Senior Communications Manager, LAC | ICANN
What is ICANN and what does it have to do with internet governance?
ICANN is a nonprofit global multistakeholder organisation that coordinates the unique identifiers across the world.
"Unique identifiers" are what you type into your computer to reach another person on the internet, can be a name or a number. "Multistakeholder" means ICANN is made up of a number of different groups that represent different interests on the internet: governments and international treaty organisation, the organisation that deals with domain names or IP addresses, onternet users, etc. We are part of the larger internet ecosystem. We are not in charge of internet governance but we are an important player of this governance of unique identifiers.
Why are internet unique identifiers important in global politics and global identity?
This interview is part of an ongoing partnership between Women in Foreign Policy and The Women in Diplomacy Podcast, ran by Kelsey Suemnicht, focused on women working at the intersections of foreign policy and technology.
Previous interviews include:
- Kelsey Suemnicht, founder, The Foreign Policy Project
- Arezoo Riahi, Program director, TechWomen
- Katie Shay, Legal Counsel, Business and Human Rights, Yahoo!
- Irene Wu, Expert in communication technology around the world
- Wendy Betts, Director, eyeWitness to Atrocities
- Nora Hauptmann, Head of NGO Relations, Kiron Open Higher Education
- Diana Nassar, TechWomen fellow, Jordan
- Lori Adelman, Director of Communications, Planned Parenthood Global
If you don't have a unique identifier, you cannot connect to the internet. When you put a name in your browser, it's an easy translation for an IP number. If you don't have IP numbers or domain names, you don't have internet access.
What do you do as senior communications manager for Latin America and the Caribbeans?
Being a senior communication manager for Latin America and the Caribbean is exciting. The original committee is very active and passionate, which also means they are strict, they want the deferential treatment, and they expect to be served in their languages (Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French).
I was born in Montreal (Quebec). My parents are Uruguayan, they were political refugees after the coup in Uruguay in 1973. When I studied communications at the University of Quebec, I took two years of Portuguese classes. One of the biggest advantages I have in my job is to speak all those languages.
What does your job entail?
The thing we do as communicators are very eclectic. For example, we have media relations with the local press when we organise workshops, participate in an event in the region or release a story.
We do social media to our Spanish, Portuguese, French and English Twitter handles and on Facebook, on an almost daily basis.
We produce content: our monthly newsletter, brochures, audiovisual material... We collaborate with art, we write, we collaborate with other publication writing articles. We have a presence at events across the region, to be in contact with regional communities. It's a challenge because we are not only translating our global messages, we also have to contextualise and originalize, know our audiences, know which channels work the best in our region...
What is the overall goal?
We're looking for more participation. We want people participating, that's why we have a presence in every region. We also translate everything in all six official UN languages and, in some specific cases, in additional languages.
The difficulty is to deliver a message that is relevant for the region. Speaking the language is important, but also knowing them, their specific challenges and then producing things that are relevant to them. I think this is also what differentiates someone working as a regional head of communication in a global organisation from someone working in a communication department in any local organisation.
How is your job in Latin America and the Caribbean different than it would be if, for instance, you were doing it for Asia or for North America?
The level of understanding of our work is very different in North America than in Africa or in Latin America. In North America, you don't need to explain what ICANN is. In Latin America, you have to start from that point. There are also differences in the channels through which we communicate our messages. In North America, traditional media relations are still very strong. In South America, it's not that this is not true, but we are very strong in social media, particularly, on Facebook and Twitter.
For an event in North America, we would talk to a journalist from a specific media outlet. In South America, we work with the press on explaining what we are and the technical issues that we're working on, but we focus on social media. In APAC, they work in completely different social media channels.
So the main differences are the level of understanding and the channels that we use in each region to deliver our messages.
Do you feel the "Global South" is well-represented in global affairs right now? How does it feel to speak on behalf of an entire, very diverse region?
I do think we are well-represented, particularly regarding internet governance. The Caribbean Internet Governance Forum, for example, started in 2005. It has since been convened annually by the Caribbean Telecommunication Union. It's the first regional forum of its kind worldwide.
We also have the LAC IGF, or the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Governance Forum. The 10th edition was held in Panama in early August. It brings the original voice to the global IGFs. There are also many internet governance initiatives in countries like Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, etc. During last year's Global Internet Governance Forum, an Argentinian lawyer that I'm proud to call a good friend, Andres Piazza, was among the speakers selected by the United Nations to close the event.
