Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)



Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Chief Strategic Planning and Membership, International Telecommunications Union on SDGs and Gender Equality

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Doreen Bogdan-Martin.

Chief, Strategic Planning and Membership
International Telecommunication Union
Twitter @doreenbogdan

Doreen Bogdan-Martin is a strategic leader with more than 25 years of high-level experience in international and inter-governmental relations. She has a long history of success in policy and strategy development, analysis and execution.

Since 2008, Ms. Bogdan-Martin has been Chief of Strategic Planning & Membership for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), located in Geneva, Switzerland. ITU is the specialized United Nations agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), with 193 Member States and a membership of nearly 800 private sector entities and academic institutions around the globe. It is dedicated to bringing connectivity to all the world's people through development assistance, standardization and coordination of radiocommunications.

Ms. Bogdan-Martin leads the organization's strategic planning processes, while also overseeing the organization’s Membership, UN Affairs, Governing Bodies, Corporate Communications and External Affairs teams. She also coordinates the work of the United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

Ms. Bogdan-Martin has advised governments from around the world on policy and regulatory reform measures. She has organized impact-driven global conferences with thousands of participants from 150+ countries, brokered international consensus on many critical issues and is a regular presenter at high-level international forums and summits. As part of this important work, she was one of the principal architects of the annual Global Symposium for Regulators, directed ITU's first global youth summit #BYND and is currently driving ITU's latest high-profile initiative – EQUALS: The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age.

Additionally, Ms. Bogdan-Martin is an affiliate of the Harvard University Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society, and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the United Nations Strategic Planning Group and Chair of the Academic Council for the Swiss Network for International Studies. She is also an experienced amateur radio operator.


Q: Doreen, thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.

A:  "Thank you Stephen for your very kind invitation to join your interview series. It is a great pleasure to join you."

Q: What were the interesting stories, milestones and lessons that led to your current roles? How do these lessons apply to education, government and industry?

A:  "Growing up on the shore in a small town in New Jersey, I headed off to university in Delaware to study Chemistry. During my university years, I spent two winter sessions abroad, which sparked my decision to become a global citizen and focus on international issues.

I took a year off after university to work as an English teacher in Spain, which further strengthened my language skills, before beginning the American University’s School of International Service's graduate program in Washington, DC. I had the great fortune of having some amazing professors, including the then Deputy General Counsel at the US Commerce Department. As I was seeking to gain work experience during my studies through an internship, he generously introduced me to Janice Obuchowski, the then Assistant Secretary of The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce. This was the beginning of what has been an exciting career in information and telecommunication technologies (ICTs).

My first assignment was a simple one - to organize files for the person heading up NTIA's European Commission work. I decided to view it as much more than a filing assignment, but rather as an opportunity to learn more about the European Commission and began reading all of the green papers and other Commission directives.

"Television without Frontiers" was the big focus back then. From there, I moved on to satellites. It was an amazing time. International satellite communication was essentially a monopoly and private systems such as PanAmSat were gaining ground and challenging national and international policies. I was studying satellite communications policy in school and was selected for the NTIA team that was conducting a review of international satellite systems policy. Our proposal was later approved by the White House, inspiring me to want to become even more involved in issues that have real impact.

By that time, my internship had turned into a paid position as a telecommunication policy analyst. My portfolio was further expanded to Latin America as I was a fluent Spanish speaker – and this was my introduction to the world of ITU. I organized the first Latin American Telecommunication Summit (LATS), an event that brought the US government and private sector together with their Latin American counterparts to discuss policy frameworks and identify business opportunities in the telecommunications domain.

I then co-directed the US delegations for the ITU World Regional Telecommunication Development Conferences in the Americas, Arab States and the Asia Pacific region. When the cycle of conferences finished, ITU approached the US to ask if I could be detached to help the ITU prepare for the first World Telecommunication Development Conference in 1994 in Buenos Aires.

Off I went to Geneva for the first time in September 1993; the initial plan was a three-month detachment. This was extended by three months and then another three months. Once the conference finished, it was time for me to go back. I went back briefly and then decided to leave my stable government job and return to the ITU on a short-term contract.

This was also an amazing time, as countries were beginning to set up regulators, privatize their operators and introduce competition. Internet penetration was only .3% and mobile subscriptions around 1%. I was able to focus my work in the regulatory/policy space where I started ITU's regulatory data collection, the organization's annual Trends in Telecom Reform series, as well as the annual ITU Global Symposium for regulators.

After 14 years of rewarding work in the ITU Development Sector, I became Chief of the Strategic Planning and Membership Department.

