Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)



Anne Miroux, Director, Division on Technology and Trade Logistics, Head of the CSTD Secretariat UNCTAD

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Anne Miroux.

Anne MirouxAnne Miroux began her career in the United Nations in 1979 at the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations in New York where she was involved in the negotiations on the UN Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations. Over the years she has worked on issues related to international debt, investment and enterprise development, technology and innovation, and trade logistics. She is at present the Director of the Technology and Trade Logistics Division in UNCTAD. In this capacity, she leads UNCTAD's work on science, technology and innovation for development. Ms. Miroux is also the Head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD); she is in charge of the work of the Secretariat related to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the 10 year Review of WSIS.

Throughout her career, Ms. Miroux has led many research and technical assistance projects. She was for several years responsible for UNCTAD's flagship report, the World Investment Report, and editor of the UN Transnational Corporations Journal. She is at present leading the Technology and Innovation Reports prepared by the UNCTAD Secretariat. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Technology and Management Center of the Department of International Development at Oxford University, and of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Logistics and Supply Chain.

Ms. Miroux has an MBA from École des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC), Jouy-en-Josas, France. She also holds a diploma from Institut d'Études Politiques (IEP), Paris and a PHD in Economics (Paris I - Sorbonne).

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the Canadian IT Pro Connection where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:18: Anne you have a long, successful history and so many outstanding contributions. Thank you for sharing your considerable expertise, deep accumulated insights and wisdom with our audience.
"....Thank you Stephen for your kind words. I'm also delighted to share some of my views and to some extent the UN and UNCTAD's views on very important issues with the audience...."

:00:50: From your early years up to the present, can you share a few notable events leading to your current roles and lessons you learned for success?
"....I have been working for the UN about three decades. My career began with work on transnational corporations (also called multinationals). My first job was with the UN Center on Transnational Corporations. At the time the Center was very much linked to the news and what was developing because that Center was created a few years after the Allende event and the coup in Chile. There were hearings in the UN on multinationals which led to the creation of the Center. That very notable event was very important in my career because my first job was to work as a junior professional on a Code of Conduct on multinational corporations: basically what would be the obligations of multinationals operating in particular in developing countries. My involvement in that work was quite decisive in terms of what I would do later on because I continued to focus on multinational corporations which led me to innovation, development and technology....The other event also important in my career was in the mid-80s when I was asked by my organization to work on the debt crisis of developing countries; that was also determining to the work I would do later on...."

:03:52: Even at an early age you had an interest in impacting the world in some fashion. Were you interested in economics and things like that as a very young child, because I know you studied economics later?
"....Yes I studied economics....In the 60s and 70s there was an important campaign in schools (including in schools in my home country, France), where poverty and hunger in the world were key issues. The UN at the time had a major campaign in developed countries which I believe led to a generation of people like me who ended up working either for the UN or NGOs or other development organizations which developed over the years...."

:05:17: As Director of the Technology and Trade Logistics Division in UNCTAD, what is your mandate and goals?
"....This is a relatively large division in UNCTAD. The objective is to help developing countries in their development policies and to increase their competitiveness by working in two to three main areas. The first area is enhancing their science, technology and innovation and in particular increase access to ICTs. The second is to help developing countries be more competitive on international markets through better logistics (logistics meaning transport and custom services for instance). The third pillar is broader: it's enhancing the capacity of policy makers in those areas through training programs. My job is basically to manage and lead the division...."

:06:49: What are the key projects and wins including for 2015 and into 2016? What is the value to stakeholders?
"....UNCTAD is the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and its ultimate goal is development. Actually the logo of UNCTAD is "prosperity for all". We have three main lines of activities. The first one is: research and analysis and our objective is policy oriented. Our research must end up with recommendations for policy makers....The second one is technical cooperation: on the ground, helping developing countries to improve their services or their access to ICT for instance....The third avenue of activities is: organizing intergovernmental meetings (we call it consensus-building), but in a more simple formulation it's organizing international meetings for countries to debate about specific issues. Those are the three types of activities that we are doing. In 2015 in the first category: we produced, for instance, two reports on ICT-related issues. The first one aims at making the issue easier to understand, and for policy makers to act upon. It relates to the use of e-commerce in developing countries and is called "Unlocking the Potential" of e-commerce for Development. How can developing countries take advantage of e-commerce for their exports but also for domestic activities?....In the ICT area the other major research we did was a report on The Information Society and how it evolved over the past ten years....In the technical assistance area we have major projects. For instance we have technical assistance projects to help developing countries implement the Trade Facilitation Agreement adopted in Bali in 2013....We have also a very important program for custom automations in developing countries which is operating in 50 countries. I cannot ignore also the work that we have done in the context of the preparation of the outcome document on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We have done much more than that but in a few words those were key activities of the year, and we are going to continue up to the end of 2015. For 2016, the landmark for UNCTAD will be the UNCTAD conference that takes place every 4 years...."

