Nº 5 2014 > Electing ITU top executives: Meet the candidates
Interview with Brahima Sanou
Candidate for the post of Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau
What are your top three priorities for the Telecommunication Development Sector?
Brahima Sanou: The Telecommunication Development Sector works to improve people’s lives by contributing to building a truly inclusive information society. We promote the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance development everywhere, including in rural and remote areas, through implementing the Dubai Action Plan approved at the World Telecommunication Development Conference earlier this year.
Telecommunications and ICT are not just an end in themselves, but are the key enablers of social, economic and environmental progress. To achieve the goal of an inclusive information society, my top priorities for the Sector are thus to:
- Leverage the potential of telecommunications and ICT to empower development in other sectors of the economy
- Strengthen partnerships and cooperation with key stakeholders of the ICT ecosystem and promote an environment that is conducive to private-sector investment and socio-economic development for all
- Strengthen the critical role of ICT in disaster prevention and response, get more women and young people interested in taking part in the ICT world, and pay due attention to people with disabilities and specific needs to help achieve digital inclusion.
What do you see as the challenges and opportunities in implementing the Dubai Action Plan?
Brahima Sanou: The Dubai Action Plan sets out a road map for the next four years and defines our work, actions and objectives. It offers the greatest opportunity ever to make the world a better place by improving people’s lives, empowering people through ICT to enhance their own social and economic well-being. The Dubai Action Plan needs to mean something to people. For this reason, we need to turn it into reality.
The success of our work also depends on how well we embrace results-based management, a methodology now being implemented throughout the United Nations system. I am a firm believer in the benefits of results-based management as it will help us strengthen accountability and transparency. It will also help us identify measures to further improve our long-term delivery and results. By shifting the focus from activities to achievements, we can increase the impact of the work we do.
Strengthening the capacity of the Telecommunication Development Bureau and its regional presence, while streamlining our financial and human resources will also be critical over the next four years. The aim is to optimize our resources to support the achievement of our objectives, taking a cost-effective approach in implementing our activities.
ITU’s “federal” structure — the General Secretariat along with the Radiocommunication, Telecommunication Standardization and Telecommunication Development Sectors — is unique in international governance. How do you intend to leverage this structure for maximum impact, while ensuring the unity of the Union?
Brahima Sanou: From my field experience, what is most important for the membership is not the Telecommunication Development Bureau, the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau or the Radiocommunication Bureau, but rather the timely delivery of ITU products and services. Each Sector brings something unique to the Union, yet our areas of work are closely inter-related. I will continue to strengthen the synergies in all our activities in order to streamline the use of resources and achieve greater impact.
ITU’s 150th anniversary in 2015 will be celebrated under the theme “Telecommunications and ICTs: Drivers of Innovation”. What in your view are the three innovations in this industry that have most changed our world? And what do you see as the most significant technological innovation on the horizon?
Brahima Sanou: Mobile phones, social media, and “applications” (or Apps) are among the main innovations that have most changed the world. Our recent statistics indicate that by the end of 2014, mobile-cellular subscriptions will reach almost 7 billion, there will be nearly 3 billion Internet users, two-thirds of them coming from the developing world, and the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions will reach 2.3 billion globally. The apps market is already leading the way to new communication behaviours, opening the door to innovative business models. It is striking that the first billion downloads of one app took just nine months.
Looking to the future, I am sure that the provision of reliable mobile tele-connectivity will open up new models of social and economic development. Improved access to mobile technologies and innovative services such as m‑payments, m‑education, m‑health and m‑government can be life-changing for individuals, communities and societies at large.
What needs to be done to bring more women into leadership positions, both in ITU and in the ICT sector as a whole?
Brahima Sanou: Gender equality is central to achieving our vision for social and economic development. Our campaigns, such as Girls in ICT Day and the Women's Digital Literacy Campaign, launched in 2011, have been key contributors to achieving equal opportunities for women. Through them, we are encouraging young women and girls to prepare for and pursue an ICT career. If we can enable girls and young women to fulfil their potential through education and equal access to ICT, entire societies will benefit, and so will their economies.
Currently, in the Telecommunication Development Bureau, the gender composition of permanent and fixed-term staff is 74 women to 67 men. Long gone are the days when our women colleagues only served in supportive roles. We have moved forward towards managerial and strategic roles for women staff based on their professional skills, an approach that in my view is critical to the development of the Bureau. We will certainly continue on this path.
Young people are avid and creative users of information and communication technologies. How will you involve them in ITU?
Brahima Sanou: Young people are the most enthusiastic users of ICT. They are the ones who will shape the future direction of the ICT industry. We need to listen to their needs and concerns, and address them.
ITU has a long history of involving young people, and helping them to become entrepreneurs and launch ICT careers. That’s why I am proud to be the patron of the Young Innovators Programme at ITU Telecom World events. I am also fully engaged in empowering youth through initiatives such as my flagship m‑Powering Development initiative, which seeks to harness the power of mobile phones to promote education, commerce, health, sport and more.
People are a crucial part of any organization. What is your message to ITU staff?
Brahima Sanou: People, and their motivation and inspiration, are the force behind our success. To me, it is important that staff are valued, motivated and encouraged. Everyone needs to feel that he or she has an important role to play in achieving our results. In my discussions with the staff of the Bureau, I often paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi’s words to remind my colleagues to “Be the change they want to see in the Telecommunication Development Bureau and the world.”
What has been the most rewarding moment in your professional life?
Brahima Sanou: I have had many rewarding moments: reflecting at the end of each day on our accomplishments is rewarding. I have always felt privileged to be part of a dynamic team and to be able to contribute to improving people’s lives. For this reason, I consider that every single moment of my career has been rewarding.
What personality has most influenced your way of seeing the world?
Brahima Sanou: Many people I have met in my life have influenced me in the way I see the world. Most of them are not known personalities, but simple people whom I have encountered — sometimes only briefly. Many of them are not even aware of how deeply they have inspired me. I continue to learn from everyone I have the chance to meet, or whose words I read, in order to fine tune my way of seeing the world.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Brahima Sanou: Serve Beyond Myself.
Short biography of Brahima Sanou
Brahima Sanou has been Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) since January 2011, following his election at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2010. Mr Sanou has focused particularly on mobilizing resources and knowledge-sharing by forging collaborative, cross-sectoral multistakeholder partnerships. Key elements include: the m‑Powering Development Initiative; the Smart Sustainable Development Model initiative; and the ITU Academy.
As Head of the ITU Regional Office for Africa and Liaison Officer to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) from 2000 to 2010, Mr Sanou fostered the growth of mobile telecommunications across the continent through the establishment of policy and regulatory frameworks nationally and regionally. As coordinator of the African regional project on telecommunication reforms and of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) from 1997 to 2000, he pushed for human resource development and capacity building in Africa.
He began his professional career in his native Burkina Faso, where he held several high-level positions in the Posts and Telecommunications Administration, and was instrumental in the liberalization of the national telecommunication sector.
Mr Sanou holds a degree in Engineering from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications (ENST) in Paris, and a post-graduate diploma from the Centre for Financial, Economic and Banking Studies, also in Paris. Fluent in French and English, he is married with three children.