On September 23, 2021, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, SIS/MA ’91, director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)—was honored with American University’s inaugural Outstanding Technology Policy Changemaker Award. She was presented with the award at an AU event that featured a keynote address from Chris Inglis, the US’s first national cyber director, as well as a conversation between Bogdan-Martin and SIS distinguished policy strategist in residence Fiona Alexander, SIS/MA ’98, who is also a distinguished fellow at the AU Internet Governance Lab.
The award is meant to honor global leaders who have spent their careers working to advance global technology policy: “Doreen’s is a career that’s rooted in exciting innovations made possible by technology but driven by the purpose of employing that technology in pursuit of a more just and equitable world,” said AU president Sylvia Burwell at the event.
Along with serving as the first woman to hold an elected office in the ITU’s 153-year history, Bogdan-Martin also was nominated by the Biden administration this year to become the organization’s first female secretary-general. We spoke with Bogdan-Martin to learn more about her time at SIS, her high-level career dedicated to tech policy, and the accomplishments of which she’s most proud.
An Education Leads to a Global Career
After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Delaware, Bogdan-Martin lived and worked in Europe. The time abroad, including teaching English in Spain, sparked her interest in pursuing a global career that would involve helping people, and the SIS Intercultural and International Communication (IC) graduate program became her stepping stone to that pursuit.
“The School of International Service and its offerings enticed me,” says Bogdan-Martin. “I was thrilled to take that opportunity and kick things off here. AU opened the door to my career in technology—it opened my eyes to understanding the impact that technology can have on our lives….All of my professors and classmates inspired my curiosity and pushed me to do more. They really supported me, and I’m so grateful for that.”
Bogdan-Martin became fascinated with satellite communications while taking a course with Professor Eric Novotny on international communications policy. SIS faculty also helped her land her first internship at the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) while the agency was in the midst of reviewing the government’s separate satellite systems policy.
“It was the perfect marriage of my academic work linked to the internship and ultimately changing the US policy on separate satellite systems,” says Bogdan-Martin. “The aspects of my courses that covered international communications policy, economic development, the European community and trade policy, were a huge opening to my internship at the NTIA and, of course, eventually my career starting at the NTIA and then going on to the ITU.”
The skills and perspectives Bogdan-Martin developed during her time at SIS continue to be beneficial to her career. Research and analysis skills she garnered through her courses are fundamental to her work, and her knowledge about cross-cultural communications has been critical. She also credits the diverse student body of her SIS classes with opening her eyes to the world and to international policymaking.
A Career Focused on How Technology Impacts People
Bogdan-Martin worked at the NTIA for five years before beginning her career at the ITU, a specialized agency of the United Nations that is in charge of all matters related to information and communication technologies (ICT). There, she held a number of high-level positions and worked on initiatives in which technology interacts with the UN’s different missions, including health care, gender, youth, education, agriculture, and poverty.
“My heart was always in development, even in the beginning of my career when I was focusing on satellite policy—it was about what technology can do for people,” says Bogdan-Martin.
She worked at the ITU’s Development Bureau and led the Strategic Planning Department for the ITU for several years before she decided to run for the director position. Bogdan-Martin views the bureau—which is situated to close the digital divide and drives digital transformation to better peoples’ lives—as the best space in the ITU to garner the most impact on the ground: “I had the right leadership skills, and I could bring people with me in my vision to get out there, establish partnerships, and connect the unconnected.”
Bringing A Variety of Voices to the Table
Throughout her tenure at the ITU, Bogdan-Martin has made inclusion in the ICT space a big part of her work. One of the initiatives she’s most proud of is Generation Connect, which aims to engage global youth and encourage their participation alongside leaders of digital change. Six regional groups of young people take part in the initiative.
“I’m largely inspired by my children on this one,” says Bogdan-Martin. “At the ITU, we talked a lot about youth, but we didn’t have specific initiatives to really help them, so we created Generation Connect. It’s all about engaging with young people, bringing young voices to the table, and working with young people to help create policies and recommendations that can ultimately benefit them.”
Bogdan-Martin has also emphasized gender equality in her work. She created an internal gender taskforce within the ITU, which led to the agency’s adoption of a gender strategy, and the EQUALS Global Partnership, which works to bridge the gender digital divide with 100+ partners.
The partnership was Bogdan-Martin’s response to the slow progress of gender equality in tech. Three coalitions, each with a focus on skills, leadership, or the digital access gap, were carved out and intersected with a research coalition of academics and research institutes who worked to identify existing challenges that exacerbate the digital gender gap.
“Technology has advanced at such an incredible pace, but it hasn’t advanced in a way that has been equally beneficial to everyone, and that’s a challenge,” says Bogdan-Martin. “I think COVID has been a wake-up call for all of us because it has shown, even here in the United States, what it means not to be connected. We have 3.7 billion people out there who are not connected—the importance of digital inclusion and inclusive technology policy is more important now than ever.”