With Jewish lineage, Jared grew up exposed to a world that’s beyond the borders of his country. His grandmother regaled him with stories of what lies beyond the limits of his citizenship. Ever since he was a young boy, Jared had a profound understanding of internationalism. It also helped that he was raised in an amalgam of cultures and heritage.
Jared’s Childhood and Education
Jared Cohen was born on 24 November 1981 in Weston, Connecticut. Donald Cohen, his father, is a family physical therapist. On the other hand, his mother Dee was a children’s book illustrator who later on became a real estate agent. He was primarily of Jewish descent and he grew up surrounded by his extended family.
In fact, his paternal grandmother used to tell him stories about her travels to Cuba and Iran. Perhaps, it was those times of listening to his grandmother’s adventures that piqued Jared’s interest to see more of the world. Fortunately, his parents did not mind bringing their son to places that might not look so ideal for a young boy. Family vacations were spent in Egypt, Morocco, and Africa rather than the inviting and too good to be true theme parks and sparkly children’s haven.
A trip to Africa was all it took for Jared to develop an inexplicable affinity to the colored people. He was so besotted with the African way of life that he kept bugging his parents to get him a Swahili tutor. Jared would soon become fluent in Swahili, Arabic, Persian, and Korean. Little did he know that his peculiar interest in cultures and overseas people would direct his lifelong career. Excelling not only in academics, Jared was an all-star soccer player when he was in high school. One more thing that Jared does in his free time is paint.
Jared went to Stanford University where he took history and political science. He was yet to outgrow his passion for Africa so it wasn’t surprising when he minored in African studies. His thirst for adventure only intensified when he got to college. After his first year, he spent his whole summer in Kenya observing the culture and practices of the Masai people. What followed after that fieldwork was a trip to Rwanda. Initially, Jared wanted to go there to track gorillas. However, the trip took a surprising turn when accounts of the 1994 Tutsi slaughter kept finding their way to him. This compelled Jared to hitch a ride to the restricted borders of Congo in order to hear the Hutus’ side of the story from three of its members.
That led Jared to a find that inspired his undergraduate thesis. "The Absence of Decision-Making: U.S. Policy Towards Rwanda from the Arusha Process Through the Genocide" was the title of the thesis he did when he was in his junior year at Stanford. It provided a scholarly take on the genocide in Rwanda where 800,000 Tutsis were murdered by the Hutus. The comprehensive study containing Jared’s hypothesis about the lack of intervention of the United States and the international authorities won the Hines Prize for the best senior honors thesis. It also became the foundation of his first published book titled "One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide."
Following the completion of his undergraduate diploma in Stanford, Jared won a Rhodes scholarship. Out of the 963 applicants, Jared became one of the 32 successful applicants to enter Oxford University with 30,000 dollars of annual support for a three-year study period. That in itself was a great achievement for Jared since qualifying for the said program was not an easy feat. To be a Rhodes’ scholar, one has to have more than impressive marks. Equally important is the student’s "integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, and potential for leadership and physical vigor" as stated in the founder's will.
While still in Oxford, Jared has done internship in the State Department. An achiever, Jared has also actively joined the 10-year anniversary of the genocide by providing his consultation services in a documentary done by PBS. Jared has also delved in writing and founded a journal publication within the campus called “Six Degrees: A Journal of Human Rights.”
While in Oxford, he also went to Iran in order to complete a research project. What he originally planned was to interview the political leaders, opposition organizers, and reformers to obtain as much information as he could about the insurgencies in the country. Everything went awry when Revolutionary Guards confiscated his list after interviewing the Vice President of Iran. Without the list, he didn’t know what to do next so he ended up roaming the city until he discovered by happenstance a clique of teenagers all huddled in one isolated area tinkering with their gadgets. He asked the kids what they were doing and they told him that they were exchanging information via Bluetooth. Jared asked them if they feel threatened about getting caught. Looking unfazed, the teens just laughed it off and told him that no one over 30 years old knows what Bluetooth is.
In an interview he did with Foreign Policy, he shared his inference concerning that pivotal information:
“The conclusion I came to there is there's two gaps: There's a generation gap between young people who are socialized and brought up with these technologies and an older generation that's coming a bit late to them (and that questions them before they embrace them); there are downsides to both. And there's an innovation gap between companies that innovate for luxury environments—i.e., free and open societies—and repressed populations which use things innovatively.”
