Jennifer Pahlka
The activist is using tech to solve urban problems.

In many walks of life, the Internet has eliminated bureaucracy and middlemen: between buyers and sellers, between celebrities and fans—but not so much between citizens and government. That's why Jennifer Pahlka, 43, left a career in the tech-event industry in 2009, founding Code for America after a friend who worked for the city of Tucson, Arizona, asked: "Why can't you bring the people creating Twitter and Flickr to work in government?" The program asks rising tech and design stars to take a year off from their careers to collaborate with innovation-friendly towns, and the response has been significant: More than 550 people applied for 26 fellowships last year. The goal, Pahlka says, is government that "works more like the Internet." A favorite example: Adopt-a-Hydrant, a map-based Web app built by Boston fellows in 2011 that enlists volunteers to dig out buried fire hydrants after snowstorms—a quicker, cheaper method of restoring a critical municipal service than leaving it to the city. The source code has since been employed in Honolulu to ensure that tsunami sirens are functioning and in Seattle to clear clogged storm drains. "People are doing things city government isn't doing," Pahlka says. "It's like when blogging started and people said, 'Oh, journalism isn't the exclusive property of journalists.' Government is not the property of politicians."

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Three More Digital Change Agents

Jared Cohen
32, director, Google Ideas
Mission: Create a kind of digital Justice League at Google's think tank—connecting people who have firsthand crisis experience (freed sex slaves, reformed terrorists and narco traffickers) with policy specialists and INTERPOL. "I believe in the coalition model of problem-solving," Cohen says.
Backstory: Google poached him from the State Department in 2010 after he prophetically forecast social media's role in the Arab Spring.
Power to the people: "As more people come online, there are more avenues to hold officials to account."


Ben Rattray
32, founder and CEO, Change.org
Mission: Let users create petitions to influence corporate and government policies.
Backstory: Rattray committed to activism after his younger brother talked about being ostracized for coming out.
Change he can believe in: Though his site is best known for calling attention to the Trayvon Martin killing, Rattray is most proud of the New Jersey high-school girls who asked the Commission on Presidential Debates to choose a female moderator (Candy Crowley) and of a campaign against the "corrective rape" of lesbians in South Africa that prompted the creation of a national task force.


Tony Hsieh
39, founder, Downtown Project
Mission: Transform a rundown part of Las Vegas into a global digital hub, through targeted investments and incentives (plus $350 million of his own money), and lure 10,000 innovative professionals to his new Silicon Strip.
Backstory: Harvard-educated Hsieh invested in Zappos in 1999 and became co-CEO in 2000. In 2009, Amazon bought the site for $1.2 billion.
Collision course: Hsieh believes digital innovators will "collide" frequently in Vegas, generating opportunities to collaborate and exchange ideas. "The last time that happened in most people's lives was in college," he says.

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The Digital Mavericks
 

Jack Dorsey (Square)
+ 3 More Reinventors of Retail

Kenna (Myspace)
+ The Protégés of
Apple's Jonathan Ive
+ The Evangelists of Tumblr

Carter Cleveland (Artsy)
+ The Race to Create
the Instagram of Video
+ The Rise of the Social-Media
Image Consultant
 

Jennifer Pahlka
(Code for America)

+ 3 More Digital Change Agents

Evan Sharp & Ben Silberman
(Pinterest)

+ 5 More Entrepreneurs

Jared Leto (VyRT, The Hive)
+ How Twitter Became
the Best Place for Comedy