If Silicon Valley’s tech giants are worth more than some small countries, maybe it’s time governments posted ambassadors there.
That’s the thinking of Denmark — a country whose GDP last year was smaller than Facebook’s market capitalization. In August, the Nordic European country will send the veteran diplomat Casper Klynge, the world’s first “tech ambassador,” to live in California with his family.
“Companies such as Google, IBM, Apple and Microsoft are now so large that their economic strength and impact on our everyday lives exceeds that of many of the countries where we have more traditional embassies,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen said when he announced the position in a January press conference.
Klynge — whose previous jobs include postings as ambassador to Cyprus and Indonesia, as well as stints in departments overseeing policy toward Africa and Afghanistan — brings an odd resume for an envoy to the world’s highest-tech firms.
He has visited Silicon Valley only once, never worked for a tech company and doesn’t have experience coding or building apps. Klynge says he plans to practice what he calls “techplomacy.” While other EU countries and institutions are taking aim at major U.S. tech firms, as ambassador, he will do traditional diplomatic work, nurturing relationships and establishing networks, only his efforts will be aimed at tech companies instead of foreign nations.
Klynge was selected in May for being “actively engaged on the tech and digitization agenda,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, also citing his previous diplomatic experience. About 55 people applied for the position, the ministry said.
Denmark is one of the EU’s leaders in technology: The country was ranked No. 1 in the Commission’s 2017 Digital Economy and Society Index, and Klynge sees his new role as a result of Denmark and the EU’s interest in digitalization. Denmark may not have had as much tech success as Sweden, its northern neighbor, but the country has had an influence on the digital world. The large start-up Zendesk was founded in Copenhagen, and Apple is set to open a $921 million renewable-powered data center in Denmark in 2019.
One of Klynge’s first acts as ambassador will be to visit the EU’s institutions in Brussels to ask for input and explore areas for cooperation with other countries. He said he has also been in touch with the cabinet of his fellow Dane — the one making the biggest waves in EU tech news — European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager.
To be fair, Klynge’s position may not be entirely new. Priya Guha was the United Kingdom’s consul general to San Francisco for five years, according to Forbes, working to convince tech startups to expand to Britain. Ireland also has a presence in Northern California, and its office focuses on both technology and other sectors like biopharmaceuticals and financial services.
But Denmark’s decision to formally create an ambassadorial posting captured the attention of people around the globe. Media outlets flooded Klynge with requests for interviews, and he has talked to major players such as Google and IBM. “It’s not every day that when you’re appointed to a new ambassador post in Denmark that your inbox is overflowing with people reaching out,” he said.
Klynge will be based in Palo Alto, California, but his position will have a global scope. In addition to a team in Silicon Valley, the tech embassy plans to place teams in Copenhagen and an undecided Asian country, likely China.
His primary goal is to create a network of technology companies, universities and various organizations. Once he does that, he can outline more specific objectives.
“We’ll have to be able to demonstrate, one year, 1.5 years down the road, that we have had some concrete outcomes,” he said. “I think we’re going to be judged … harder than perhaps traditional embassies abroad will be, simply because of the attention and because we’re breaking new ground.”
While working with the tech industry, Klynge hopes he can help Denmark make strides in other policy areas. Tech giants are constantly involved in international discussions — major companies criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate agreement — and international leaders are pressuring social media networks to curb terrorist activity online. Klynge said he will try to use his platform to discuss climate change, counterterrorism and other foreign policy issues.
Klynge described his new job as a “dream position.” He is interested in technology, and the newness of the position carries a sense of excitement. He said he feels optimistic and, with technology companies growing, does not think his position as technology ambassador will be unique for much longer.
“Judging from the interest from other countries,” Klynge said, “I’ll probably not be the last one.”