Partying with the Iranians who never seemed to care that he is Jewish-American made him realize that what the kids the world has labelled terrorists because of their early introduction to violence and fanaticism are just like the kids he sees back home. It struck a chord in Jared. Since then, whenever he gets the opportunity, he tends to break stereotypes society has made of kids coming from the Middle East. According to him, teenagers from Iran really like the Western culture, so much so that they try to emulate American youth. His findings would provide the premise of the second book he would release in 2007 titled "Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East."
The Youngest Member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff
In 2006, with a master’s in Oxford under his belt, Jared was hired by Condoleezza Rice to become one of her advisers on the basis of his knowledge and experience in the Middle East. It was a wise move for the White House because although Jared was only in his mid-twenties then, he was able to add value to their team as the person who introduced technology and its power in diplomatic relations. Jared taught them unprecedented ways to use the internet as a way of creating deliverables.
Before Jared, the Secretary of States’ Policy Planning staff was a think tank. When Jared joined, it became a think/do-tank simply because they get to try the very ideas they think of with the tip of their fingers. What Jared did not expect though was the support he would get from the people he thought were not going to understand how powerful technology can be.
He was startled at first when he joined the State Department’s Policy Planning team because no one was talking about technology. Using his charismatic personality and thorough background, Jared was able to convince the Secretary of State to allow him to lead the first “technology delegation.”
In the same interview with Foreign Policy, he explained the rationale behind these "techdels":
"The hypothesis was very simple: If you connect people that have expertise on tools with people that have expertise on Iraq, something innovative may happen. I just had an intuition this could lead to something interesting. It just sounded right, and the embassy thought it sounded right. The idea was: "’Let's see if this can result in concrete deliverables that can provide new solutions to old challenges.’"
Although Jared was particularly proud of the deliverables their technology delegation generated, he doesn’t take all the glory:
"A lot of deliverables that came out of that trip: We created a program called the U.S.-Iraq internship program, for example. We figured that instead of just bringing Iraqi students on exchanges to the United States to study at high schools and universities, let's create internships for them at technology and other start-ups to immerse them in the entrepreneurial "garage culture." So now we're bringing young Iraqi engineers to the U.S. to work for Twitter, Howcast, AT&T, etc. After they go back to Iraq, based on the connections they built in the U.S. and based on what they've learned in the U.S., they're now building their own networks -- what they believe will be their version of Silicon Valley for Iraq. They're the pioneers of entrepreneurship in a post-Saddam Iraq.
Also, the Museum Project was really cool. Iraq has this amazing national museum, and it's an incredible source of pride. Sixty to 70 percent of the museum artifacts that were stolen in recent years have been returned, but the museum exists in a part of Iraq that is sufficiently turbulent that it is not open to the public. We figured that if people can't go there, let's create a virtual presence for it. So we partnered with about 10 different companies. Google, for instance, sent engineers out and digitized the entire museum with street-view technology, literally rolling trolleys around the museum, taking images of things, and built this whole virtual platform. We had a company called Blue State Digital, which did the Obama campaign's tech stuff, build it out, and Howcast, an online video company, created accompanying "how-to" videos -- like how to tell if your Iraqi antiquity is stolen and what to do about it." (Source: Foreign Policy)
Delaying Twitter’s Maintenance Work to Provide an Avenue for Iraqi Dissidents
Due to Jared’s active participation in technology delegations, he was able to brush elbows with technological biggies. One of the luminaries he struck friendship with was Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter. During the 2009 elections in Iraq, a reformist informed Jared that Twitter will be down for maintenance the day before the national elections.
In Iraq where communication is literally blocked in order to maintain the status quo, dissidents rely heavily on Twitter to exchange updates. With Twitter closing for maintenance, there would be no way to keep abreast with election updates. Jared did not hesitate to send Jack an email, telling him about the impending repercussion of having the site closed just before election time in Iran. Twitter obliged and delayed maintenance work for a few more hours.
Jared’s decisive move was questioned by political analysts, saying that the White House must not meddle with international affairs. Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza’s predecessor who decided to keep Jared in her team, quickly defended Jared’s action. While some frowned upon his guts, Jared was applauded by many for his initiative and boldness.
21st Century Statecraft
Undoubtedly, Jared added color to the rather drab operation in his department. Another initiative called 21st Century Statecraft was launched by Hillary with Jared on the lead. Ever since the 21st Century Statecraft was introduced, the Policy Planning arm of the State Department advanced from thinkers to doers. Jared calls the branch now as a think/do-tank because of the ability technology has afforded them to realize ideas they have conceived.
From White House to Googleplex
With 300,000 followers on Twitter, Jared Cohen was once the third most followed political figure tailing Barack Obama and John McCain, respectively. This tells a lot about how influential Jared is in his country. When he went to Russia for yet again another technology delegation, Jared’s tweets were retweeted and followed by millions. Obviously, Jared has earned the respect of his colleagues and his superiors.
