Funding woes, sadly, but inevitably, have a negative impact on IGF

The Internet Governance Forum’s lack of resources is leading to a vicious circle where lack of funding means less ability to organize events that are interesting to a wide range of stakeholders, meaning less stakeholders are willing to invest resources in the IGF, meaning that the IGF becomes less of a robust forum for discussion and debate.

From my perspective, these are some of the key reasons IGF has ongoing funding woes:

  1. The IGF is part of an ever-expanding universe of Internet events and initiatives that are vying for a finite set of resources
  2. There is an ongoing lack of a high level advocate for the IGF
  3. There is an increasing imbalance amongst stakeholder groups actively participating in the IGF
  4. The intersessional program of work seems to be suffering from community burnout and an inability of the short-staffed IGF Secretariat to fully support it this year

There is an ongoing lack of a high level advocate for the IGF

Since the end of 2010, IGF has lacked high profile champions at a level that all governments respect and will listen to. Since Markus Kummer resigned as Executive Coordinator of the Secretariat at the end of 2010 due to reaching the UN mandatory retirement age, nobody has replaced him. Why? Because UN rules mean you can’t appoint someone to a position unless there’s at least a year’s salary for that role in the bank. Nitin Desai, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General for Internet Governance, also stepped down from his role at the end of 2010, again, because of retirement. The Special Adviser role retired with him.

Without weighty advocates for the weird Frankenstein creation that is the IGF, it’s no wonder that the WSIS Forum, with the full weight of the ITU behind it [1], has attracted the funding and attention of many of the governments that, back in the WSIS days, had argued so vociferously for the need for a forum/agency for Internet policy issues.

For a while, the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) Chair role might have functioned as a suitable replacement for that advocacy role, but the UN DESA’s decision to rotate the Chair position amongst stakeholder groups means that any non-government occupant of that seat will lack full credibility in intergovernmental circles.

The current MAG Chair is a representative of civil society: Lynn St Amour.[2] The reality is that majority of governments, even many of those who are pro-multistakeholder, are never going to view a civil society representative with the same degree of respect as they would a senior diplomat or other government representative. Therefore, the MAG Chair role could only play the advocacy role when it is occupied by a representative of government or of an intergovernmental organization.

There is an increasing imbalance amongst stakeholder groups actively participating in the IGF

The IGF is beloved of civil society. Civil society is the IGF’s staunchest defender. Unfortunately, most of civil society is not flushed with enough cash to even attend the IGF without assistance from other sources, let alone help fund the IGF to the levels it needs. Enthusiasm and volunteerism from civil society is helping keep IGF on life support, but long-term, this is not a viable strategy. Volunteers can burn out. I have already observed a number of initially very optimistic IGF supporters gradually fall away as they’ve become disillusioned with their ability to move IGF out of the ICU ward and back into peak fitness.

As noted in the previous section, the lack of a respected champion of the IGF means the IGF has not been able to sustain, let alone expand upon, governments’ interest in the IGF. Governments do not participate in IGF these days at the same level as they do in competing forums such as the WSIS Forum or the Global Conference on Cyber Space. Those forums attract dozens of government ministers and ambassadors. IGF struggles to get a handful.

Not only has the IGF been unable to keep up the interest of government stakeholders, it’s also losing the private sector. The following are paraphrased complaints that I’ve heard privately from business stakeholders:

  • “Why would we keep funding the IGF, and going to the IGF, if all we get is criticism and attacks on the private sector as a whole when we’re there?”
  • “Why should we keep going if our workshop proposals are constantly rejected? IGF complains about lack of diversity, but then selects workshops from the same small set of proposers, year after year.” (Workshop selection is an endless topic of debate amongst the IGF MAG and there is constantly a tension between trying to ensure quality and trying to increase diversity).
  • “Why do so many in civil society and developing country governments lump all businesses into the category of global economic cannibals and pillory us as an entire stakeholder group? The vast majority of the private sector are not US-based global giants. Don’t they realize that the private sector also includes all the SMEs that developing countries hope will take advantage of the Internet to improve their countries’ living standards?”
  • “Why does the IGF only care about businesses that sell Internet-related products and services? Why doesn’t IGF care about the many more businesses that rely on the Internet? To be honest, as a business that relies on the Internet, at the IGF, I have more in common with civil society, as end users of the Internet, than I do with the members of the Internet services-based business community that the IGF courts.”