The interest and the engagement are intense in my region, and we are represented in the discussions but there are challenges. The language barrier, for example. Everything is happening in English and translation are not enough to promote a full participation from non-native speakers.
There are also barriers that are specific to women's participation. There is lack of financial resources, or cultural norms about women's appropriate roles or leadership capabilities, among others. So we can imagine that for a woman coming from a developing country that doesn't speak English or is a non-native English speaker, it becomes tremendously difficult to have a voice in global affairs.
How do you feel technology and digital in general have changed the landscape in Latin America?
I would speak more globally, but the part of the internet is very clear in the policy arena, now that we see authoritarian regimes trying to control it by any means. Without naming countries, we know this is a reality. The internet has become the perfect platform for dissenting voices. This is true in Latin America, in the Middle East and also in the United States. When before foreign policy decisions were made through secret negotiation, now we see new players on the diplomatic stage: corporations, small businesses, cyber society, the media, are all communicators and potential diplomats. The benefits of this are transparency and legitimacy, on one hand, and empowerment on the other.
There are also challenges. The internet can become a war weapon. Its control gives great power to governments during conflicts. There is also the issues of surveillance, online censorship, and finally, anyone can use the platform to voice extremism, xenophobia, misogynism. The impact is clear, whether it's positive or negative depends on which side of the table we are sitting on.
What is the untapped potential of tech and digital in diplomacy? What do you wish we were working on?
I read somewhere that technology could become the Future God. We are talking about geopolitical power here. For innovation and national competitiveness to occur, will depend on the context and the regulation and infrastructure we have in place. ICANN commissioned a study in 2014 about this topic. We found that digital trade enriches nations but not all nations engage equally in that exchange of goods, services, ideas, and information because of challenges like internet penetration rates, incentive taxes... National competitiveness will increasingly depend on the health and strength of a country's internet economy. So I would focus on this potential by identifying and addressing the causes of these challenges.
Let's go back to talking more about your own career. How did you get to your current job?
On Twitter, I have a disclaimer that says that all views are my own except those that I have subconsciously inherited from my parents. As the daughter of two political refugees who worked in the international relations field, it was my destiny. My parents worked all their lives for international development agencies and projects, they travelled a lot. It was usual to have dinner with an ambassador or to see a project or financial reports everywhere at home. We spoke Spanish at home but French at school and we watched TV shows in English. Growing up in that context, speaking different languages, was opening the path for my international career.
How did you know that working on communications and digital outreach was a good fit for you?
I will be honest here, I wanted to be an artist, an actor. That was my goal when I was a teenager. I have a people skill, I love working with people, talking to people. I knew I wasn't going to be an actor so I said, "Eh, maybe communication is the thing for me." I studied communication in my master's degree, but my undergraduate studies were in political science, so I did a little bit of both things.
In retrospect, which kind of advice would you have given yourself in the beginning of your career?
It's more difficult sometimes when you're a woman, and you have to be twice as good. This is true in any field, it's an objective claim. My advice to a younger me would be to be fearless, perseverant, to not be afraid to speak your mind, to be proactive, to come up with new ideas. Now that I'm older, I understand that a great leader will value this and will want to be surrounded by talented people, no matter their gender. I would tell myself to stop trying to be the perfect daughter, the perfect student, the perfect friend. This is a problem that many women face, this struggle for perfection, so I will tell her to speak up, to be brave, and to cut her hair if she wants to, and to learn to love herself.
International governance involves a lot of bureaucracy, whereas technology is all about innovation and moving quickly. What is it like to work at that intersection? Do you ever get frustrated, and for listeners out there that may see bureaucracy kind of getting in the way of progress, what advice would you give them?
I'm a very lucky person because I don't feel that bureaucracy affects my daily work. There are processes that we need to follow, but they are needed in any global organisations. My recommendation for an organisation to reduce the bureaucracy of its workplace would be to delegate and to empower its employees. And for the employees, I would say to build relationships with each other, and to be smart. You can't win every battle, but if you choose wisely, if you have allies and if you speak up, it will be easier to get what you want.
I'm an atheist but I particularly like this quote from Madeleine Albright. She said, "There is a special place in Hell for women who don't help each other". I really believe we must support each other, particularly when we are in a leadership position. So if you're a leader, I would tell you to be an example, a motivator and a mentor for your women that are starting their careers.