My entire career has been in the ICT space, and one thing is for sure, it is never boring. Each day brings exciting new challenges and opportunities.

The lessons I gained from these periods in my life can be applied across the academic, corporate and government sectors. For me these are: be innovative, ready to adapt, consider the international context, don't undervalue the socio-economic development role of ICTs, and learn a second (or third or more) language – being multi-lingual enables us to grow and influence in ways that would not otherwise be possible."

Q: What are your current roles?

A:  "As ITU's Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership, I oversee the organization's governance functions, membership, corporate communications, UN affairs, strategic and operational planning. In addition, I coordinate the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development and Chair the Gender Task Force. I am currently the co-chair of the UN Strategic Planning Network and also the driver of the EQUALS initiative striving for gender diversity in tech.

One of our main focuses at the moment is on the preparation of our new strategic plan and the next ITU Plenipotentiary Conference which takes place in 2018."

Q: Can you provide three tips in each of your areas of expertise and a short case study or example illustrating the points? How do these tips apply to education, government and industry?

A:  "On the communications side, it's important to know your audience, get your messages right out, and communicate clearly and concisely.

On the membership side, with such a diverse membership comprising 193 member states and more than 700 private sector members, it's important to respect everyone's views, demonstrate trust, be objective, ask for feedback and be responsive to their needs.

As a manager, it's important to prioritize, provide clear direction and give feedback regularly to team members.

In general, and as a public servant, it's important to be innovative and to think innovatively with even the smallest task. From conference and document management to registration, innovation can always be applied. A few years ago we took on the challenge to organize a global youth summit. We had no funds, but we had determination and innovative thinking. We rallied an amazing group of interns and secured funding from outside partners. We met every week over the course of several months and through constant dialogue with the youth we shaped the progamme, brought together hundreds of youth from around the globe, and crowdsourced an input that was delivered by the President of Costa Rice to the UNGA.

It's also important when it comes to governance to be transparent and accountable. We have over the years been able to open regular dialogue with the public at large running public consultations to gather inputs on our strategy as well as in some of ITU's Council groups. We have also been able to open to the public a majority of our documents."

Q: Q: What makes a great executive?

A:  "Vision, ability to communicate clearly and concisely, a good listener, open to feedback, a motivator, a team builder, someone that will take the hit for the team, ability to empower staff and enable future leaders – these are what make a great executive."

Q: Please share up to five stories of "impossible" challenges you were able to master?

A:  "I have faced many challenges throughout my career as a working mother, as the first woman to be a D2 level in the ITU, as the first woman to serve as Secretary of an ITU governing body, etc.

As a mom:
Perhaps my greatest challenge has been to be the mother of four while working as a full-time executive-level professional.

In the middle of my career, I became the acting head of my division. I had a toddler at home and had just learned that I was pregnant. I was well organized and surrounded by a great team.

Then, early on in my pregnancy, I learned that I was pregnant with triplets. By the time they were born I was confirmed as head of my division, and after nine months off with the new babies, I came back to work.

Scared and with emotions running, I wasn't sure I was going to make it. I wanted to be the best mother as well as the best professional, and this was a tough challenge. With the support of my spouse, my friends and colleagues, and in particular a very supportive Director who was also a parent of four, I took one day at a time and did the best that I could. Finding the right balance is a challenge that continues.

As a negotiator:
I remember early in my career when I was handling the regional telecom development conferences, I was in Cairo and on the US delegation. The head of the delegation was called to an outside meeting and we needed a representative to present our proposal in the technical committee. I was instructed to present the proposal and off I went into the room. Around the table, I was surrounded by delegates from the region. I was the only woman at the table. I was given the opportunity to present our proposal which was then challenged by a number of delegates. During the break, the ITU secretary who was well known in ITU circles, Mr. Nabil Kisrawi, took me aside and gave me some tips on negotiation tactics. My proposal sailed through and that was the beginning of a very long friendship which lasted up until his passing a few years ago.

As the first woman:
Not an easy one. I was the first woman (and today still the only) to reach the rank of D2 within ITU, which is the highest civil servant ranking in the organization. As a result of this position, I became the first woman to earn a seat on our Management Coordination Group, and to serve as Secretary of our governing board, the ITU Council, as well as our world convening conferences (e.g. WTPF, WCIT, Plenipotentiary).

I'm certain that there was great interest to see if I (a woman) could succeed, but I was also fortunate to have excellent support from some colleagues. It wasn't easy at all. I researched and read everything I could about my new functions and tasks, spoke to as many people from the inside and out as I could, and I took lots of deep breaths.