:14:08: Is there a means where investment groups can get involved in some way (in terms of on the technology or the science side), in investing in developing countries?
"....Actually, in UNCTAD there is an Investment Division, which deals specifically with investment related issues (foreign investment, but also enterprise development) which may be of interest to your group....As time went by, UNCTAD (but also the UN as a whole) has opened up to the other stakeholders; and in our particular case we welcome the participation of non-government players in our meetings. As far as investment is concerned every 2 years we have the World Investment Forum where issues of various kinds related to investment and enterprise development are discussed, where there are debates, workshops and so on. That is a kind of active participation that can take place. That being said, my organization, UNCTAD, is working with policy makers. We do not do investments. But we are a channel between the private players and the governments, so there is a better mutual understanding of the issues faced by both parties...."

:17:05: Is there a program or can your group act as a bridge to facilitate and to help spawn entrepreneurship and startups through seed investments from these CIO groups?
"....We are not a financial broker; our work is more to contribute to creating a business-friendly environment, or to increase the understanding among policy makers of the issues faced by the private sector. For instance, in about 12 countries, we have undertaken science, technology and innovation policy reviews: we do a review of all the elements of the innovation eco-system, mostly academia, research and education, private business and governments, and on the basis of this assessment we make recommendations on where things could be improved. That's the kind of activities that we do. When we do that we work with the private sector....In a number of occasions it includes local enterprises and foreign enterprises. So, that is how the relationship is established...."

:24:27: As Head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), what is your mandate and goals?
"....CSTD is a functional Commission of the United Nations. It was created in 1992 and its role is to provide the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council of the UN with advice on important or relevant technology and innovation issues. It is an advisory position, an advisory function to the General Assembly and the ECOSOC, and the ultimate goal is to end up with common policies and actions on science and technology issues. The commission meets every year. It has a specific program with a couple of themes to study and debate during one week. It debates on the basis of reports prepared by the Secretariat of the CSTD (which I am heading) on various issues related to STI (which can go from technology for water management and agriculture in developing countries, to renewable technologies, digital development, etc.)...."

:27:07: What are the key projects and wins for 2015 and into 2016? What is the value to stakeholders?
"....It's a Commission with increasing importance within the UN system in the past five to six years. This year we had a discussion on technology foresights; basically what could be the technologies of the future. And when the Commission examines these issues it always examines them from a development perspective. What do technological changes mean for developing countries? There is a major danger of marginalization for the poorest countries - those who cannot really follow the rest in term of technology or innovation. That was a key theme this year and it will also be a very important theme next year....The other key issue that the Commission looked at this year relates to the follow-up to the decisions which were taken at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) 10 years ago in 2005 (basically the first biggest international conference on ICTs for development). At the time countries committed to take action to encourage the development of ICTs in developing countries and to build an "inclusive, development oriented and people centered Information Society"....the international community at the time decided that in ten years (meaning 2015), we would take stock: What progress have we made? Where do we stand? What do we need to do, perhaps, for the next ten years?....The CSTD was entrusted by the United Nations to follow up on the implementation of the World Summit Information Society to see, basically, where we stand. The work of the CSTD has been to make its own assessment and the Secretariat prepared a report on this which I would encourage your audience to read...."

:32:05: You talked about WSIS with this follow up in 2015 of the first WSIS which was substantiated in 2 phases in Geneva to Tunis, taking stock of what is happening and CSTD is doing a big part of that. Can you talk more about this?
"....The work of the CSTD and the Secretariat was to take stock, i.e. to see whether the targets which were agreed upon in 2005 (at WSIS) had been reached and, if not, why? and what remains to be done? It's a little difficult to summarize: it's a relatively large report (the title of the report is "Implementing WSIS Outcomes: A Ten-Year Review")....there were a number of targets regarding access to ICT. The assessment from that point of view is that there has been substantial improvement as far as ICT access is concerned in developing countries, thanks mostly to the mobile revolution....Perhaps the lacking part now relates more to the content. There is an issue related to content and the ability to use ICTs. That is the first point of assessment. The WSIS outcome had another key chapter which is related to internet governance: this is the political part of the document. On that point there is major disagreement between countries: some of them consider that the governance as envisaged in the WSIS outcome document is not the one that we have nowadays and that there has been no sufficient progress, even no progress at all for some countries. Other countries consider that we are moving forward, and that major progress has been made to enhance the governance of internet. The assessments are so different between the different stakeholders that I would say there is no decisive answer, partly because it's such a highly political issue...."

