Dear ITS Colleagues:

In this (March 2018) issue of Interconnect, the Message from the Chair consists of (slightly edited) excerpts from Stephen Schmidt’s opening and closing remarks delivered to the 2nd African Regional ITS Conference held in Lusaka, Zambia (March 15-16, 2018).

Excerpts from ITS Chair’s Opening Remarks in Lusaka

It is a great honour to be here and to welcome all of you to the 2nd African Regional Conference of the International Telecommunications Society (ITS), organized in cooperation with the University of Zambia, the academic host.

In reviewing the Conference program in recent weeks, I found it very striking that the major themes and focus of the Conference – including mobile banking, e-health, education, and competition in mobile telephony — resonate not only within Zambia, but in Africa more generally and, indeed, around the world.

This is because countries all around the world are grappling with the same fundamental questions about how communications can improve societal outcomes across a broad range of endeavours including health, education, government and the economy overall.

We share a common bond of concerns about educating our children; caring for the sick and the elderly; and ensuring opportunity for our citizens.    

We share a common recognition that the character and quality of regulation (and government policy) can advance – or undermine – our aspirations for our citizens and for the economy.   

In a digital age, in a very real sense, network policy is economic and social policy. They are inseparable.   

And that is what brings us together here today.

ITS is an independent, non-aligned and not-for-profit organization with a worldwide network of about 300 members. ITS provides a forum where academic, private sector, and government communities can meet to identify pressing new problems and issues, share research results, and form new relationships and approaches to address outstanding issues. It is a forum for convening dialogue between academic, government and private sector communities – principally through conferences and workshops.

In its 32 years of history, ITS has convened more than 70 conferences and workshops, in dozens of countries, and across 6 continents. But this is only the second time we find ourselves in Africa. So this represents both a great honour and an enormous opportunity for ITS and the communities we serve.

Being here, together, in Lusaka (with participants from 4 continents and a dozen countries) gives very full and vital expression to our goal of convening global conversations between academia, the private sector, and government communities, on issues of pressing importance.   

For example, it is hard to think of another ITS Conference where the government has displayed such a vivid and public commitment to policy dialogue (evidenced by its support of this Conference and by its decision to send its most senior members to speak to delegates). This underscores the government’s recognition of the crucial role that telecommunications plays in meeting the nation’s aspirations.

It is likewise hard to think of another ITS Conference where the involvement of the private sector was so strong and vivid (witnessed, in particular, by the range of senior executives that has agreed to attend and speak on panels).

The presence of industry here is very important. The challenges facing Zambia and her neighbours are significant — technological developments are far outpacing policy and legal frameworks — and industry needs to dialogue constructively with both academia and government if they are to forge better legal frameworks for tomorrow. 

These conversations, in turn, are integrated into policy papers by scholars from around world. The academic papers being presented here are very important because they represent critical reflections on what is working – and not working – in contemporary communications policy along with suggestions for a path forward.

In a very real sense, the scholars here join together these two pillars of government and industry through critical reflection.  And, in a virtuous circle, the presence of industry and government here today helps deepen and strengthen scholarship — which otherwise occurs in a vacuum.

I have saved the most important task for last, namely the thank you’s.

We are very grateful to Dr. Simon Tembo, of the University of Zambia, for his vision and persistence as Chair of the Conference Organizing Committee.  We likewise acknowledge the crucial and energetic contributions of Dr. Anders Henten, of Aalborg University, Denmark, as Chair of the Program Committee. Nothing good happens by accident and this Conference would not have happened without their courage and energy. The same applies to the Conference Secretariat, including Ms. Annie Malambo and her colleagues, who provided very organized and gracious logistics to support the Conference.

We extend our sincere thanks to the University of Zambia, the government of Zambia and our private Conference sponsors. Simply put, it would not have been possible to have this Conference without the generous resource commitments of these organizations.

We also extend our deep thanks to the many other individuals (organizers, the panel and paper presenters, participants) that have helped make this Conference a success. In the final analysis, there is no ITS without papers, presenters, and participants.  This is your Conference. You make it a reality. The organizers and hosts provide a crucial framework – but you provide the content. Thank you.

My last word of thanks goes to the students who have made a decision to come here and present their research. For some of you, this might be your first time sharing your research at a conference. For others, it might be the first time you have presented a paper outside of your home country. In all cases, we want ITS to be a welcoming and positive environment for scholars starting their professional and personal journeys. We are delighted that you have chosen to be here. In a very real sense, you are the future of ITS.

It is also my sincere hope that this dialogue continues after we leave this room; after we leave this Conference. If we leave this room and do not speak again, across the divides of academia, industry, government and across the divides of geography – we will have failed to live up to the promise.

Excerpts from ITS Chair’s Closing Remarks in Lusaka

After two and half days together, what is most striking to me is the way Zambians are responding to the challenges facing Zambia.
You are doing so with boundless enthusiasm, goodwill towards your country and thoughtful creativity. This is true of government officials, business leaders and scholars.

You clearly recognize that you live in fortunate times because of the transformative possibilities of ICT – even if you face unfortunateproblems. What is particularly amazing to me is that you are not overwhelmed by the challenges that you are facing – on the contrary, you are clearly energized by them.

You are not praying for smaller problems; you are praying for greater skills. These challenges are calling forth the best measure of your energies, skills and efforts. This is equally true of government, industry and academia.

Scholarship occupies a special place in all of this because it is a reflective mirror revealing present challenges and opportunities and the potential of better paths forward.

Action must be informed by reflection.

Scholarship offers that possibility to government and industry if they are willing to accept the invitation. And government and industry can in turn enhance and strengthen scholarship, through dialogue and lived experience.

I would like to thank all of you. Thank you for your friendship; thank you for your ideas and energy; thank you for your support. You have all contributed to making this Conference a success.  

Stephen Schmidt
ITS Chair