senior Adviser on Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Employer U.S. Department of State

Alec Ross (born November 30, 1971) was Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the duration of her term as Secretary of State, a role created for him that blends technology with diplomacy.[1] As Secretary Clinton’s “tech guru,”[2] Ross led State Department’s efforts to find practical technology solutions for some of the globe’s most vexing problems on health care, poverty, human rights and ethnic conflicts, earning him numerous accolades including the Distinguished Honor Award. In 2010 Ross was named one of 40 leaders under 40 years old in International Development,[3] and Huffington Post included him in their list of 2010 Game Changers as one of 10 “game changers” in politics.[4] He is also one of Politico’s 50 Politicos to Watch as one of “Five people who are bringing transformative change to the government.”[5] Foreign Policy magazine named Ross a Top Global Thinker in 2011.[6] Profiled in 2011, Time Magazine describes how Ross is incorporating digital platforms into the daily lives of U.S. diplomats and his support of programs to train activists in the Middle East.[7] Time Magazine also named Alec Ross one of the best Twitter feeds of 2012.[8] In 2012, Newsweek named Alec to their Digital Power Index Top 100 influencers, listing him among other “public servants defining digital regulatory boundaries,”[9] and the TriBeCa Film Festival awarded Ross a Disruptive Innovation Award.[10] Alec Ross is recipient of the Oxford Internet Institute OII Award 2013 [11]

He is currently working on a book,[12] as well as serving as an advisor to “investors, corporations, institutions, and government leaders.”[13]


Ross grew up near Charleston, West Virginia.[1][14] In the seventh grade, he moved to Rome for a year to live with his grandfather, the commercial minister at the American embassy.[15] He returned to Italy to attend the University of Bologna in his junior year of college and is fluent in Italian.[16]

After graduating in 1994 from Northwestern University with a B.A. in history,[16] Ross moved to Baltimore as a Teach for America corps member, where he taught low-income middle school students. Ross and his Teach for America program were featured in a three-part Baltimore Sun series.[1][14][17]

Ross taught for two years and then accepted a position as special assistant to the president of the Enterprise Foundation, which develops affordable housing across the country. He focused on developing business, technology and fundraising strategies.[18]

In 2000, he co-founded the nonprofit One Economy, a global nonprofit that uses innovative approaches to deliver the power of technology and information about education, jobs, health care and other vital issues to low-income people.[1][14] During his eight years at One Economy, it grew from a team of four people working in a basement to the world’s largest digital divide organization, with programs on four continents.[16] While at One Economy, he wrote “A Laptop in Every Backpack” with Simon Rosenberg.

Obama Campaign and Transition

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Ross played a key role in developing then-Sen. Barack Obama’s far-reaching technology and innovation plan.[19]

After joining Obama’s presidential campaign in 2006, Ross was charged with coordinating hundreds of policy advisers—including high-tech titans like Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, academics like Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, nonprofit leaders and investors.[1]

As an early, prominent supporter of Obama’s from the technology sector,[20] he often served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign to the scientific and technology communities.[21][22]

21st Century Statecraft

In April 2009, Ross was tapped to join the State Department. As Senior Advisor on Innovation, he successfully advocated for new digital diplomacy tools.[23] He is spearheading the “21st Century Statecraft” initiative[24] and led Civil Society 2.0, a program to educate and train grass-roots organizations around the world to create Web sites, blog, launch text messaging campaigns, and build online communities.[25] Speaking to digital diplomacy’s promise, Ross told The American Prospect, “If Paul Revere had been a modern day citizen, he wouldn’t have ridden down Main Street. He would have tweeted.”[24]

Through his work at the State Department, Ross institutionalized ways to use Web video and social networking sites to extend statecraft.[26] In 2009 he told U.S. News and World Report, “It’s about how can you reach large numbers of people who otherwise would be difficult to impossible to reach.”[27] Ross argued that governments using interactive communications technologies can be more creative and responsive in how they enable people to engage directly with each other and with other countries.[28]