The private sector could be a great source of funding for the IGF, but until the private sector can be convinced that the IGF really matters to businesses, whether they be providers of Internet services or users of Internet services, global businesses or SMEs, the private sector is not going to commit funds to a forum that they are attending less and less.

The core organizations of the Internet technical community, which have the most to lose if things move away from the multistakeholder model of Internet governance and towards a more intergovernmental approach, has long shelled out big bucks to keep the IGF going. But there are limits to how much longer these organizations can prop up the IGF’s funding. Members of the ICANN community, for example, have questioned why ICANN is spending so much money on wider Internet governance activities that have little to do with ICANN’s core DNS mandate. Even worse, too many IGF workshops and open forums by the Internet technical community organizations have ossified over the years into “look what great things we do” sessions that, while possibly of interest to IGF newcomers, provide no new insights to the majority of the participants who attend them (usually, supporters of the organizations that have organized the session).

The intersessional program of work seems to be suffering from community burnout and an inability of the short-staffed IGF Secretariat to fully support it this year

As a result of lack of funding at the IGF Secretariat and increasingly stretched resources amongst IGF stakeholder groups, the IGF’s flagship Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion(s) intersessional process, as well as the three Best Practice Forum processes have not received the attention or support that previous years’ intersessional activities received, despite the best efforts of their most committed champions. The intersessional work programme of the IGF has been seen as one of the best ways to make the IGF more solid and attractive to potential participants. But this year’s efforts to continue the previous two years’ level of intersessional activities seems to have overstretched resources to the point that the final outputs (yet to be published) run the risk of not being truly representative of different perspectives and not of the same quality as previous years. In IGF’s favour here is the fact that the community behind these intersessional efforts like to promote the outcome documents as “works in progress” or “snapshots” that will need iterative updating rather than as canonical, static outputs. But even the “work in progress” angle cannot fully hide the fact that this year’s intersessional program has not lived up to the standard of the previous two years’ efforts.

An 11th hour bid to save the IGF

In an effort to improve IGF more long-term, this year, UN DESA took the extraordinary step of paying the MAG Chair to oversee work to address the ongoing funding shortfall for the IGF as well as “set up the 2nd decade to meet the potential of the IGF”.[3] But funding remains a serious issue, and with the MAG’s Working Group on Multi-year Strategic Work Programme (WG-MWP), established in April this year still very much undecided about the best way forward, the vision of a robust, dynamic and “can’t miss” IGF is still a couple of years away, at best.

Notes

[1] Although, as the ITU Secretariat is increasingly at pains to emphasize, the WSIS Forum not just an ITU event, but an event organized by many UN agencies.

[2] Lynn St Amour used to be CEO of the Internet Society, but because the technical Internet community isn’t a recognized stakeholder group at the UN, she occupies the MAG Chair as civil society.

[3] The decision to pay the MAG Chair raises an important issue for the multistakeholder IGF: while governments and the large businesses can afford to fund the activities of their staff performing the role of MAG Chair, civil society, least developed country governments and SMEs generally do not have such resources. Paying or reimbursing MAG Chairs might be the only way to diversify representation at that level, but also risks creating the sort of Internet governance gravy train already seen in some ICANN constituencies.


This is part of a 4-part series on the IGF. The other 3 parts are:

Stakeholder legitimacy

This page links to information and documents about IGF 2016 Workshop, Finding ways to build confidence in stakeholder legitimacy, 10:45 – 12:15, Friday, 9 December 2016, in Guadalajara, Mexico.

  • “Sched” link
  • Discussion document [PDF] – this contains an overview of why it’s important to consider how to strengthen stakeholder accountability, as well as details of the questions to be discussed

Online editable documents for each of the four breakout groups

Please note that anyone interested in the topics, but unable to attend is free to add their thoughts to these documents. Please just be careful not to delete anything already there. If you would like to comment on someone’s existing discussion input, please use the “comment” facility in the Google docs.