These experiences gave me a first-hand look at gender issues within the ICT sector. Today, I am a strong advocate for tech gender diversity so that other women may be able to have the same opportunities that I have been privileged with in my career."

Q: What important lessons can you summarize from the last question?

A:  "You can be a good professional and a good mother. Balancing is a constant challenge. Whether they are toddlers or teenagers, the balancing never gets easier. It is important to be organized and determined.

It's important to have mentors. I was fortunate to have a few. Ask for advice and guidance from those you trust.

I grew up at the beach. If you are thrown into something, swim, don't ever let sinking be an option.

From my career so far, I have learnt the true value of "Communication" and all the social and economic benefits that ICTs can bring to enrich lives worldwide. We all have a fundamental role to play, however big or small, in the future of our planet, and the unique opportunity to make a contribution to the environment we will leave for our descendants."

Q: Can you talk about the importance of the work of the ITU to governments, industry and academia?

A:  "ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for ICTs, driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 Member States and a membership of nearly 800 private sector entities and academic institutions. Established over 150 years ago in 1865, we are the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing global standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems.

With more than half of the world's population still off-line, our mission is far from over.

From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, Internet and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world."

Q: What are the sustainable development goals and how do they impact governments, industry and academia?

A:  "The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals or the Agenda 2030, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. It is an agenda for all countries of the world.

Achieving the 17 SDGs requires the partnership of governments, private sector, academia, civil society and citizens alike to make sure we leave a better planet for future generations.

ICTs form the backbone of today's digital economy and have enormous potential to fast forward progress on all of the SDGs and improve people's lives in fundamental ways. ITU is working actively with our members to leverage the power of ICTs towards achievement of the SDGs."

Q: Can you explore, the importance of SDG 5 and why it matters to governments, industry, and academia?

A:  "The Global Goal for gender equality, SDG5, is vitally important to creating a better world for all. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.

In today’s digital world, women and girls must be connected to the Internet to fully access these resources. ITU and its members – including government, industry and academia – are working together to increase Internet and mobile access for women around the world."

Q: What is

A:  "Representation of women in the tech sector work force is low, globally less than 20%. This certainly has an impact on women's leadership levels in the tech sector where today there are only a handful of women leaders in both the private and public sectors. We also know the number of girls taking up studies in STEM fields are equally low, though encouraging improvements have been made in some universities. On the connectivity side, the internet user gender gap stood at 12% at the end of 2016. Women are also on average 14% less likely to own a mobile phone. Taking all of these factors together, we see a big problem but also a huge opportunity for empowerment and inclusion, EQUALS is our contribution.

EQUALS is a global initiative developed by ITU and UN-Women that is delivered by a committed network partnership of businesses, governments, non-profit organizations, foundations and individuals around the world working together to bridge the digital gender divide.

By promoting awareness, building political commitment, leveraging resources and knowledge, harnessing the capacities of partners, and driving real action – EQUALS partners seek to achieve digital gender equality and through this, to improve the livelihoods of millions around the world.

Our efforts are guided by three key pillars – Access, Skills and Leadership. EQUALS partners work together to improve women and girls’ digital technology access, connectivity and security; support the development of STEM skills of women and girls; and promote greater participation by women in the tech sector."

Q: How can governments, industry, academia support

A:  "The strength of EQUALS lies in its structure as a network of committed and diverse partners. This includes governments, industry, academia, research bodies and United Nations agencies. Each brings a unique set of capacities and resources and builds a strong network capacity able to work across issues and geographies.

Interested governments, industry and academia can join the movement, take a pledge and commit to actions to bridge the digital gender gap. We currently have more than 40 partners and continue to grow. Anyone interested can contact us directly at"

Q: You have many interests. Can you talk further about them?

A:  "Time with the family is always at the top of the agenda, whether it's spending time at the beach on the Jersey Shore in the US, or skiing together in the neighboring French Alps. I love to fish and scuba dive (two activities inspired by my father from my early childhood). I am also a regular runner and try to enter local races for fun.

I am also passionate about the technology space and the positive impact it can have on society and the SDGs. I want to put a human face on some of the great work we do here at ITU, so that the general public can understand the importance of our work. I am a strong believer in the United Nations and in multilateralism and I am very interested in ways we can use technology to solve some of the greatest challenges of our times."

Q: You choose the topic area. What do you see as the three top broader challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?

