Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)



Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Dr Hamadoun Touré.

Dr. Hamadoun ToureDr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) since January 2007, was re-elected for a second four-year term in October 2010.

As Secretary-General, Dr Touré is committed to ITU's mission of connecting the world, and helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals through harnessing the unique potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

A long-standing champion of ICTs as a driver of social and economic development, Dr Touré previously served as Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) from 1998-2006. In this role he placed considerable emphasis on implementing the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), launching projects based on partnerships with international organizations, governments, the private sector and civil society.

Dr Touré started his professional career in his native Mali in 1979. He built a solid career in the satellite industry, serving as managing engineer in Mali's first International Earth Station. He joined Intelsat's Assistance and Development Programme in 1985. He was appointed Intelsat's Group Director for Africa and the Middle East in 1994, earning a reputation as an energetic leader through his commitment to various regional connectivity projects such as RASCOM. In 1996 he joined ICO Global Communications as African Regional General Manager, spearheading the companies' activities across the African region.

A national of Mali, Dr Touré holds a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from the Technical Institute of Electronics and Telecommunications of Leningrad, and a PhD from the University of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics of Moscow. He is married with four children and two grandchildren, and is proficient in four official ITU languages: English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Decorations, honorary titles and memberships

  • Knight of the National Order of Mali
  • Knight of the National Order of Comoros
  • Grand Officer of the National Order of the Dominican Republic (Orden al Mérito de Duarte, Sánchez y Mella)
  • Officer of the National Order of Burkina Faso
  • Officer of the National Order of Côte d'Ivoire
  • Officer of the National Order of Mali
  • Honorary Citizen of Grecia, Costa Rica
  • Honorary Citizen of Yamasa, Dominican Republic
  • Honorary Citizen of Quito, Ecuador
  • Honorary Citizen of Guadalajara, Mexico
  • Honorary Doctorate, Azerbaijan Technical University, Azerbaijan
  • Honorary Doctorate, Russian-Armenian Slavonic University, Armenia
  • Honorary Doctorate, State University of Belarus
  • Honorary Doctorate, Razzakov Kyrgyz State Technical University, Kyrgyzstan
  • Honorary Doctorate, National University of Moldova
  • Honorary Doctorate, Wroclaw University of Technology, Poland
  • Honorary Doctorate, Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, Rwanda
  • Honorary Doctorate, Odessa National Academy of Telecommunications, Ukraine
  • Honorary Doctorate, Bucks New University, United Kingdom
  • Member of the World Federation of Scientists (Erice, Italy)
  • Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences
  • Member and Officer of the Golden Order of Honour of the International Telecommunication Academy, Moscow, Russian Federation
  • Member of IEEE (since 1986)
  • Radio Amateur (call sign: HB9-EHT)

To listen to the Podcast Interview: Stephen Ibaraki Interview with Dr Hamadoun Touré

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

Introduction for the podcast: Welcome today, to our interview series, with outstanding professionals. I am Stephen Ibaraki, and I am conducting an exclusive interview with Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

:00:23: Stephen Ibaraki:  Thank you for sharing your extensive and considerable history of success and contributions with our audience.

Dr. Hamadoun Touré:  "Thank you Stephen."

:00:34: Stephen:  What are your specific goals for the ITU in 2012 and for the future?

Dr Touré:  "Wow, that is a good question! Before I talk about the future I just want to say that within my first mandate (the first four years), I worked extremely hard to put ITU at the very center of the most pressing issues facing our members today, which as you know comprises 193 member states and governments, and around 700 members from the ICT industry and academia — and that's a really large and inclusive membership.

My goals then included digital inclusion, moving from the digital divide as we know it on telephony to avoiding a potential broadband divide. The second, very important element that I focused on was cyber-security; then of course climate change and green technology issues came out during that first term and it was very important to put ICT in the center of that as well. There was another very important element, which was emergency telecommunications in case of natural disasters (especially with climate change issues);unfortunately we are experiencing a lot of natural disasters, and ICT plays a key role in not only predicting, observing and mitigating potential disasters, but it also in disaster relief as well. Therefore that's a very important element that I needed to co-ordinate worldwide. Last but not least, access to broadband.

When I was elected in 2010 my pledge for my current term was to keep ITU firmly focused on a core mandate, which is centered around effective management of the radiofrequency spectrum — you know in January we had a very successful World Radiocommunication Conference (we'll probably come that to that later on) — and collaborative development of new technical standards.

The main reason for the creation of this organization back in 1865 was to create global standards. At the time, of course, it was for telegraph, but it has evolved to telecom, to broadcasting, to internet and networking as well, and new initiatives designed to help developing countries improve their ICT penetration.

