US candidate to be first woman to lead UN telecoms agency

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TAMPA, Fla. — Doreen Bogdan-Martin will become the first woman to head the U.N.’s telecoms agency in its 157-year history from January, and the first American in the role since the 1960s after beating a Russian leadership challenge.

As the next Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), she will oversee a global communications remit spanning terrestrial infrastructure to space. 

The ITU facilitates the international coordination of satellites in their assigned orbits, assists the development of technical standards, and supports efforts to improve connectivity in underserved communities.

Bogdan-Martin won an election for the role Sept. 29 with 139 out of 172 votes cast by the ITU’s 193 member states.

Her challenger Rashid Ismailov, a former deputy telecoms minister in Russia who has previously called for more internet regulation, received 25 votes.

Bogdan-Martin is currently director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), responsible for creating policies, regulation, and providing training programs and financial strategies in developing countries.

When COVID-19 hit, she spearheaded a collaboration platform called REG4COVID for regulators and policymakers to share initiatives for keeping communities connected during the pandemic.

A qualified amateur radio operator, Bogdan-Martin has held leadership positions in global telecoms policy for over two decades.

She began her career in 1989 as a telecoms specialist at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which advises the U.S. President on telecoms policies.

The Department of Commerce awarded her a medal for her work on satellite policy during her four years with NTIA. 

She later joined the ITU’s BDT in 1993 initially on a one-year secondment, but has remained with the agency since and climbed its ranks gradually to become BDT director in 2019.

Her four-year term as ITU Secretary-General starts Jan. 1 to replace Houlin Zhao of China, who was elected to the role in 2014 and re-elected in 2018.

The ITU will enter “a new era of global and regional partnerships” under her leadership, Bogdan-Martin has said, and the agency “must evolve and sometimes break from old ways” to stay relevant.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Bogdan-Martin “possesses the integrity, experience, and vision necessary to transform the digital landscape” in a Sept. 20 statement endorsing her candidacy.

Married with four children, Bogdan-Martin is fluent in English, Spanish, and French. 

She holds a Master’s degree in International Communications Policy from American University in Washington, D.C, and a post-graduate certification in Strategies for Leadership from the Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Tomas Lamanauskas of Lithuania, a managing partner at advisory firm Envision Associates, was elected Deputy Secretary-General during the ITU elections taking place in Bucharest, Romania.