For the third and final post of our series covering the 2014 GeekWire Summit, we enjoyed a fireside chat with Steven VanRoekel, former CIO of the United States and current CIO of USAID. The Summit shines a light on thought leaders at the intersection of technology and business, and Steven’s experience introduced a third dimension – the public sector. The U.S. government is considered its own vertical for tech companies and vendors, given its massive size and purchasing power.

The role and influence of the public sector when it comes to technology, governance and making people’s lives better is something we think about a lot in the Seattle office. Weber Shandwick Seattle has championed a number of campaigns and programs related to public sector engagement locally, nationally and globally. We’ve partnered with Microsoft to launch CityNext, a public-private partnership between city governments and technology providers to make cities better places to live. Our office also supports a range of global development initiatives, from efforts to deliver financial services to the world’s poor to communications strategies for agricultural development and vaccine delivery programs. Needless to say, my ears perked up when Steven took the stage.



If you haven’t been following Steven’s illustrious path, he’s worked for both the leader of the free world and the wealthiest philanthropist in the world. He’s followed Bill Gates from the launch of the xBox to the slums of India to start campaigns that aim to change peoples’ lives and eradicate diseases. Steven also worked with the Obama administration on the “business of government,” bringing new efficiencies in internal communication and budget spending to the federal government. To do this, he sparked a transformation in how government employees thought about and used everyday technology such as email. In one example, he led the charge to help a department consolidate 21 different email systems!

One would think Steven is ready to retire from a career of ambitious project undertakings, but no. He’s following his own advice to “look for opportunities to enter the fray.” He recently stepped down from his post as United States CIO to help coordinate the Ebola response for USAID. He started this new role just this week, and at the GeekWire Summit, he outlined what he plans to tackle first. His team will encourage innovation in the tools needed to make response teams more nimble and effective in the field and on the go. This includes innovation in form factors that can create a more agile response team – such as PPEs (personal protective equipment) adapted to work outside a lab environment and survive Western Africa summers, printers designed to attach to belts, and rugged tablets that can be used in the field. He’s also looking at how big data can be used to inform decisions on the fly, how text messaging technology can be used for immediate and broad communication, and how broadband can be used to work in remote areas.

We wish Steven good luck in this first week on the new job! His inspiring story is an inspiration and example of how people + technology can make meaningful and positive changes in the world.

Image courtesy of Wonderlane.

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