Alec Ross increased citizen involvement in State Department efforts with technological tools — creating text messaging codes to raise money for refugees and enabling mobile banking around the world.[5] Ross also drove efforts to aide other countries through digital development initiatives like wiring schools, adding wireless capacity to public works, text-message reminders to HIV patients, and leap frogging communities from cash culture to mobile banking.[24] During the Libyan uprising, Alec drove the State Department’s efforts to “restore communication networks in rebel-held territories such as Benghazi, working with the late Amb. Chris Stevens, to fight the Internet blackout imposed by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.”[29] Ross’ team also “provided communications technologies to opposition members in the Syrian border areas and trained NGOs on how to avoid the regime’s censorship and cyber snooping.”[29]

In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Ross visited with former militia members in demobilization camps to learn about ways to get current militia members to quit fighting.[2] He worked to implement a State Department outreach program based on their suggestion to use radio to communicate with fighters who are hiding out in the bush. Ross also put together a mobile banking program for soldiers who haven’t been paid in years, empowering them with the ability to securely transfer money and save through accounts over cellphones.[25]

Ross was a vocal critic of efforts by nations to control or surveil the internet. In March, 2013 he explained: “Many Middle Eastern countries, Russia, China and others I believe, are going to take an increasingly aggressive stand to try to control the Internet.”[30]

In addition to concerns over countries increasing surveillance capabilities, Ross highlighted cases where businesses prioritized profit motives over the potential harms of technologies. In 2011, he publicly “criticised the developers of internet surveillance equipment who were willing to sell their services to repressive regimes and allow governments to censor their citizens.”[31] He also “lashed out” against organizer of surveillance technology conference for condoning sales to authoritarian governments. Ross tweeted “With all due respect, Mr. Lucas, people are tortured + there can be life/death consequences to sales of these products.”[32]

Ross’ “overt support of subversive technology” outraged authoritarian leaders,[33] and he has confronted governments, including Russia, about Internet Freedom.[34]

His last day serving as a Senior Advisor with the U.S. Department of State was March 12, 2013. In an announcement published on Facebook and Twitter Ross said he would focus on two writing projects, a book and a movie, as well as “engage as advisor to investors, cororations, institutions and government leaders to help them undrestand the implication of macro factors emerging at the intersection of geopolitics, markets and increasing disruptive network technologies.”[35]


Ross met his wife, Felicity, in Houston where they were preparing for Teach for America.[15] They live in Baltimore and are the parents of 3 children.[1][14]



  • 2013: Alec Ross. Light Up the West Bank: Want to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process? Start with 3G. Foreign Policy.[36]
  • 2012: Alec Ross. How connective tech boosts political change. CNN.[37]
  • 2011: Alec Ross and Ben Scott. 21st Century Statecraft. NATO Review.[38]
  • 2010: Alec Ross. Internet Freedom: Historic Roots and the Road Forward. The SAIS Review of International Affairs Volume 30, Number 2, Summer-Fall[39]
  • 2007: Simon Rosenberg and Alec Ross. A Laptop in Every Backpack with Simon Rosenberg. NDN Globalization Initiative.[40]