:45:20: Do you have any additional items that you want to bring forward about WSIS and the 10 year review of WSIS? Are there any additional key projects and wins for this year and next year that you want to bring forward?
"....We are in the year of the review of the WSIS Summit Declaration. The Declaration was a major effort; it took about four years of negotiation and intense work by various stakeholders. The General Assembly will have a high level event in December 2015, to take stock of what has been achieved and perhaps (but that remains to be seen) what should to be done in the next ten years or so....The international community has three major rendezvous over the year: the first one is the Summit on the SDGs in New York, the second one is the COP 21 on Climate Change and third one is the World Summit on Information Society's Review meeting...."

:50:20: Fundamental disruptive waves and pivots are happening daily. How do we anticipate that and how do we plan for that? How does that influence SDGs and WSIS going into the future?
"....It's very interesting that you put your finger on one of the challenges of the WSIS + 10 review and going forward. It's one of the key conclusions of our report. For instance, when you look at the WSIS outcome documents (the one adopted in Geneva only 10 years ago) there was no mention of mobile. Not either a mention of cloud computing....or social networks. And it's only been a short period of time....The people who worked on that at the time were policy makers, but you also had people working in the IT area. So that's really a challenge: how do you take a plan of action, how do you encourage, or how do you fix goals when you do not really know how the future will look like in 5 years from now?....Perhaps the approach is to have the formulation of actions which are flexible, targets which are short term targets, so that you can take stock every two or three years to know where we stand, whether there is a need to redirect and so on...."

:57:15: What are your views on this idea that the local culture, traditions and practices are now being embedded into the planning and the respect for those practices?
"....What is interesting in the WSIS document adopted in Geneva is that there is a whole section on cultural diversity and identity, and local culture. It is interesting to see that already in 2005 there was particular attention paid to the way the new technology could help promote cultural diversity, not necessarily globalization or uniformization, but on the contrary that it could be an interesting tool to preserve and promote local culture....Bottom line, it meant that at the time, the negotiators were very much aware of the potential and also the strengths. In the SDGs there is a reference (one paragraph) to traditional knowledge. The paragraph specifically states that countries agree to ensure access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from traditional knowledge...."

01:01:06: What are your top specific metrics, statistics and trends that you can share from your role as leading the Technology and Innovation Reports prepared by the UNCTAD Secretariat?
"....One of them relates to the shift (or rebalance) of innovative and R & D capabilities in the world from developed to developing countries....For example, in 2012 the ratio of R&D expenditures to GDP was about 2.3% for developed countries. For developing countries it's about 1.5%....But if you take a country like China it's almost 2%. If you take a number of Asian countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea) the ratio is higher. For these developing countries there is a substantial catch up....The other statistic is that the next billion of internet users will mostly come from developing countries. That is very important because economically it has implications, but also politically. You cannot manage and govern the internet (as before) with a situation like that (which is so different from what it was 10 years ago)...."

01:11:47: What are the key issues with the ICT sector (particularly computing), and what are your recommendations?
"....The first one is the role of the ICT as a sector which, potentially, may lead to increased equalization among people and countries, or on the contrary, increased inequalities because there is a danger of marginalization for those who are not in the bandwagon....The second one is related to the ICT sector impact on the society, for instance through employment. The question is: will ICTs positively contribute to fight unemployment, or will they lead to a labor market which is two tiered? will they lead to what some people are predicting, i.e a substantial readjustment problem? If you are in a knowledge economy the impact is not necessarily negative, but that implies that you have the proper education policies. And then what kind of countries are we talking about? If on the contrary you have an economy that is not a knowledge economy but is much more an economy where cheap labor is a competitive advantage, you may be in trouble. What are you going to do with these people? How do you train them? It opens up a number of questions and it creates substantial challenges for policy makers. The impact of ICTs on labor markets: that's a key issue....The last one in my view is essential to the ICT sector: it's the relationship between ICT and how it influences our own personal lives in terms of privacy, confidentiality and also freedom of expression. That calls for good policies and always being on the watch. Policy makers, but also other stakeholders, must be equipped to deal with the issues...."

01:15:40: Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? Also do you have any recommendations in regards to professionalism and also ethics?
"....As far as professionalism is concerned if you talk about professional development and certification of the people working in the field of accreditation, I would be quite favorable to it....But let's also leave a little bit of flexibility for those who do not fit the mould....If you are going into the area of accountability or personal responsibility, then I have mixed feelings in a way. Because accountable for what?....Calling for an accountability clause on the profession bothers me a little bit. Where will the responsibility begin? Where will it end? Should you be responsible for the way that what you have put out is used? It can be an inhibitor of progress...."

01:24:47: Do you see any other areas particularly related to computing you feel need to be brought into focus for discussion and policy?
"....Right now the ones that are essential to me are the ones related to privacy and security. I think they will determine the future of the usage of ICT...."