I'm also using this second term to have a specific emphasis on programs to aid Small Island Developing States and Landlocked Developing Countries, which face special challenges in getting their people connected. And as before, I'm always striving to put forward the new efficiency mechanism for the Union in our internal processes. I introduced an environment when introducing a new accounting system that works very well and is saving us a lot of money, and increases a lot of transparency in the management of the Union, and finding new ways to strengthen our membership base and to continue to increase our influence across the industry which we have been serving for 146 years now. Two words would characterize the approach that I've taken: improvement and innovation."

:04:03: Stephen:  Dr Touré you've done an amazing job. IT has an incredible history of contribution to the world and to my audience I really encourage them to engage in some way to your summits and forums and so on, because it really is the premiere organization.

:04:21: Stephen:  In the next question, what do you see as one or two areas of controversy related to ICT?

Dr Touré:  "It is a very good question because right now there is quite a lot of controversy over the upcoming conference in Dubai to review the international Telecommunication Regulations, which are the binding international treaty outlining the principles which govern the way international voice, data and video traffic is handled and laying the foundation for ongoing innovation and market growth.

As you know the last ITRs were negotiated back in 1988 and there is a consensus that the text needs to be updated to reflect the dramatically different information and communication technology landscape of the 21st century. After 24 years I believe a lot of things have happened. So at the request of our members we are convening the World Conference on Information and Telecommunications (WCIT), which will take place in Dubai from 3 to 14 December this year. We are seeing quite a lot of people talking about how this conference is going to be about internet governance; in fact nothing could be further from the truth. There are no proposals from our membership on this topic. Conversely, the conference will be looking at some of the very important issues that will determine the shape of tomorrow's ICT industry.

And as I said, the 1988 Treaty laid the foundation for the information society as we know it today, and I believe that the 2012 ITRs will lay the foundation for the knowledge society that we are aiming at. This includes the human right of access to communication, security in the use of ICTs, protection of critical network resources, the international framework that will be used for charging and accounting (including taxation), interconnection and interoperability issues, quality of service and of course, we'll also talk about the ICT convergence which I mentioned in the beginning (voice, video and data together).

So one issue that seems sure to come up that will be of particular interest to consumers is international roaming charges; for instance, many consider these to be very high, especially for developing countries. So the members will be discussing what will be done to make mobile access more affordable to more people. Taxation is another very important issue too. We need to ensure that taxes on technology goods and services are kept as low as possible to encourage more people to buy and use ICT services and applications. And finally, a very important issue for me personally (which I have always put forward in my first election and mission) is cyber-security. It is essential in a globally connected world. Online access needs to be safe and secure and affordable. Right now we lack an international framework for attacking the growing problem of cyber criminality. We will be discussing how we can advance our efforts to combat criminals and make the internet safer for everyone, especially our children. I think of children because I always say that this is our common denominator, this is one area where everyone will see the urgency, so that we will work as we talk because those issues can be very sensitive to a point that it can be taboo to talk about it. We are saying no issue is taboo — we have to talk about it."

:07:56: Stephen:  What do you see as the top ICT opportunity for government, and then industry and then academia?

Dr Touré:  "I think the opportunities of all these groups are linked to the importance of broadband. We need to get broadband networks in place as quickly as possible. Broadband networks are becoming as instrumental in social and economic development as transport, power and water networks today, and that's one of the things that I keep repeating in every meeting — especially when I'm talking to the political leaders so that they put broadband as a priority as a nation, so that every country has a national program plan. Studies now show that every 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration delivers 1.3 percent growth boost in the economy. ITU figures show that there are now over 1 billion broadband subscriptions worldwide. Mobile is said to be the access platform of choice for most people in the developing world where fixed line penetration remains low. However, well over half of the world population — from those in developing countries, to those living in geographically isolated communities, to marginalized groups (like people living with disabilities, the elderly, the illiterate, and house-bound women) are yet to get connected. That makes digital inclusion a very important issue that needs to be tackled by every country, as well as a huge opportunity for ICT companies and academic institutions too, who can start delivering their training online. As you know, the world's biggest universities are both online learning institutions: the Indira Gandi National Open University in India and the Allama Iqbal Open University in Pakistan (I was in both countries just two weeks ago). The Khan Academy (which was started by Sal Khan) now offers over 3000 online training videos and has delivered over 16 million lessons worldwide.

I believe that the other very important opportunity that we see today is of interest to many political leaders: job creation. Especially when you are talking about the financial crisis in Europe, or you are talking about the Arab Spring where youngsters may have a revolution because they were out of jobs — and if they don't find new jobs in the next six months unfortunately there could be new revolutions. We discussed this matter just three months ago in March in Doha at our Connect Arab Summit, where we had Arab government leaders and industry leaders together to discuss the issues of interest for the region and how to move forward. I believe that the ICT sector has created more jobs and opportunities than any other sector in the world; 2/3 of new jobs in the world have been created in the ICT sector. I see that trend continuing, and therefore there is real opportunity to have government getting together with academia and industry to work hand-in-hand. Academia planning the right curriculums in the training programs and industry making use of it and the government putting the right regulatory framework to attract new jobs — I think those are complementary and they are very important issues in the world today."

