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Issue 20 Articles

Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation logoInsight into CTO

Prof Tim Unwin, Secretary General,
Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation

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Prof Tim Unwin, Secretary General, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation
Prof Tim Unwin, Secretary General,
Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation

Tim thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Q: For our readers within and outside Commonwealth countries could you explain the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation?
A: People will be surprised to learn that the CTO is older than the Commonwealth itself. We were established in 1901 as the Pacific Cable Board while the Commonwealth, in its present form, came in to being only in 1949. Over the years the CTO has evolved to address many needs of our stakeholders. In 2002 the CTO was transformed into a fully-fledged international organisation with the key mandate being to “help members bridge the digital divide”. Reflecting this focus, the Constitution has been amended to create a two-tier membership structure that ensures broader stakeholder engagement. One tier is the Full Member Countries, limited to Commonwealth countries and the second is the ICT Sector Members, which is open to non-Commonwealth countries, as well as industry and civil society.

Q: How is the organisation developing and what new directions are you looking to take?
A: My first task after taking over as the Secretary General in September 2011, was to develop a new strategic plan taking into consideration the Organisation’s unique strengths, competencies developed over a considerable period of time and the needs of its members. The strategic plan, adopted by the CTO Council in March 2013 seeks to emancipate, enrich, equalise and empower people in the Commonwealth and beyond, through the use of ICTs by delivering five interlinked outputs:

1. Vibrant CTO membership committed to its vision
2. Enhanced ICT4D capacity development amongst members
3. More effective multi-stakeholder ICT4D partnerships operating in Commonwealth countries
4. Greater engagement by the private sector in ICT4D initiatives in Commonwealth countries
5. CTO as thought-leader in 6 niche areas of expertise - Broadband, especially mobile broadband for rural development; Cybersecurity and cybercrime; ICTs for people with disabilities: Regulatory environments; Use of ICTs in education, particularly skills development and entrepreneurship; and Youth and ICTs

Q: What is the relevance of the 6 niche areas to Commonwealth countries and how are they being reflected in the operational activities of the CTO?
A: I believe the CTO’s primary mission to be to act as a platform for the sharing of expertise, knowledge and capital among all people and countries within the Commonwealth. You will note that the niche areas are central to ICT development and the Commonwealth has made impressive gains in all of them. For example Commonwealth countries such as India, Kenya and South Africa are the home to innovative and replicable Broadband applications. A number of regulators in Commonwealth countries such as UK and Mauritius are considered to be shining examples in ICT regulation. The CTO’s operational activities encompassing research, capacity building, technical advisory and international events, are increasingly revolving around these niche areas delivering on the outputs. For example the CTO is fast becoming a platform for the Commonwealth to build harmonised responses to ensure safety, security and resilience in the Cyberspace by working through multi-stakeholder partnerships where the private sector plays a key role.

Q: What benefits could ICT companies realise by joining the organisation?
A: The CTO seeks to create opportunities for all players in the ICT sector to develop the sector as a whole. That is why the strategic plan specifically calls for greater engagement by the private sector in multi-stakeholder ICT4D partnerships. In summary any ICT company, be it a telecom operator, technology provider, content or application developer, will find CTO membership as a valuable platform for advocacy, awareness raising, profile raising and relationship building. In addition our activities create opportunities for deeper involvement aimed at delivering specific projects and initiatives. It is this potential that has recently drawn global ICT leaders and national companies alike such as BT and Microsoft to our ICT Sector Membership.

Q: Where would you like the Organisation to be in Five years time?
A: My vision is to position the CTO at the centre of the Commonwealth’s ICT agenda and a key partner of the Global ICT agenda. Within five years, I want anyone working in our six niche areas to be aware of how we can contribute to their activities, and ideally to involve us in helping them achieve their objectives. I am most encouraged by the early signs where the CTO has become the trusted partner for Commonwealth countries and industry in ICT implementation and utilisation. Our progress has been greatly helped by recent developments within the Commonwealth where the major Commonwealth agencies are re-aligning their focus to achieve better synergies, with the CTO acknowledged as the custodian of the ICT agenda. I plan to take the message beyond the Commonwealth, to offer our services and competencies to non-Commonwealth countries as well. Here I must mention that the CTO has always been a stepping stone for non-Commonwealth countries to join the Commonwealth, with Rwanda being one example. Our core focus is helping everyone in the Commonwealth to use ICTs in support of the most marginalised, typified in our work with people with disabilities.

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