In November, you were elected as Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, becoming the first woman to hold an elected position in ITU’s 154-year history. What does this mean for you, and in particular for the sector?
I admit that when the results of the first round of the election for BDT Director were announced to the room in Dubai at ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference last November, I was quite overwhelmed for a moment – and humbled by such a resounding endorsement from our Members.
But I firmly believe that if I’ve reached a place that other women before me had failed to attain, it was because I was able to springboard off their talent, their tireless dedication, and their outstanding professionalism. Making history as the first-ever female elected official is extremely gratifying, but mostly because it finally clears the way for the many other gifted women working in ICTs and international public policy to realize their goals and make their mark. For ITU, electing a woman has in some sense removed a psychological barrier; the organization has taken positive strides forward in casting aside old preconceptions and creating a more equal environment. I think all delegates – female AND male – very much welcome that.
What should be changed to ensure that more women hold relevant positions in the ICT sector?
We certainly know that when it comes to gender balance, the tech sector lags a long way behind. Encouragingly, though, there’s a lot of attention on this area now, and a growing amount of pressure – particularly on the bigger players – to redress that balance.
A diverse workforce is a stronger, smarter workforce, because employees from different backgrounds bring surprising new perspectives. A diverse team is more creative, more dynamic, and less prone to ‘blind spots’ that can compromise the success of even our best-laid plans.
As the next generation of digital natives comes online, I think companies looking for an advantage in the increasingly competitive tech marketplace are starting to realize that excluding women from full participation in decision making – whether in product or service conception, engineering development, implementation, or strategic leadership – is compromising the quality and appeal of their offerings, and the effectiveness of their strategic decisions.
It’s important that both woman AND men continue to lobby for diversity – we cannot just assume this problem will fix itself. That’s one of the reasons I was instrumental in launching the EQUALS global partnership three years ago. Through its three Coalitions, EQUALS focuses on the key problem areas – access, skills and leadership – as well as having a strong emphasis on building strong evidence-based actions through the research work of the UN University team.
We should expect companies to regularly report their diversity statistics, just as we expect them to report on other aspects of their business. And we need to keep celebrating those organizations, and leaders, who are championing change. Our annual EQUALS in Tech Awards is just one example of that.
By promoting awareness, building political commitment, and leveraging resources and knowledge, the 90 EQUALS partners seek to achieve digital gender equality and through this, to improve the livelihoods of millions around the world.
On April 25, ITU celebrates Girls in ICT day. What kind of initiatives are planned?
ITU is absolutely delighted to be holding its own Girls in ICT Day celebrations this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hosted by our African Regional Office.
There’s huge enthusiasm in Africa for the opportunities ICTs can offer young people. Of course the continent has a very youthful population – within the next 10 years Africa will be home to an estimated one billion people aged 24 or under. That makes it well-placed to harness young people’s natural affinity with technology to drive national and regional socio-economic development. But ICTs also offer other advantages to African countries, such as the ability to overcome what we once called the ‘tyranny of distance’, bringing the rest of the world within reach of Africa, and Africa’s markets within reach of the rest of the world.
Since we launched international Girls in ICT Day in 2011 we’ve seen over 11,000 events held in 171 countries around the world, reaching more than 350,000 girls. As this issue continues to gain traction, we’re confidently expecting thousands of amazing Girls in ICT Days to be held on or around April 25th. Celebrations are tracked through our portal at: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Digital-Inclusion/Women-and-Girls/Girls-in-ICT-Portal/Pages/Portal.aspx.
Of course, Latin America has always been a huge supporter of Girls in ICT Day, with three countries in the region among the top 10 organizers of events in 2018. That could make the continent an excellent choice for ITU’s 2020 Girls in ICT Day celebration!
In the next 4 years after PP-18, important challenges will have to be faced in working towards an effective Information Society. Some of these challenges are overcoming the digital divide, achieving social integration, improving gender balance, digital literacy; all are needed to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). In this regard, as Director of the Telecommunications Development Bureau, what are your priority objectives, and how will the Latin American region be affected?
There’s no doubt that connectivity lies at the core of the 2030 Agenda. Since the creation of ITU’s Development Sector in 1989, ICTs have grown faster than any other technology in human history. The Internet, in particular, has unleashed incredible opportunities for social, economic and cultural development. Yet right now only half the world’s people are online.
The importance of promoting ‘connectivity for all’ is a critical imperative for today’s leaders. The benefits ICTs can bring to health, education, empowerment, employment and environmental management are absolutely game-changing.
My strategy as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau will be to work more closely with UN partners, governments, the private sector, civil society and academia to deliver in the areas that can make a difference in
improving people’s lives – including e-health, e-education, e-agriculture, and girls and women’s empowerment.
My priorities for my first term include:
* Connectivity – advance universal affordable access by promoting sound, enabling regulatory frameworks.
* Statistics – boost the collection and dissemination of reliable and impartial ICT data, to help our Member States and private sector members make informed regulatory and business decisions.
* Greater sharing within the global regulatory community, to help regulators meet the many challenges of a fast evolving sector.