:11:34: Stephen:  Those are very progressive initiatives with the ITU being the hub of this ecosystem — over 190 countries or 700 organizations worldwide. I was also one of the speakers in one of the sessions at the World Summit recently in Geneva and I saw the impact of the corporations; for example the Intel World Ahead program, which tied into the more pervasive use of broadband, or Ann Mei Chang of the US State Department talking about their Alliance Program, again to distribute broadband worldwide, and this really being all at the IT World Summit on the Information Society — so again, you being the enabler of all of this.

:12:20: Stephen:  For my next question, at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) I noted some outstanding achievements, such as Kazakhstan with their 2nd ranking in E-Participation with their e-Government program. What I understand from talking with them is I believe that they are going to be awarded or recognized [the week of June 25th] in New York at the United Nations. Can you speak more about this?

Dr Touré:  "As you rightly say, we were together at this WSIS Forum that we organize annually around May 17, which is World Telecommunication Day; the anniversary of the ITU creation back in 1865 (which is also the day declared by the United Nations World Summit on Information Society as World Information Society Day). We are very proud of the fact that all stakeholders come together and share their best practices and their experiences, so we say in the Information Society it would be a shame if someone makes a mistake that was made somewhere for lack of information. It would be a shame if someone has to reinvent something that was already invented and wasted time for lack of information. We are very proud of tremendous success of the WSIS Forum and I personally have had a first-hand experience in learning about some of the good success stories in many countries in the world. The 2012 event was the most well attended ever with over 1300 delegates from over 150 countries and a comprehensive program spanning over 140 different sessions.

For the first time we recognized outstanding achievements through the WSIS Project Prizes. Those awards had really strong competition and only the best of the best were awarded. The participation of emerging nations like Kazakhstan, as you were asking, is particularly encouraging. We were delighted that they were able to host their own Country Workshop on their achievements in e-Government. As part of their e-Government strategy, the authorities are working hard to improve both network infrastructure and online content and services. As you know, when I was creating the Broadband Commission for Digital Development I invited my colleague the Director-General of UNESCO to join me in doing so, because my constituency is normally dealing with infrastructure and we needed someone who is dealing with the content and they are complementary; the infrastructure without content will be useless and content without infrastructure will not be shared enough and therefore would be meaningless. This is what we see here, the online content and services coming together with the infrastructure. So delegates to the WSIS Forum event presented the new e-Government portal (which is one the key elements of Kazakhstan's e-Government system) and shared their approach and experience in developing this new resource to the benefit of all the delegates looking to emulate their success.

You are right to mention Kazakhstan's example, but there are many, many more countries that came out with very good stories that they also can share, and the good thing is that it becomes a win-win for everyone. We will say information is the only thing that when you share it, it multiplies rather than divides; any other thing that's material, once you share it you divide it. We are getting that ability to share and have the multiplying effect and have the other countries replicate it and does the same thing without the original country losing anything because it's a win-win for everyone. That's the beauty of the WSIS Forum and we certainly will continue that."

:16:19: Stephen:  Again it is certainly more than additive — it's probably exponential in that when you share you get a force multiplying.

Dr Touré:  "I like it, it is exponential growth and in fact that is one of the key challenges that we are facing: the exponential growth of data in this cyber world and how do we make sure that there is enough infrastructure to cope with the demand and the infrastructure that we have? How do we encourage more investment in the infrastructure? That's one of the things that we are going to be discussing in Dubai for the WCIT. That's the challenge for us because content is there and it's going to grow exponentially. Imagine every citizen of this planet: if they are accessing information they are also a source of information (they can create information and share it). This will have a tremendous multiplier effect."

:17:13: Stephen:  There is also tremendous excitement and passion around enabling women and girls into technology. I saw the recent announcement where Geena Davis is being a representative on that behalf. Can you speak very briefly on that?

Dr Touré:  "Geena is a wonderful lady who has done a lot of things personally to promote women and girls. The theme of this year's World Telecommunication and Information Society Day is promotion of women and girls in ICT. We had decided in 2010 during the Plenipotentiary Conference ITU in Mexico to have a day for women and girls to promote and to make sure that they are encouraged to be part of the ICT sector, by making a career in the ICT sector but also by using ICT for their social and economic development, and we were very much honoured that Geena Davis was one of our awardees this year. Three women were awarded this year; we also gave awards to the President of Argentina, Ms. Fernández de Kirschner and to Ms. Sun, the Chairman of Huawei Company. All three are very strong ladies, successful in their line of business. Geena Davis has been an inspirational leader and role model for many women and girls and many men (and I am one of them), and we were particularly honored that she has accepted to be a Special Ambassador for ICT and girls."

