Presenting USF at UNCTAD in Geneva

It was a truly remarkable event – no self-praise intended – with three of the world’s most successful ‘administrators’ of Universal Service Funds, from three continents, at one place, sharing what could be accomplished and what could be learned from the experiences. The occasion was 15th session of UNCTAD Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) in Geneva, 3rd week of May 2012. And the three main speakers were, Kofi Attor from Africa, Guillermo Cruz from South America and myself from Asia! We were helped by Darrell Owen from USAID and David Townsend, the consultant to GBI (Global Broadband and Innovations) Program. For those who do not know about GBI, it is a two-year old initiative of USAID that has active engagements in supporting several Universal Service Funds (USFs). In April 2012, GBI was instrumental in launching the new Broadband Partnership of the Americas (BPA) in Latin America. The GBI program continues to expand its footprint in supporting rural ICT expansion programs.

We all flew-in from different parts of the world and converged at Palais de Nations Geneva. And for those who do not know Palais de Nations, it houses UNOG – the 2nd Headquarters of UNO (first one being in New York). Palais des Nations is an outstanding testimony to twentieth century architecture with it’s palatial buildings and vast immaculately maintained royal gardens. Originally it was headquarters of the predecessor of UNO – The League of Nations. In 1946 the League of Nations was dissolved and United Nations took over Palais des Nations. It is the world’s most active international conference center, hosting close to 9,000 meetings a year. It is also the headquarters of UN bodies that work in the field of peace and disarmament, human rights, humanitarian assistance, economic development, and science and technology.

At such a distinctive place, half of the day of 23rd May 2012, was reserved for us! The three-day session of UNCTAD-CSTD was attended by quite a few Ministers of Science and Technology and other high ranking officials from various countries. Pakistan was represented by the Minister of S&T Mr. Changez Khan Jamali.  Where a Minister could not come due to other preoccupations, the respective country-staff of UN Missions in Geneva attended (like Pakistan’s permanent representative Mr Zamir Akram attended when the Minister wasn’t available on 23rd May 2012).

Our half-day session was kicked off by ever-charming Andrew Reynolds. Darrell Owen then introduced the team and explained that through adopting best practices of USFs, combined with a newer generation of technologies and innovative business models, we can “bend the curve” – allowing ICT connectivity to the ‘final billion’ effectively and faster. He explained that the following USF presentations provided an opportunity to put forward best practices that have and are bending the curve!

Kofi Attor, the Administrator/CEO of “Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications”, then came on and described in detail what has been achieved in Ghana over the recent years. It was interesting to know that in Ghana, the Fund is also used for ICT training of Security personnel (involved in disaster management) as well as Prisoners! It is also interesting that in Ghana the Board of Directors of the Fund has more Private Sector members than Government.

Guillermo Cruz, the former boss of ‘Compartel’, the Colombian USF, informed that, starting in 1999, Compartel has provided Broadband to 25,000 Schools and 2,700 Telecenters and fiber connectivity to four Islands. Guillermo also talked about some failures (like the failed Satellite Project) and of challenges (like those of sustainability, efficiency and empowering communities).

On my turn I informed the audience what USF Pakistan accomplished, followed bydescription of Key Principles of USF, which included explanation of the unique Model of USF Pakistan where the Private-Sector and Government sit together as part of the Board of Directors and decide all matters jointly. Interestingly applauding a speech/presentation is not a tradition at UN Conferences however all three presentations were loudly applauded by UNCTAD delegates.

David Townsend then spoke on “USF Version 2.0″ laying stress on sustainability, on linking schools, e-Government and e-health, on re-thinking the role of telecenters and demand-side stimulation. He also pointed out commonalities of USF programs that are successful. All of them operate with the private sector fully on board! He also presented the innovative idea of using Universal Service Funds as Venture Capital / Investment Funds!

The session was then wrapped up by Darrell Owen, who gave a glimpse into some of the newer technologies with potential – like low-power, on-demand small-cells using off-grid clean energy – and newer Business Models as the way forward. Darrell spoke of utilizing shared Fiber backbones as well as unlicensed wireless terrestrial and/or Satellites for backhaul.

Comments and questions from UNCTAD delegates sitting in the audience followed. One Member after the other spoke in praise of the presentations and the value of these experiences towards accomplishment of the dream of Universal ICT Services in developing countries. This inter-action later continued throughout the lunch-break. In the discussions it came out clearly that the ICT revolution worldwide is being driven by people-centered, peer-to-peer initiatives and applications, not by top-down government strategies. Thus, the new development policies need to reflect this decentralized, bottom-up reality, enabling average citizens to take control of their own destiny via ICTs.

Empty Hall after the event!