* Digital inclusion – strive for inclusive development to guarantee that men and women, young and old, from all regions, are represented in our work, and are able to provide input, as well as benefit from our actions.
* Outreach – strengthen engagement with younger audiences, indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, and other disenfranchised peoples.
* Partnerships – forge partnerships with multilateral development banks as well as national development agencies. Break down silos and foster a whole-of-government approach to ensure that ICTs are at the top of the national agenda.
In Latin America, the frame of ITU’s activities are set by the Regional Initiatives proposed by the countries of the region and approved at the World Development Conference of 2017.
These five initiatives cover a wide spectrum of topics, ranging from connecting the vast portion of the population still disconnected through the deployment of broadband in rural and unattended areas, to the development of the digital economy and Smart Cities.
All this work will be done actively promoting gender equality and ensuring that each ITU activity has a concrete impact on improving the lives of the inhabitants of the region through the efficient use of ICT.
In the new Digital Ecosystem, all the existing paradigms have been disrupted. At the same time, regulatory frameworks have become obsolete, unable to keep pace with technological innovation. So, in this new environment, in your opinion, what should be the role of the ITU, and specifically the Development Sector, in the achievement of public policies and regulatory and institutional frameworks that help the expansion of the Digital Ecosystem in a way that benefits all stakeholders – ensuring consumer protection, national security and the strengthening of connectivity infrastructures?
ITU is the only global convener of the regulatory community, through our annual Global Symposium for Regulators, the leading source of international regulatory information, through tools like our ICT Regulatory Tracker platform, and a thought-leader in regulatory analysis through the many expert reports we publish on our Digital Ecosystem portal and Infrastructure Development portal.
I think our unique relationship with regulators, governments and the private sector gives us an extremely valuable role to play here, because as we strive to develop strategies to connect the ‘next 50%’ – that is, the half of the world that still isn’t online – we’re going to have to be much more creative, and much more collaborative.
Infrastructure sharing, more spectrum-efficient technologies, and new partnerships between regulators, operators and other service providers will be a part of the picture. Innovative financing options will also be important, because of course many of those who remain unconnected live in remote or hard-to-reach areas.
Empowerment strategies will also play a key role – governments need to encourage people to get online, and help them to do so, by targeting potentially marginalized communities and providing community training, and by encouraging the development of relevant content and apps, in usable formats and languages, that give people an incentive to join the online world. So connecting the ‘other half of the world’ won’t just be business as usual – we’ll need to be a lot more proactive and reach out in different ways. I think that represents a very exciting challenge.
The concept of Equality of Conditions or regulatory equality, known as «Level Playing Field» (LPF), implies «same services, same rules, same protection.» It refers to the fact that OTTs provide services similar to those offered by telecoms companies, but are not subject to the same rules. In your opinion, in the environment of the Digital Ecosystem where we see a mutual interdependence of all players, how do you see the future coexistence of OTTs and telecommunications operators?
Efficient and affordable ICT infrastructure and services, combined with enabling policy and regulatory environments, allow businesses and governments to participate in the digital economy and countries to increase their overall economic well-being and competitiveness. Today there is clear evidence of the positive social and economic impact of being connected. Some 20 countries have made Internet access a fundamental or citizen right.
The evolution of the telecommunication/information and communication technology sector has led to new market structures, business models, investment strategies and revenue streams in which OTTs have played an increasing role. There is a continuum of possible regulatory responses to the new digital ecosystem which provides options in theory, from minimalistic interventions such as behavioural remedies (lower) to those that are more structural (higher) requiring legislative amendments and/or issuing of subsidiary legislation.
The evolution of the digital economy does not mean more regulation. This was recognized by regulators adopting Best Practice Guidelines on new regulatory frontiers at the 2018 Global Symposium for Regulators. Rather, ICT policy and regulatory frameworks need to be up-to-date, flexible, incentive-based and market-driven to support digital transformation across sectors and across geographical regions. Next-generation collaborative ICT regulatory measures and tools are the new frontier for regulators and policy makers as they work towards maximizing the opportunity afforded by the digital transformation.
The starting point in defining regulatory responses to the new realities in the digital economy often calls for a more level playing field. But this itself is becoming a complex notion in today’s hyper-connected world. Traditional telecommunication-centric regulatory interventions such as interconnection requirements and quality of service do not have obvious or practically enforceable analogues on the world of online services. Given this regulatory complexity and ambiguity, it is tempting to adopt a reactive and piecemeal approach – but this approach runs the risk of being inadequate and potentially running into regulatory dead ends.
At our 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference ITU Member States approved a resolution that recognizes that mutual cooperation between OTTs and telecommunication operators can be an element in fostering innovative, sustainable, viable business models and socio-economic benefits. Given the global nature of many OTTs, the resolution also recognizes that collaboration across multiple Member States and Sector Members should be strongly encouraged.
I believe constructive dialogue is the way forward; through our regulatory and policy events, through the grassroots networks of our Regional Offices around the world, and through bodies like the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, of which ITU is a founding member. The new digital ecosystem is an exciting world to be in, and there will be a place for everyone.