01:25:40: We going to switch directions and we are going to mine your career or your personal experiences. You must have come across something that you considered impossible and then through due diligence or perseverance you were able to master. Are there any stories you can share that are like that?
"....Perhaps not necessarily impossible challenges, but tough challenges definitely. If you believe in it, at the end of the day you will manage. A very difficult and recent challenge was when we had to develop the report on the 10-year review of WSIS. We had only a few months; it was monumental work (and highly political), and very difficult to do. The important thing was to be as objective as possible...."

01:29:41: My follow-up question would be what important lessons can you summarize from the last question but I think you answered part of that. Do you have any others?
"....I draw a lesson from the various years of working on internet-related issues, participating in meetings with NGOs whether in the UN context or whether in national surroundings....Be open and listen and put in the extra effort to bring into the game those who want to say something and who have something to say...."

01:34:01: In terms of all the available resources out there are there any that you would pinpoint as being good ones? You mentioned some already but are there others?
"....Sometimes people working in a particular trade or industry look at it from their standpoint, which can be very technical....The value of our work is that it takes a broad approach, and includes a development perspective. We do reports for policy makers, for people in the government about what are all these IT issues and what does it mean for them. One of them was published in 2013. It was on Information Technologies and the Development of the Small Private Enterprises in Developing Countries. The report in a relatively simple presentation deals with the pros and cons of ICTs for small business in developing countries for instance. One of the last reports we did was on e-commerce in developing countries. That one is interesting, for instance, in terms of having a snapshot of whether there are legislations in countries to deal with e-commerce....These are reports from UNCTAD that can be downloaded from our website....Another report I'd like to mention is the ISOC Report 2014 which is also putting a finger on policy-oriented questions related to internet development; it is easy to read and quite interesting...."

01:38:45: You've already discussed some trends and metrics from your various roles, do you have any additional predictions for the future that you want to share? And a second part of the question is there anything that ICT executives in the audience can do to act on your predictions?
"....I'm always wary of predictions, but even more when they are in the ICT area. In any case, it's not really a prediction; it's more a consequence of what is happening. I would say my first thing is related to demographic growth. I'm very much struck by the demographic parameter in today's economy. In my lifetime we have gone from about 4 billion people to 7 billion people on earth. That's staggering. The implication is about the needs of this population, especially as it relates to migratory movements. I am thinking in particular about migration from rural to urban areas and all the needs of this urban population. Around that, there is a huge role for ICTs and ICT use in terms of urban infrastructure....Another one is the shift of power (I don't know if you can call it that way, but perhaps, redistribution of the cards). As I mentioned the next one billion users of Internet would be from developing countries, so you have a redistribution of cards....these people will have specific needs which are not the needs of affluent societies. How do you respond to these needs? It does not mean that there will always be a market because there is a difference between having one billion people in need and one billion people able to pay to get their needs taken care of. But, still, I think there is quite a mass of opportunities, as well as needs that will require to be served by the public or by the private sectors....As to my third point my mind is very much on privacy and security issues. It will affect the way the Internet is used because a lot is based on trust and credibility. And, if that that cannot be insured, the way we look at the internet - and what it can bring us - will be completely different. It may even affect our relations and our communications. I think that is the crux of the matter for the forthcoming years as far as internet development is concerned. The lack of trust that may develop is something that governments and private sector may want to watch out...."

01:45:18: I am going ask a series of questions and you can choose the one you would like to answer. You've been a very successful leader, perhaps there are some leadership lessons you'd like to share, or you may want to share something about your outside interests. Or maybe a story that you've come across in your extensive speaking, travels and work. Or any other topic area on broader issues. The canvas is open for you to paint openly.
"....First I would say that working for the UN is very gratifying. In term of my experiences I will always be very comforted by the fact that, when you bring to people access to knowledge and give them the tools, it's an eye opener. It's been very fascinating and enriching and I would encourage young people to also approach issues with that state of mind....The second one is very recent: it is experiencing what sometimes you read through reports. You may not know that 2014 was the year of the small island states. In September there was a major international conference for small island states (the SIDS as we call them in the UN). It's a conference which takes place every 10 years and the idea is to assess the challenges, to see what has been done, and to develop assistance programs or to help in a number of areas. One of the SIDS biggest problems is climate change....When I went to Samoa where the conference took place (which is in the middle of the Pacific relatively close to Australia but still six hours of flight), I realized strongly how distance is a major impediment. Those people living in some of these island states are completely isolated from the rest of the world. It's definitely an area where a new technologies can make a world of difference. But they are confronted with cost issues. That was for me a very striking experience and I did not realize how much closing the distance nowadays was still a major challenge for some parts of the developing world...."

01:50:55: Anne, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.