  1. Is there a need to prove the legitimacy of stakeholder groups and their members, and if so, what are ways that legitimacy can be established?
  2. Stakeholder groups and their configurations
  3. Levels of stakeholder representation (individuals through to aggregated groupings)
  4. How do stakeholders manage the participation of entities or individuals that are not deemed to have a high level of legitimacy in a process?

 

How to not look like a newbie at an ITU Council meeting

Note: I am attending the ITU Council 2016 meeting as a member of the Australian delegation; however, any of the views I express in this blog post are entirely my own. This post does not reflect the official Australian position, nor is its content endorsed in any way by the Australian government.

ITU Council can be a daunting experience for newbies and old timers alike. As well as the formal etiquette and procedures (such as a confusing array of document types) there are the things that nobody ever tells you. This is a guide to some of that hidden etiquette:

  1. The first time you take the floor, congratulate the Chair on being elected. You must do this, even if your first intervention doesn’t happen until the second week of the meeting.
  2. Don’t take a selfie while you’re sitting behind your country’s flag. If you really must take a selfie, make sure you don’t do it while you’re on the big screen showing the webcast of the meeting.you-are-on-camera
  3. Decide what approach to take when the person next to you/in front of you/behind you is making an intervention and you appear on the big screen as well. Will you look directly at the person making the intervention and look interested? Do you prefer to appear to be taking notes studiously? Or are you so cool that you don’t care that you’re appearing at twice life size on the big screens at the front?
  4. If you haven’t figured out how to turn your phone to silent mode, do. Not everyone may appreciate your taste in music. And not everyone may appreciate hearing that music when you leave the room and your phone rings. And rings. And rings.
  5. Take your earpiece off before you turn your microphone on to make an intervention. Else, a high-pitched squeal will pierce the ears of everyone else in the room. And they will not thank you for it.
  6. Learn how to effectively smuggle liquids into the Popov meeting room by hiding them in your bag. If you carry them openly, the bouncers[1] at the door are likely to prevent your entry.
  7. Make sure you have the Geneva “three kiss” protocol perfected. It’s not one kiss. It’s not two kisses. It’s three. And absolutely no hand kissing, unless you want to look like a time traveller from the 19th century.
  8. Learn how to use the cheap coffee vending machine correctly. First, insert 1CHF, then choose the sugar level, and finally choose coffee type. The order is not logical, but this is Geneva. Accept it.
  9. Before you begin your serious intervention between coffee break and lunch, don’t forget to thank the Member State that just paid out for the coffee and croissants. Especially if that country is an ally or your country hasn’t paid for a coffee break in a long time.

[1] The bouncers are there to ensure that only suitably accredited people enter the room.

Gender equality: still an uphill battle in international forums

Note: I am attending the ITU Council 2016 meeting as a member of the Australian delegation; however, any of the views I express in this blog post are entirely my own. This post does not reflect the official Australian position, nor is its content endorsed in any way by the Australian government.

A step forward for gender equality

For the first time in its 151-year history, ITU Council has women in both its Chair and Vice Chair positions. Julie Zoller, USA, is Chair while Dr Eva Spina, Italy, is Vice Chair. There has been a female Chair of Council once in the past ( Lyndall Shope-Mafole, South Africa, 1999) but this is the first time both lead roles have been filled by women. In addition, the Secretary of the Plenary Meeting and Steering Committee is also female: Doreen Bogdan-Martin (ITU secretariat).

In her opening statement as Chair, Zoller stated:

“As we begin the 2016 session of Council, I would like to thank you for the confidence you have placed in me and in the vice chairperson of the Council, Dr Eva Spina of Italy.  You have elected us from among the 48 councilors, which is a vote of confidence for our leadership and a sign of progress for gender equality.  This is the first time that both the chair and the vice-chair of Council are women, and we are making history together.  I would particularly like to thank my administration as well as my beloved region, the Americas, for your support.

She also, unlike many of her male counterparts who have often urged Member States to reach positions of compromise that makes everyone equally unhappy, suggested a more positive approach to the Council’s work:

“We must lead by example and commit to bring forth the best results, with everyone equally happy. “

The election of women to the two key positions of Council is amazing progress, given at ITU Plenipotentiary 2014, none of the top elected positions (Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, Directors of the three sectors) were won by women.