  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f “Diplomatic Efforts Get Tech Support,” Washington Post, April 6, 2009. [1]
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b “Hillary Clinton’s Tech Guru on 21st Century Statecraft,” BusinessWeek, November 2, 2009. [2]
  3. Jump up ^ “Meet the 40 Under 40”. DevEx. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  4. Jump up ^ Huffington, Arianna (16 September 2010). “Announcing HuffPost’s 2010 Game Changers”. Huffington Post. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  5. ^ Jump up to: a b Politico Staff. “The game changers”. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  6. Jump up ^ “The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers”. Foreign Policy. December 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
  7. Jump up ^ Gustin, Sam (2 September 2011). “Digital Diplomacy”. Time Magazine. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  8. Jump up ^ Staff (March 21, 2012). “The Best 140 Twitter Feeds of 2012”. Time Magazine. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  9. Jump up ^ “Digital Power Index”. Newsweek. June 24, 2012. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  10. Jump up ^ Dale, Austin (April 3, 2012). “Tribeca to Honor Justin Bieber, Edward Burns and Others with Disruptive Innovation Awards”. Indie Wire. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  11. Jump up ^ “Oxford Internet Institute Honours Internet Pioneers, John Seely-Brown, Alec Ross, Max Schrems and Galaxy Zoo Co-founder, Chris Lintott”. Oxford Internet Institute. October 24, 2013.
  12. Jump up ^ “Alec Ross on `21st Century Statecraft’ Diplomacy”. Bloomberg. 14 March 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  13. Jump up ^ Ross, Alec. “Alec Ross Facebook Timeline”. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  14. ^ Jump up to: a b c d ZALESKI, ANDREW (February 2013). “The New Statesman”. Baltimore Style. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  15. ^ Jump up to: a b “Technology Sage; Charleston Native Joins Clinton as Senior Adviser on Innovation,” Charleston Gazette, April 19, 2009. [3]
  16. ^ Jump up to: a b c Conconi, Chuck. “WL Feature: Alec Ross, Digital Diplomat”. Washington Life Magazine. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  17. Jump up ^ “Teaching Corps Recruit Steps into Baltimore’s Different World,” Baltimore Sun, September 7, 1994. [4]
  18. Jump up ^ “Innovator Alec Ross Joins State Dept.,” National Journal, April 6, 2009. [5]
  19. Jump up ^ “Hillary Clinton Launches “21st Century Statecraft” Initiative by State Department,” TechPresident, May 13, 2009. [6].
  20. Jump up ^ “Tech Leaders Announce Support for Barack Obama,” USA Today, November 15, 2007. [7]
  21. Jump up ^ “AAAS Works to Raise Science Visibility in 2008 Campaign,” Science Magazine, April 25, 2008. [8]
  22. Jump up ^ “The Science of Government,” The Guardian, February 18, 2008. [9]
  23. Jump up ^ “The Creative List: New Media,” Washington Life, November 8, 2009. [10]
  24. ^ Jump up to: a b c “The Next Diplomatic Cable,” The American Prospect, July 27, 2009. [11]
  25. ^ Jump up to: a b “Technology for diplomacy: A chat with State’s Alec Ross,” Washington Post, November 6, 2009. [12]
  26. Jump up ^ “Obama’s Geek Squad,” Wired, June 18, 2009. [13]
  27. Jump up ^ “Hillary Clinton Turns State Department Tech-Friendly,” U.S. News and World Report, June 15, 2009. [14]
  28. Jump up ^ “P2P2G: The rise of e-diplomacy,” Politico, June 4, 2009. [15]
  29. ^ Jump up to: a b Rogin, Josh (14 March 2013). “Tech guru Alec Ross leaves the State Department”. Foreign Policy. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  30. Jump up ^ Nebehay, Stephanie (7 March 2013). “China, Russia seek greater control of Internet, U.S. says”. Reuters. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  31. Jump up ^ Wilson, Cherry (2 November 2011). “Clinton adviser makes Twitter attack on surveillance equipment firms”. The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  32. Jump up ^ Greenberg, Andy (2 November 2011). “State Dept Official Calls Out Surveillance Gear Marketer On Human Rights”. Forbes. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  33. Jump up ^ Ferenstein, Gregory (4 April 2011). “Hillary Clinton’s Senior Tech Advisor Talks “Radical” Global Citizenship”. Fast Company. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  34. Jump up ^ Englund, Will (28 October 2011). “Russia hears an argument for Web freedom”. Washington Post. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  35. Jump up ^ Howard, Alexander (12 March 2013). “Exit Interview: Alec Ross on Internet Freedom, Innovation and Digital Diplomacy”. Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  36. Jump up ^ Ross, Alec (18 June 2013). “Light Up the West Bank: Want to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process? Start with 3G.”. Foreign Policy. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  37. Jump up ^ Ross, Alec (June 20, 2012). “How connective tech boosts political change”. CNN. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  38. Jump up ^ Ross, Alec; Ben Scott (2011). “21st Century Statecraft”. NATO Review. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  39. Jump up ^ Ross, Alec (Summer–Fall 2010). nternet Freedom: Historic Roots and the Road Forward. The SAIS Review of International Affairs 30 (2). Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  40. Jump up ^ Rosenberg, Simon; Alec Ross (1 May 2007). “Rosenberg”. NDN Globalization Initiative. Retrieved 17 November 2011.