With executives and enterprises increasingly subject to scrutiny by shareholders and consumers on their societal contributions and impact, the United Nations provide a benchmark in this work. Particularly in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) action lines and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Anne’s contributions provide valuable insight!

Who is Anne Miroux?

Anne Miroux is the director, division on technology and trade logistics. In this capacity, she leads the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) work on science, technology and innovation for development. Miroux is also the head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) where she is in charge of the work of the Secretariat related to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the 10-year Review of WSIS.

Miroux has worked on issues related to international debt, investment and enterprise development, technology and innovation, and trade logistics. Throughout her career, she has led many research and technical assistance projects. For several years she was responsible for UNCTAD’s flagship report, the World Investment Report, and editor of the UN Transnational Corporations Journal. At present, she is leading the Technology and Innovation Reports prepared by the UNCTAD Secretariat. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Technology and Management Center of the Department of International Development at Oxford University, and of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Logistics and Supply Chain.

Miroux has an MBA from École des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC), Jouy-en-Josas, France. She also holds a diploma from Institut d’Études Politiques (IEP), Paris, and a PHD in Economics (Paris I – Sorbonne).

I had an extended chat with Anne where she shares much.

To listen to the interview you can go to the non-profit ACM Learning Center podcasts or click on this MP3 file link. In the learning center there is the added text from the interview.

Here are extracts from the full interview.

Ibaraki:
As director of the technology and trade logistics division in UNCTAD, what is your mandate and goals?

Miroux:
This is a relatively large division in UNCTAD. The objective is to help developing countries in their development policies and to increase their competitiveness by working in two to three main areas. The first area is enhancing their science, technology and innovation, and in particular increase access to ICTs. The second is to help developing countries be more competitive on international markets through better logistics (logistics meaning transport and custom services for instance). The third pillar is broader: it’s enhancing the capacity of policy makers in those areas through training programs. My job is basically to manage and lead the division.

Ibaraki:
What are the key projects and wins including for 2015 and into 2016? What is the value to stakeholders?

Miroux:
UNCTAD is the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and its ultimate goal is development. Actually the logo of UNCTAD is “prosperity for all”. We have three main lines of activities. The first one is: research and analysis and our objective is policy-oriented. Our research must end up with recommendations for policy makers. The second one is technical cooperation: on the ground, helping developing countries to improve their services or their access to ICT for instance. The third avenue of activities: organizing intergovernmental meetings (we call it consensus-building), but in a more simple formulation it’s organizing international meetings for countries to debate about specific issues. Those are the three types of activities that we are doing. In 2015 in the first category we produced, for instance, two reports on ICT-related issues. The first one aims at making the issue easier to understand and for policy makers to act upon. It relates to the use of e-commerce in developing countries and is called “Unlocking the Potential” of e-commerce for Development.

How can developing countries take advantage of e-commerce for their exports but also for domestic activities? In the ICT area, the other major research we did was a report on The Information Society and how it evolved over the past 10 years. In the technical assistance area we have major projects. For instance, we have technical assistance projects to help developing countries implement the Trade Facilitation Agreement adopted in Bali in 2013. We also have a very important program for custom automation in developing countries which is operating in 50 countries. I also cannot ignore the work that we have done in the context of the preparation of the outcome document on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We have done much more than that but in a few words those were key activities of the year, and we are going to continue up to the end of 2015. For 2016, the landmark for UNCTAD will be the UNCTAD conference that takes place every four years.

Ibaraki:
Is there a means where investment groups can get involved in some way, in terms of on the technology or the science side, in investing in developing countries?

Miroux:
Actually, in UNCTAD there is an Investment Division, which deals specifically with investment related issues (foreign investment, but also enterprise development) which may be of interest to your group. As time went by, UNCTAD, but also the UN as a whole, has opened up to the other stakeholders; and in our particular case we welcome the participation of non-government players in our meetings. As far as investment is concerned, every two years we have the World Investment Forum where issues of various kinds related to investment and enterprise development are discussed, where there are debates, workshops and so on. That is a kind of active participation that can take place. That being said, my organization, UNCTAD, is working with policy makers. We do not do investments, but we are a channel between the private players and the governments, so there is a better mutual understanding of the issues faced by both parties.

