State Department Supporting Social Tech in Pakistan
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Islamabad, and yesterday she announced American support for a new mobile-phone based social network in Pakistan. The network is called "Humari Awaz," which means "our voice," and it is accessible through a free SMS shortcode on all five mobile networks. Pakistanis will be able to use these networks for purely social ends, or to enhance business, media, agricultural, and other purposes. The US government will pay for the first 24 million text messages sent through Humari Awaz.
As in much of the developing world, Pakistan's 95 million mobile subscriptions vastly outnumber landline or internet connections, so it makes a lot of sense to leverage SMS technology to tie people together. I'd be curious to hear more about who State is partnering with on this-- particularly who will be operating the back-end-- and how the network will function for users.
But on a less tech-y and more geopolitical note, I'm a big fan of the State Department's continued embrace of "21st Century Statecraft," to advance American interests by using modern technology and encouraging its adoption around the world. Pakistan is the "most dangerous place on earth," and also one of the places most central to American security. Leveraging social technology to help build civil society, improve the economy, and empower Pakistani citizens is a smart, focused use of our power, and initiatives like this may do more to promote American security than any direct US action against al Qaeda's strongholds in Waziristan ever could.