And then the alarming inevitability of a sexist joke

But there is still much to be done. Even well-meaning men still frequently display an inherent bias against women. This was demonstrated after Zoller and Spina were elected, with the usual “jokes” about gender bias now happening in the other direction (after a century and a half of men in those positions, three women this year apparently equates to a takeover by women). Such comments were meant to be funny, but offended a number of the women in the room.

Inherent sexism is still a widespread issue, even in places that advocate gender equality

The comments in the opening plenary reflect the inherent sexism that still exists in many men (and indeed, in many women, too). It’s this inherent sexism that is the biggest barrier to successfully achieving gender equality in ITU and elsewhere. As long as three women in high-up positions are considered so unusual that it warrants an official blog post but the regular appointment of all men to similar positions is considered situation normal, a state of real gender equality is still a long way off.

This is a not a problem specific to ITU. It is a problem with many other UN agencies, too. Two weeks ago, I was frustrated by the number of all-male panels (also known as ”manels”) at the CSTD 19th Session in Geneva. When I raised the issue on the second day with a member of the secretariat, the response was that they had invited a woman (one??) for the first day, but she hadn’t shown up. In other words, the token woman was to blame – not the fact that there hadn’t been more effort on the part of the organizers to consider gender balance when developing the panels. In frustration, when the last manel occurred, not knowing how else I could lodge my objection (calling out the manels on Twitter wasn’t effective) I decided to protest by not live tweeting the discussion. If men were not going to involve women – even when some of the discussion was about the gender divide – then why should I, as a woman, give them legitimacy by tweeting their one-sided conversation?

I am also aware of female delegates on government delegations being pawed and being the targets of attempts at sexual coercion by senior members of other government delegations at UN meetings and associated social events. These cases often go unreported, as the women don’t want to cause a diplomatic incident between their country and that of the perpetrator.

It also is a problem outside the UN. At the most recent ICANN meeting, a member of the community stated that she had been sexually harassed by another member of the community. Due to a combination of circumstances that I won’t go into here, the ombudsman was not able to continue the investigation. But what was extremely telling about the prevalence of inherent sexism in the community was the way that many members of the community (mostly men) made fun of, and continue to make fun of, the details of the claim. I had a previous experience with the person alleged to have harassed the woman, but had said nothing when it happened because, to be honest, as a woman, inappropriate touching and comments happen pretty much daily, and at a certain point, it just becomes too tiresome to point out to each and every man who behaves in such a way why his behaviour is inappropriate. There were only so many times that I could handle being told I can’t take a joke/am imagining things/frigid/a slut before I decided it wasn’t worth the effort of challenging these bozos any more.

Unfortunately, if I had chosen to challenge the person at ICANN way back when it happened to me, he may have adjusted his behaviour and it may have prevented the young woman at the latest ICANN meeting feeling she had been placed in a difficult situation. But I didn’t, and now, if other women are harassed, having seen how this latest woman was made fun of, they may also think twice about reporting the behaviour.

What’s the way forward?

Gender equality is a very complex topic, but here are a few ways to help counter the specific issues I’ve discussed above.

  • No more token women. No more blaming of token women who don’t show up for panels and reveal the true “manel” focused nature of the panel selection process.
  • No more celebration when a woman or two manage to break through the gender barriers to reach positions of authority. Let’s stop treating such situations as out of the ordinary and start expecting them to be routine.
  • Shame manels. Submit them to this Tumblr blog.
  • Recognize that none of these excuses can in any way justify a manel.
  • Call out inappropriate behaviour each time it happens. Men, too, should call out other men who behave inappropriately. Men (and women) who have internalized sexist attitudes need to be made aware of their biases every time it happens. Ignoring it will just allow it to continue.
  • Stop defending all-male management by saying “there were no qualified women”. Start making sure women have the opportunity to progress their careers. Understand the reasons women find it difficult to rise through the ranks at the same rate as their male counterparts (career interruptions to have children, cultural expectations that women not be as assertive as men, etc.)