A:  "On the connectivity side, the challenge to connect the world’s more than 3 billion unconnected. How to bring those unconnected into the digital world before they fall further behind. How can last mile access be financed and what are the best models for public/private partnerships to ensure that connectivity?

Once connected, how can we ensure that capacity building goes hand-in-hand to ensure the digital skills needed are in place to maximize the opportunities offered from being connected?

For those already connected, how can we preserve human relations and face-to-face communications? I do worry. With four teenagers that are always connected, talking to your friends has a whole different meaning. We spent the summer where keeping up with your Snapchat streaks was the most pressing challenge of the day.

Cybersecurity and child on-line protection are growing challenges around the world. How can we keep ourselves and our children safe on-line? How can we better educate parents and teachers? At ITU, we have a Child On-Line Protection initiative that brings together a community of interested stakeholders and shares best practices and guidelines. We also offer capacity building in cybersecurity and work with countries to establish national computer incident response teams (CIRTS)."

Q: From your extensive speaking, travels, and work, please share up to three stories (amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing).

A:  "I have travelled professionally for the last 25 years. On each trip, I have encountered amazing people, made lasting friendships, explored fascinating cultures, and tried some interesting food.

Amusing (a reminder of the state of connectivity not too long ago)
Over that period, the ICT world has changed extensively. Back in the early days of my career, the world wasn’t covered by a mobile signal and many places I traveled to did not have easy access to a fixed line phone. I remember being in Angkor Wat, Cambodia for a sub-regional meeting back in the mid ’90s. I had recently married and my husband had asked me to call when I arrived. The hotel had one fixed line that had been broken for several weeks. After several days with no contact, he phoned the ITU to see if something had happened. As they had no news, he was comforted that I must have been ok.

A few years ago, as an outside activity and teaming up with two colleagues, we pitched a connection to the International Space Station (ARISS) to a local school in Geneva where my children attended. The school responded enthusiastically. We spent over a year working with the school and the students to educate them on life in space and on the space station, as well as on radio connectivity (not my area of expertise). For many of the students, the preparation of the event opened their eyes to future fields of study as they were enriched and inspired by the science and technology of the event. When the big day came, the children came to ITU together with their parents. The connection took place from the ITU amateur radio station, each student was able to speak to the astronaut over amateur radio. It was truly amazing. Motivated by my children’s interest as well as my own, I committed in front of the whole class that I would get my license as a radio operator. After refreshing my knowledge of basic radio technology and learning the operating principles, I passed the test one year later.

In 2010, the UN Secretary General launched a call to all UN agencies and member states to step up efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals. In response to his call, we, together with our sister agency UNESCO, put together a gathering of some 50 eminent leaders from government, industry, civil society and the UN. We planned for one meeting to discuss how we could use broadband technology to tackle some of humanities greatest challenges from eradicating hunger to achieving universal primary education. Compelled by the challenge the representatives (which included President Paul Kagame, Carlos Slim, Mo Ibrahim, Sunil Mittal and many more) decided one meeting was not enough. Broadband rollout was a leadership imperative that needed to be at the top of the international policy agenda and global advocacy was a must. Now in its 7th year, the Commission continues its advocacy drive today with a focus on the SDGs and the enabling role of connectivity in each and every development goal. The Commission is self-financed."

Q: If you were conducting this interview, what 3 questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?

  1. "Why is international cooperation still important in ICTs?
    A:  As we bring more people online, more data is consumed and users continue to want faster connections, which in turn places greater demand on spectrum. If spectrum allocations for different services were not agreed internationally, the result would be lots of interference and our devices wouldn’t work as we move from one country to another.

  2. We have heard about the digital divide, especially the connectivity divide, for many years now. Is it still a matter of concern? Also, is it mainly a matter for the private sector or do governments need to be involved?
    A:  Donald Maitland highlighted the divide back in the ’80s as the missing link. At the time it was about being within walking distance to a fixed line. Fast forward 30+ years later and there is very much still a divide with 85% of the population in Least Developed Countries still off-line. Yes the private sector needs to be involved but so do governments in ensuring that enabling and stable policy and regulatory frameworks are in place to attract the needed investment.

  3. I understand that you are also passionate about ensuring that children are protected online, and you head the COP initiative at ITU. Can you tell us more?
    A:  The COP initiative is a multistakeholder partnership of governments, industry, UN agencies and civil society working together to create a safe and empowering online experience for children. The partnership’s focus is on creating awareness, developing tools to minimize risks and sharing knowledge and experience. The partnership has produced a number of guidelines and best practices for parents, educators, policy makers and industry."
Q: Doreen, with your demanding schedule we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.