On deciding to leave after one term of office as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation


The advertisement for my replacement as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) has precipitated numerous questions as to why I am leaving.  So, I thought it might be helpful – not least to applicants – if I briefly tried to explain my decision here.  In so doing, I should stress right at the beginning that many members of the CTO’s Council and our Executive Committee were rather surprised by my decision, and did their best to try to persuade me to stay on.  I am immensely grateful to them for their support.  It is a huge privilege to be Secretary General of the CTO, and I have learnt a phenomenal amount doing the job.  I have also met some absolutely outstanding people – and to be sure, some less outstanding ones! The chance to lead an international organisation, committed to using ICTs to support people across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth is absolutely amazing, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges that this has involved. However, there are two fundamental reasons why I have decided  to serve only one four-year term. These are what I have shared with members of our Council:

  • First, it is very important for there to be clarity and certainty over any transition in leadership of an organisation.  Changes of Chief Executives – or Secretary Generals – must be handled with very great care so that there is a smooth hand-over, and that confidence and trust in the organisation remains high.  I am going to be 60 this year (the truth is now out!), and I would like to have the opportunity to be considered for other jobs before I retire!  Sadly, some international organisations still have relatively low upper-age limits, with the UN, for example, having a mandatory age limit of 62!  Hence, I took the view that I should not stand for a second term as Secretary General of the CTO.  I simply felt that it would have been destabilising and damaging to the CTO if I had indeed been appointed for a second term, and then people had heard that I might be applying for various other jobs a year later, whether or not I actually got them.
  • Second, I think that eight years is too long for a single person to head an international organisation such as the CTO.  With such a long term of office, there becomes a real danger that the incumbent can begin to treat the organisation as his or her personal fiefdom, and I do not think that this is a particularly healthy situation.  Having just completed a three-year plus three-year stint as Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, I am all the more convinced that six years (in a three plus three format) should be the maximum term of office for heads of organisations.  Fresh ideas, and new ways of doing things are definitely needed after this length of time!  I also think that any organisation should be bigger than its leader.  After a long period at the helm, there is a very real tendency for a leader and ‘their’ organisation to be seen as being very closely associated if not one-and-the-same, and I simply do not think that this is particularly healthy for the organisation.

I know that not everyone agrees with these views, but two of the things that I have sought to bring to the CTO have been trust and transparency, and it seems to me that both of these are absolutely central to the decision I have made. Of course there are other reasons as well.  The strategic plan that we created back in 2012 had at its heart an expansion in membership.  The aim was to bring back countries and organisations that had previously left the CTO, such as India, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  Without them, the CTO is but a fraction of what it could be!  Not least, the additional membership fees would enable the CTO to expand its staffing and thereby deliver more and better services to all of its members.  Furthermore, since people can only be employed at the CTO if they are nationals of Full Member Countries, the absence of these countries means that the organisation is more restricted in its employment potential than need be the case – and membership is only £20,000 a year! Despite encouraging words, and indeed promises from some countries to rejoin, these have not yet materialised. Having banged my head against a brick wall on this, and one or two other matters, for nearly four years, I think it is time that I moved on and let someone else build on the foundations we have laid. As I began, let me conclude by stressing once again that the post is an amazing one.  It provides an opportunity to work with some fantastic people, to deliver real on-the-ground solutions that can help poor and marginalised communities use ICTs effectively for their development aspirations.  When eventually I leave in September this year, I know that I will have many regrets.  I have done my best to lead the CTO forward, so that it will be in a better position than when I started.  It is now time for someone else to take the CTO forward so that it can indeed achieve its full potential. Oh yes, and the deadline for applications is 26th January!

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Filed under Africa, Caribbean, Commonwealth, Development, ICT4D

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