Liming in Tobago…

I guess a short visit to Tobago did not give enough time to enjoy the full sense of liming – that very special occupation of working hard at doing nothing while sharing food, drink and laughter with friends – but it did provide an insight into just what a pleasurable activity that can be!  The island is actually much bigger than it might appear on a map (300 sq kms) , and it was crazy to try to circumnavigate it by car in just one day!  Definitely not liming – although evenings spent with Carib beer and local rum to wash down the fresh fish went some way to make up for the energy spent swimming and walking during the day!

For those who like hidden away, almost empty beaches, the east of Tobago is far preferable to the larger beach resorts on the flat western tip of the island, and the forested slopes of Main Ridge, which was designated as a protected Crown reserve in 1776, provide a rich habitat for the diversity of colourful birds.  Argyle waterfall is also definitely worth a visit – but the unofficial guides at the entrance by the main road are to be avoided.  Visitors should make sure that they go to the main car park and official pathway!  A bit of effort also takes one to some of the beautifully maintained historical sites such as Fort King George and Fort James, and it is definitely worth wandering around the capital Scarborough, with its colourful buildings and murals.

Thanks to all of my friends who persuaded me to visit – at last!  I hope that the following pictures do some justice to the island and its people.

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Tobago: life on a wall

Visiting Scarborough today – that’s Scarborough in Tobago, not Scarborough, Yorkshire – I came across this amazing mural painted on a wall just beneath the Botanical Garden.  It captures so much of the culture of the island, represented in dancing, colour and energy, that I could not but help take some photographs – and share them here in the hope that others will enjoy them as much as I did!

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On deciding to leave after only 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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Pre-Christmas skiing in Kitzbuhel

It is always a risk going skiing before Christmas, but Kitzbuhel usually has snow when many other places do not.  That was certainly the case last week!  As the pictures below illustrate, although the valley was snow free for most of the week, there were enough runs open with good snow to enable us to have some great skiing.  Skiing in bright sunlight above the clouds down in the valley was amazing, and we only lost one day due to the cloud and rain!  It was also just so relaxing walking through the beautiful town in the evenings.  Thanks to Jonathan for making all the arrangements, and to everyone else on the trip who made it such a good week!


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An evening walk through Doha’s Souq Waqif

One of the many challenges of attending conferences is that one usually has to spend around 12 hours a day deep underground in cavernous halls, or in dim windowless rooms watching images and words on large screens!  Not only is one left bereft of natural light, but air conditioning is no replacement for the oxygen of fresh air!  So after the main activities of ITU’s Telecom World were over today, I took myself back to Doha’s Souq Waqif just to immerse myself in the smells of spices, shisha and the wonderfully rich oud perfumes, to glimpse the rich colours of the textiles and jewels, to hear the laughter of small children and the squaks of parrots, and just to walk among ‘real’ people far from the robots and aggressive capitalism of many in the ICT and telecommunications sector who were expounding the virtues of the latest technologies at the conference!  Although this souq is a relative modern re-interpretation of the souq that used to be here, it continues in that rich tradition of sounds, smells, tastes and textures that have always dominated markets in the region.  I hope that the pictures below capture something of the reality of this world beyond the virtual!

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The future of communication

In recent years, I have become increasingly interested in the interface between humans and machines, and thus the world of cyborgs.  This was first formally articulated in my presentation entitled “How will the world communicate in 2113?” given at the Commonwealth Summer School held in Cumberland Lodge on 9th August 2013.  However, as part of the ITU’s ongoing discussion on ICTs in the future, associated with  the Leadership Summit on the Future currently being held during its Telecom World (#ituworld) event in Doha , I was asked to put together a prediction and a single slide summarising some of my thoughts on the future of communication.  So, to give this a little more visibility, I thought I would also post it here:

ITU futures

My actual short quotation was “The future is not so much about the Internet, but rather about the human-machine interface.  Cyborgs are already with us.  If we do not want humans to be mere appendages of machines, we must act now!””

I have to admit that I found the actual ITU session to be much less inspirational than I had expected/hoped it might be – there was very little new in what was discussed!  I was therefore actually rather sad that the presentation that I sent to the ITU for possible inclusion amongst its predictions was seen as being rather too provocative for inclusion!

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Wentworth Fireworks Event, 2014

This evening was the annual fireworks party celebration at the Wentworth Club in Virgina Water.  It is several years since I last went, but the display this year was spectacular, and I hope that the images below capture something of the show!

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Thanks to everyone who made this possible!  It was a fitting evening after the magnificent rugby match at Twickenham between Australia and the Barbarians!

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