Presenting USF at UNCTAD in Geneva

14 thoughts on “Presenting USF at UNCTAD in Geneva”

  1. Pervez Iftekhar , I know for more then two decades as colleague in Siemens. He is a remarkable target achiever through professional dedication, team work and creative approach . He surpassed many mile stones via Siemens Telecom in Pakistan . His role in USF Pak is certainly well recognized but I wish to see him at much higher role in the Country specially for much needed foreign exchange revenue through export of Telecom infrastructure know how and software services , our Country is rich with talent pool and Pervez Iftekhar has all capabilities to covert this pool into revenue generating Engine.
    Wish you more success

  2. Congratulations; you have certainly brought Pakistan into limelight among Universal ICT community and UN platform. I wish the Govt. of Pakistan would have benefited from the event and your participation. They could have projected the Pakistan’s USF policy as a jewel in the GoP’s performance crown which does not seem to have many jewels. If possible, please provide a copy of your presentation. I would provide it my friends here in TRA and Omantel for them to benefit in their policy/ strategy development in promoting Universal ICT in Oman. Congratulations again and thanks for providing unsung services to Pakistan and projecting the poor country in positive light, globally.

  3. “I have been interacting with Mr. Parvez Iftikhar for last 15 years most recently while he was CEO of USF for several years and before that while he was heading the Siemens Telecom division. In Siemens, he brought many new technologies and systems to market and ensured a leading position for his company Mr. Iftikhar is a CEO level Technology professional and is an established leader in his remit. He has turned around several large business units and is widely known for his honesty, integrity, humility and profesionalism. He is undisputedly considered an icon in the industry. Countless fans and well-wishers of Mr. Pervez Iftikhar having so high expectations with him, to lead this telecom industry towards success, bringing new technology ( 3G delayed) , local value addition with innovative manner , healthy competitions, and the fair utilization of the most Talented youth of this this Nation,
    I pray to Allah SWT to guide him and wise him and give him courage to lead this industry as star in the world.

  4. Very interesting .i just shared the document with my colleague to study as we set to repositioned our Usf towards greater achievemts I the coming years.

  5. Good article. Idea of venture capital/investment fund is very interesting. It calls for further work to develop a model. Considering our environment the model should have strong checks against any misuse.

  6. Nobody knows PI better than me , I interviewed PI when he applied for a job just after his degree from UET Lahore, at that time I headed the Telecom Division of Siemens.
    He was a great person to work with and he accomplished any task assigned to him. I realised his potential very early and groomed him to take over from me when I retired.It is wonderful for me to see that he is now an “international Star”, I wish him every success in the future, remember that it is your knowledge which you give to others which enhances your image and your reputation, this what you are doing and I wish you all the best.Of course your contribution towards enhancement of Pakistan’s image is of very vital importance.

  7. I really like the idea of using USF as a venture capital fund. In developing countries, seeding entrepreneurs that can solve the problems of our times using digital technology can be the greatest leverage for change. We now need to pursue this idea with the Government.

  8. Your work with USF in Pakistan is commendable and now by representing Pakistan at international levels is praiseworthy.
    I just wonder if something could be done privately; in continuation of what was being done, it’ll be a good service to our poor populace, where Broadband and tele services could be used as a vehicle for education and teaching of farmers, workmen and women of all fields.

  9. I have known Parvez Iftikhar for more than 15 years. He has been an active member of the Sustainable development Policy Institute’s Study group on Information Technology and Telecommunications. This group comprises engineers, scientists, economists and other stakeholders in IT and Telecom who meets periodically to evaluate current developments in the rapidly evolving field of IT and Telecom and foresee future developments which might have an impact on the national economy and the society at large. The group prepares policy recommendations which are then sent to the relevant agencies. Parvez’s contributions in the work of the Study Group have been very significant.
    He did commendable work when he was heading the USF. As a freelance consultant, he is doing a remarkable service to Pakistan. I am sure his efforts will create significant impact on the promotion of IT and Telecom.

  10. I know Pervez Iftikhar as a CEO of USFCo during my first meeting at Ministry of IT in 2007 . Very humble and thirsty of knowledge and a polite educator having full command on his delivery of view point in a very convincing manner. During a limited time I gained a true professional touch under his guidance which is very rare in market. He is the man having a true leadership qualities always give a respect to his team members in a very loving manner. I always like to learn from him but could not do so. I pray for his success in his profession.

  11. Congratulation; Glad to see your article and also to hear about your presentation in UNO. I have observed many new ideas and hypothesis in your article for the future of the company. Even if the vehicle of USF in Pakistan is active or not, as the political interference is on peak after your leaving but still we are trying our best to keep USF stable and successful for the well being of our mother land Pakistan. Also at same time, i was presented USF Co in BALWOIS 2012 conference and i see your massage during my stay their in Macedonia. The paper available on their website entitled, “GIS as planning tool for the USF Co RTeS, OFC, Broadband, and Special Projects in Pakistan”, and hopefully most of the nations of underdeveloped countries will be benefited from it. It is you from who we learn a lot not only from your hard working but also from your good management, well manners, and decision power. Instead to call you the man of great Management, i will prefer to highlight you with the name of “Man of Decision Power” and i see this ability in very rare people who work at higher level in Pakistan. Last but not least, all USF CO team Pakistan, is proud on your work and your success on national as well as international level.
    Dr. Saifullah Khan
    Manager GIS and Mapping
    USF CO Pakistan

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