Nº 1 2013 > Strengthening ITU's regional presence
Interview with Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau
Mr Sanou talks to ITU News about the Union's initiative to strengthen its regional presence.
ITU has twelve field offices, including regional offices in Addis Ababa (for Africa), Brasilia (for the Americas), Cairo (for the Arab States), Bangkok (for Asia and the Pacific) and Moscow (for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States). So, why the need to strengthen the Union’s regional presence?
Brahima Sanou: Strengthening ITU’s regional presence is a long and ambitious process, which involves far more than the number of offices. The need to support ITU’s development work was recognized decades ago, and heated debate on the subject took place in 1973 at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Malaga-Torremolinos (Spain).
Since then, and especially at the Plenipotentiary Conferences at Nairobi (Kenya) in 1982, and Nice (France) in 1989, the membership has kept on stressing the importance of strengthening the ITU regional presence as a means of delivering technical assistance to its Member States.
With the establishment of a third Sector in ITU, the Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU–D), and the current network of offices covering various regions and subregions, the membership has continued to monitor progress towards an effective regional presence, the aim being to further enhance the timely delivery of high-quality services and products to the membership on the ground. At Kyoto (Japan), in 1994, the plenipotentiaries adopted Resolution 25 on strengthening regional presence. Subsequent plenipotentiary conferences have reviewed and revised this important resolution.
In 2010, at Guadalajara (Mexico), the plenipotentiaries took account of a study by the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit on the effectiveness of regional presence and revised Resolution 25. The revised resolution goes beyond indicating the number of offices in the field, to encompass the actual organization and functioning of regional presence. It provides for a detailed and systematic approach to ITU’s regional presence in the light of the principles of results-based management and results-based budgeting that are applied to all the Union’s operations.
The Joint Inspection Unit pointed out in 2009 that the human resources allocated to the ITU field offices were not commensurate with the widening scope and complexity of their tasks and responsibilities. As BDT Director, and with the continuing support of the Secretary-General and my colleagues — the other elected officials — I have proposed the strengthening of the staffing of the field offices in order to enhance the output of coherent, well-planned and coordinated activities. Once the ITU management had approved the rationalization of the grade structure for the field offices, I immediately redeployed existing posts, bearing in mind the need to combine flexibility, expertise and closeness to the membership. As a result, the number of staff in the field has increased from 51 to 58. This redeployment has been effected within the budget adopted for 2012–2013.
I have also taken a range of measures to empower ITU staff in the field. These measures include providing staff with adequate tools and relevant training, as well as strengthening cooperation between ITU and regional telecommunication organizations. All these actions are part of the complex and open-ended process aimed at improving membership satisfaction. The challenge is to continue coping effectively with the changing needs of the membership and the challenges of tomorrow.
How will this initiative enhance participation by developing countries in ITU activities?
Brahima Sanou: First of all, strengthening regional presence enables ITU to be as close as possible to its members — but this depends on the resources available. A regional presence creates a mutually reinforcing partnership, and changes the whole vision of the relationship between ITU members and the secretariat.
At a basic procedural level, we now have a much clearer operational plan, which links objectives, outputs and expected results in a much more transparent manner. Through an iterative process of consultations, the membership is leading the strategic planning process. With increased regional empowerment comes greater accountability, notably in terms of how the Union fulfills its responsibilities towards the membership in implementing the operational plan, particularly those elements that comprise the regional initiatives. The newly redesigned Regional Development Forums, which started taking place in 2012 and which will continue annually in every region, are now giving Member States and Sector Members a much more direct opportunity to review and provide feedback on those ITU activities that are carried out in the field under the leadership of the regional and area offices.
Second, we are increasing the resources devoted to activities in the regions. In particular, we are boosting the number of professional grade staff in the field offices. I would highlight here the strengthening of the area offices in Barbados, Cameroon, Chile, Honduras, Indonesia and Zimbabwe. As a result of this policy, the number of staff in the field offices will eventually grow by 20 per cent. We are taking a carefully coordinated approach to the hiring of staff to ensure that their competencies across the regions are truly complementary.
Third, we are improving the way in which we share information with the membership about ITU activities. We need to improve the flow of information between ITU and the regional and subregional organizations, and develop closer ties with these organizations. There is clearly a virtuous circle linking strengthened ITU regional presence and improved regional cooperation. This involves upgrading regional presence on the ITU website, and training regional staff to communicate more effectively with local media and local stakeholders. It also involves ensuring that staff at headquarters take proper account of regional information needs when disseminating our publications, and when organizing conferences and other meetings. The opportunities here are immense, and we are addressing them systematically.
Finally, let me reiterate a fundamental principle. The field offices are empowered to make good use of their resources, and we are also taking a more rigorous approach to spending. Hand in hand with their colleagues at headquarters, staff in the field offices are now working within a results-based management framework. This basic principle applies to all our actions, including the coordinated hiring policy. We want more impact for each dollar we spend.
How would you summarize the initiative in a tweet?
Brahima Sanou: Fundamentally, the initiative to strengthen ITU’s regional presence is about “improving the information flow within ITU, and between ITU and its stakeholders, and directing more resources to the regions so that each day, we can serve the membership better than the day before”.
Editor’s note: You can follow Brahima Sanou on Twitter at: ITU BDT Director.