Ibaraki:
As head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), what is your mandate and goals?

Miroux:
CSTD is a functional Commission of the United Nations. It was created in 1992 and its role is to provide the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council of the UN with advice on important or relevant technology and innovation issues. It is an advisory position, an advisory function to the General Assembly and the ECOSOC, and the ultimate goal is to end up with common policies and actions on science and technology issues. The commission meets every year. It has a specific program with a couple of themes to study and debate during one week. It debates on the basis of reports prepared by the Secretariat of the CSTD, which I am heading, on various issues related to STI which can go from technology for water management and agriculture in developing countries, to renewable technologies, digital development, etc.

Ibaraki:
What are the key projects and wins for 2015 and into 2016? What is the value to stakeholders?

Miroux:
It’s a Commission with increasing importance within the UN system in the past five to six years. This year we had a discussion on technology foresight; basically what could be the technologies of the future. And when the Commission examines these issues it always examines them from a development perspective. What do technological changes mean for developing countries? There is a major danger of marginalization for the poorest countries – those who cannot really follow the rest in term of technology or innovation. That was a key theme this year and it will also be a very important theme next year.

The other key issue that the Commission looked at this year relates to the follow-up to the decisions which were taken at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) 10 years ago in 2005. (basically the first biggest international conference on ICTs for development). At the time countries committed to take action to encourage the development of ICTs in developing countries and to build an “inclusive, development oriented and people centered Information Society”. The international community at the time decided that in ten years (meaning 2015), we would take stock: What progress have we made? Where do we stand? What do we need to do, perhaps, for the next ten years? The CSTD was entrusted by the United Nations to follow up on the implementation of the World Summit Information Society to see, basically, where we stand. The work of the CSTD has been to make its own assessment and the Secretariat prepared a report on this which I would encourage your audience to read.

Ibaraki:
Do you have any additional items that you want to bring forward about WSIS and the 10 year review of WSIS? Are there any additional key projects and wins for this year and next year that you want to bring forward?

Miroux:
We are in the year of the review of the WSIS Summit Declaration. The Declaration was a major effort; it took about four years of negotiation and intense work by various stakeholders. The General Assembly will have a high-level event in December 2015 to take stock of what has been achieved and perhaps, but that remains to be seen, what should to be done in the next ten years or so. The international community has three major rendezvous over the year: the first one is the Summit on the SDGs in New York, the second one is the COP 21 on Climate Change and third one is the World Summit on Information Society’s Review meeting.

Ibaraki:
Fundamental disruptive waves and pivots are happening daily. How do we anticipate that and how do we plan for that? How does that influence SDGs and WSIS going into the future?

Miroux:
It’s very interesting that you put your finger on one of the challenges of the WSIS + 10 review and going forward. It’s one of the key conclusions of our report. For instance, when you look at the WSIS outcome documents (the one adopted in Geneva only 10 years ago) there was no mention of mobile. Nor a mention of cloud computing or social networks, and it’s only been a short period of time. The people who worked on that at the time were policy makers, but you also had people working in the IT area. So that’s really a challenge: how do you take a plan of action, how do you encourage, or how do you fix goals when you do not really know how the future will look like in 5 years from now? Perhaps the approach is to have the formulation of actions which are flexible and targets which are short term targets, so that you can take stock every two or three years to know where we stand, whether there is a need to redirect and so on.

Ibaraki:
What are your top specific metrics, statistics and trends that you can share from your role as leading the Technology and Innovation Reports prepared by the UNCTAD Secretariat?

Miroux:
One of them relates to the shift or rebalance of innovative and R & D capabilities in the world from developed to developing countries. For example, in 2012 the ratio of R&D expenditures to GDP was about 2.3 per cent for developed countries. For developing countries it’s about 1.5 per cent. But if you take a country like China it’s almost 2 per cent. If you take a number of Asian countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea) the ratio is higher. For these developing countries there is a substantial catch up. The other statistic is that the next billion of internet users will mostly come from developing countries. That is very important because economically it has implications, but also politically. You cannot manage and govern the internet, as before, with a situation like that (which is so different from what it was 10 years ago).

Ibaraki:
What are the key issues with the ICT sector, particularly computing, and what are your recommendations?