In 2010, Jared announced that he will be joining Google as the first director of a project called Google Ideas. Although joining a private company for the first time, Jared believes that what he does at Google is quite similar with what he used to do in Policy Planning as seen in the analogy he has made below:
"In the same way Policy Planning works by bringing together a lot of stakeholders in government, out of government, and across different sectors, so, too, will Google Ideas do something very similar. And the range of challenges that it may focus on include everything from the sort of hard challenges like counterterrorism, counterradicalization, and nonproliferation, to some of the ones people might expect it to focus on, like development and citizen empowerment." (Source: Foreign Policy)
As director of Google Ideas, he has collaborated with its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, in his third book titled "The New Digital Age: Re-shaping the Future of People, Nations and Business.” The book made it to New York Times bestsellers list. The young director has also received the Top American Leaders award in 2011 and organized the Summit Against Violent Extremism. In 2013, TIME magazine named him one of the most influential people in the world.
Jared is only in his early thirties now, which means he is only beginning to leave his mark in history. Something about him makes us hopeful that this younger generation has now found a technological guru, someone who would see to it that technology is used for the good of the many.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Gen Next
- Google Ideas
- Council on Foreign Relations
- Theta Delta Chi
- National Counterterrorism Center
- Alliance for Youth Movements
- Google Ideas
- 21st Century Statecraft
Awards and Achievements
- 2004: Served as a miscellaneous member of the crew for one episode of a PBS Frontline documentary "Ghosts of Rwanda"
- 2004: Graduated from Stanford University
- 2006-2010: Served as a member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff
- 2006: Published "One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide," his first book
- 2007: Published "Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East," his second book
- 2008: Launched Alliance for Youth Movement
- 2009: Led specific delegations focused on connecting technology executives with local stakeholders in Iraq, Russia, Mexico, Congo, and Syria
- 2009: Stopped Twitter from doing its maintenance work the day before the elections in Iran
- 2010: Had the third largest number of Twitter followers in the US government, behind Barack Obama and John McCain
- 2010: Became an adjunct senior fellow at The Council on Foreign Relations focusing on counter-radicalization
- 2010: Became the first director of Google Ideas
- 2011: Received Top American Leaders awards
- 2011: Convened the Summit Against Violent Extremism
- 2013: Named by Time Magazine as one of its 100 most influential people
- Named as the youngest member to the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff
- Rhodes Scholar
- Founded the on-campus publication Six Degrees: A Journal of Human Rights
- Twice a recipient of the Secretary of State’s Meritorious Honor Award
- Served as a juror in multiple categories over a number of years in the Tribeca Film Festival
- Serves on the Director's Advisory Board at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)
- Owns an extensive collection of rare books, presidential autographs, and 19th-century campaign memorabilia
- Received the Hines Prize (for best senior thesis)
- Earned a master's degree in International Relations from Oxford University
- "The New Digital Age: Re-shaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," a book he co-authored with Eric Schmidt became a New York Times bestseller
Other Published Articles:
- "The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution" for Wall Street Journal with Eric Schmidt
- "Technology Can Be Harnessed to Fight Drug Cartels in Mexico" for Washington Post
- "Iran's Passive Revolution: Is Political Resistance Dead or Alive in Iran?" for Hoover Digest
- "Iran's Young Opposition: Youth in Post-Revolutionary Iran" for SAIS Review
- "Diverting the Radicalization Track"
Time (The 2013 TIME 100)
Wikipedia (Jared Cohen)
Foreign Policy (State Department Innovator Goes to Google)
The New York Times (Digital Diplomacy)
Stanford University (Campus celebrates two Rhodes, five Marshall winners Better outreach leads to the biggest total of Stanford students, recent graduates selected in one year)
Web.Archive.org (Cohen, Jared)
The Washington Post (Google’s Jared Cohen named among 2011 ‘Top American Leaders')
Amazon (Jared Cohen)
New York Magazine (The Oracles of Google)
Stanford Alumni (Diplomacy 2.0)
Fast Company (Google Grabs State Department Star Jared Cohen for Foreign Policy "Think/Do Tank")
NYU Stern (Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas, Inspires Students to Use Technology to Address Global Issues)
DC 40 Under 40 (Jared Cohen)
RROH1011.Wordpress.com (Power of social media: two sided coin)
The Guardian (Google's Jared Cohen discusses the digital future - live Q&A)
THe New Yorker (Condi's Party Starter)