:19:07: Stephen:  But it also speaks to your leadership, Dr Touré, and also the ITU so I congratulate you on reaching out and ensuring that over 50 percent of the population out there is empowered to engage in ICT.

:19:20: Stephen:  My next question is about global GDP. Do you have a sense of how much is driven by ICT and the internet?

Dr Touré:  "I have some global figures by some analysts. Global analysts McKinsey published a study last year which showed that internet accounted for 3.4% of global GDP in the 13 OECD countries they examined, and 21% of GDP growth in the last 5 years in mature countries. ITU's analysis of these figures indicates that this benefit is due to the spillover effect that ICT and the internet have on the rest of the economy. For this reason ICT has now been widely acknowledged to be the General Purpose Technology or GPTs. This means that just as electricity or railways have in the past, ICT is now playing an enabling role in unlocking economic growth in all the sectors, be it transport, energy, tourism, you name it.

The contribution of the ICT sector to total value-added as a percentage of GDP ranges from 2% to 15% in different countries. As I mentioned to you earlier, a 10% increase in broadband penetration equates to between 1.2 and 1.3 percentage growth for the GDP of the country (depending on whether it's a developing or a developed country) so that's a very important element. The GDP value changes from country to country; you have countries like Korea, Malaysia, Finland, Ireland or Israel that are all at the high end of the scale — around 15% and reflecting the size and market share of the ICT sector in their economies. I believe that we are trying to put this as key evidence for developing countries as well because what is true for developed countries in the ICT field is also true for developing ones. As you can see, countries like Malaysia and Korea took off very fast because of the very positive ICT strategies that have been put in place. That is why it's important that every nation has a national plan, that every nation has a national ICT strategy that is seeing it in a dual mode; one as an industry in itself and the second one as a tool for other sectors to also develop."

:22:18: Stephen:  What are your thoughts on ICT professionals (people working in the field); do you feel that there should be some demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility and public accountability?

Dr Touré:  "That's a very difficult question when it comes to ethics and it's a very sensitive one, but it's a very important one. I have very strong views on that so I'm happy to share a few. First, professional best practice is to be encouraged in every industry. ITU itself has a comprehensive program of ongoing professional development, and we actively encourage our staff to constantly update their skills and acquire new talents through training, attending targeted conferences and workshops, and through memberships of professional associations. And I really mean it because when I first came on board here, I had made sure that we were hiring people and professionals here in this Union not based on any political pressure. I have eliminated some potentially good candidates simply because I had political pressure to recommend them and I wouldn't want to have someone who was not going to be 100% loyal to the Union, and who wouldn't feel that he or she was based on their own merit.

In addition, we have our own Ethics office which promulgates its guidelines on professional ethics through regular in-house workshops as well as serving as a focal point for individual staff wishing to consult on issues of professional ethics. We have zero tolerance and we have demonstrated it over the past few years. Let me tell you it has increased the staff morale and they are doing over 100% of their abilities for the Union, and I am very proud of that. Thanks to that we have an organization today, the ITU, and a balanced budget with a very strong program that we are undertaking without asking for additional money from our member states. We have a trust between our members and ourselves. We are also the link between governments and private sector and regulatory authorities, each of them knowing the role that we are playing in this field. Roles that are different but complementary and that have put us on a really good course, and that is why our finances are very clean today and we are enjoying really good financial management; of course given the new management tools that have been put in here, that increases our transparency. The staff and the council of board members are all seeing the same information that I see at any given time, and they know where we are going and to me that's a very important element and that only can be dealt with a very good ethical approach to all of the issues."

:25:39: Stephen:  Dr Touré, I can definitely see that you are really exhibiting a model of professional development, ethical conduct, professional responsibility and public accountability and that's good to hear. We are basically at the end of this interview. Thank you for coming in today. I know that your schedule is demanding and you have to run away very quickly.

Dr Touré:  "I admire the work you are doing and the very strong contribution to the information and communication technology sector, and Steve, please continue to do it because this is the greatest contribution that we are doing for humankind. ICT is in the center of everything we do today: our governments, our people, our economy, the education of our children, and our health will depend on how best we make use of those smart technologies. How do we use it in a smart manner as well as how do we make it is available for our children and grandchildren? Younger generations are the biggest users of this and we need to keep an eye on their safety and their well being and this is a common responsibility. I'm really proud that someone like you is also contributing very heavily in that and I thank you for giving me this opportunity."

:27:04: Stephen:  Thank you again Dr Touré and I'm going to close off by saying I am Stephen Ibaraki, and this concludes our exclusive interview with Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).


Music by Sunny Smith Productions and Shaun O'Leary