Miroux:
The first one is the role of the ICT as a sector which, potentially, may lead to increased equalization among people and countries, or on the contrary, increased inequalities because there is a danger of marginalization for those who are not in the bandwagon. The second one is related to the ICT sector impact on the society, for instance through employment. The question is: will ICTs positively contribute to fight unemployment, or will they lead to a labour market which is two tiered? Will they lead to what some people are predicting, i.e a substantial readjustment problem? If you are in a knowledge economy the impact is not necessarily negative, but that implies that you have the proper education policies. And then what kind of countries are we talking about? If on the contrary you have an economy that is not a knowledge economy, but is much more an economy where cheap labor is a competitive advantage, you may be in trouble. What are you going to do with these people? How do you train them? It opens up a number of questions and it creates substantial challenges for policy makers. The impact of ICTs on labor markets: that’s a key issue. The last one in my view is essential to the ICT sector: it’s the relationship between ICT and how it influences our own personal lives in terms of privacy, confidentiality and also freedom of expression. That calls for good policies and always being on the watch. Policy makers, but also other stakeholders, must be equipped to deal with the issues.

Ibaraki:
Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance, and recognized credentials? Also do you have any recommendations in regards to professionalism and also ethics?

Miroux:
As far as professionalism is concerned, if you talk about professional development and certification of the people working in the field of accreditation, I would be quite favourable to it. But let’s also leave a little bit of flexibility for those who do not fit the mould. If you are going into the area of accountability or personal responsibility, then I have mixed feelings in a way. Because accountable for what? Calling for an accountability clause on the profession bothers me a little bit. Where will the responsibility begin? Where will it end? Should you be responsible for the way that what you have put out is used? It can be an inhibitor of progress.

Ibaraki:
In terms of all the available resources out there are there any that you would pinpoint as being good ones? You mentioned some already but are there others?

Miroux:
Sometimes people working in a particular trade or industry look at it from their standpoint, which can be very technical. The value of our work is that it takes a broad approach, and includes a development perspective. We do reports for policy makers, for people in the government about what are all these IT issues and what does it mean for them. One of them was published in 2013. It was on Information Technologies and the Development of the Small Private Enterprises in Developing Countries. The report in a relatively simple presentation deals with the pros and cons of ICTs for small business in developing countries for instance. One of the last reports we did was on e-commerce in developing countries. That one is interesting, for instance, in terms of having a snapshot of whether there are legislations in countries to deal with e-commerce. These are reports from UNCTAD that can be downloaded from our website. Another report I’d like to mention is the ISOC Report 2014 which is also putting a finger on policy-oriented questions related to internet development; it is easy to read and quite interesting.

Ibaraki:
You’ve already discussed some trends and metrics from your various roles, do you have any additional predictions for the future that you want to share? And a second part of the question is there anything that ICT executives in the audience can do to act on your predictions?

Miroux:
I’m always wary of predictions, but even more when they are in the ICT area. In any case, it’s not really a prediction; it’s more a consequence of what is happening. I would say my first thing is related to demographic growth. I’m very much struck by the demographic parameter in today’s economy. In my lifetime we have gone from about 4 billion people to 7 billion people on earth. That’s staggering. The implication is about the needs of this population, especially as it relates to migratory movements. I am thinking in particular about migration from rural to urban areas and all the needs of this urban population. Around that, there is a huge role for ICTs and ICT use in terms of urban infrastructure.

Another one is the shift of power (I don’t know if you can call it that way, but perhaps, redistribution of the cards). As I mentioned the next one billion users of Internet would be from developing countries, so you have a redistribution of cards, these people will have specific needs which are not the needs of affluent societies. How do you respond to these needs? It does not mean that there will always be a market because there is a difference between having one billion people in need and one billion people able to pay to get their needs taken care of. But, still, I think there is quite a mass of opportunities, as well as needs that will require to be served by the public or by the private sectors.

As to my third point, my mind is very much on privacy and security issues. It will affect the way the Internet is used because a lot is based on trust and credibility. And, if that that cannot be insured, the way we look at the internet – and what it can bring us – will be completely different. It may even affect our relations and our communications. I think that is the crux of the matter for the forthcoming years as far as internet development is concerned. The lack of trust that may develop is something that governments and private sector may want to watch out.