A conversation with the candidates for IEEE R8 Director-Elect (Part A)
The elections for the next IEEE Region 8 Director-Elect are approaching. To help you decide who to choose we interviewed the candidates: Rafal Sliz and Antonio Luque. They shared their vision about IEEE Region 8’s future and also aspects of their background that make them appropriate for a demanding position as Director-Elect.
Region Director is a very demanding and stressful position, why do you run for director?
Antonio Luque: Some time ago, several friends told me that I had done a good job in IEEE and they encouraged me to run for R8 Director. Of course, it is very demanding and I had to think carefully about that. Finally, I decided that I can serve members in this position and that I can use my experience of many years in IEEE to support their needs. Of course, it will be tough to compatibilize with personal and professional work but I have devoted countless hours to IEEE and I am sure I can make it as Director as well.
Rafal Sliz: I have applied for the position of the Region 8 Director because the mismatch between the products and services IEEE offers and members’ and volunteers’ expectations is continuously increasing. I strongly believe in the mission of IEEE as a leading engineering organization, but sadly IEEE falls behind current trends and has started to be irrelevant to engineers of the 21st Century. Thanks to the Academy of Finland Fellowship, where professional volunteering is considered a part of someone’s job, I am able to spend more time and efforts on making IEEE a truly member-oriented organization.
Increasing the IEEE Region 8 members, is as important, as keeping the already ones. How do you plan to increase the membership but also keep the existing members?
Rafal Sliz: In fact, we do not have a problem with attracting new members, but every year approximately 20% of existing members leave the organization for good – a clear demonstration that IEEE is not relevant to our profession. As an organization, we can do better. As stated in my plan at http://www.sliz.online/, we need to take a step back and truly understand the diversity of our Region, instead of relying on US-centric data. Only equipped with detailed and Region-based data are we able to develop benefits and services that our members appreciate and consequently remain members or even become volunteers themselves.
Antonio Luque: I have devoted a significant time to membership development, at Section, Region and global level, and I have come to understand that there are no two identical members. Everybody is here for a different reason, although we all share in common our passion for technology and humanity. Realizing the value of being an IEEE member takes time, and many members leave after the first year because they couldn’t find that value yet. Providing significant discount for first-year members, not just in membership fee but also in conference registrations, access to papers, or others, will help them.
A great percentage of the IEEE Region 8 members, are the Student Members. However, students graduate, and they do not easily renew their subscription, either because of the cost or because they don’t know which are their benefits next. What will you do to help them keep their subscription?
Antonio Luque: The perceived value of belonging to a professional organization has decreased in the last years, not just to IEEE. Many students and recent graduates believe that in the age of social media, there is no point in joining such an association. On the contrary, I believe that IEEE can provide the environment to interact with other people, to collaborate with them to advance technology regardless of your work place, and that is something that cannot be replaced.
We need to transmit that view to universities and general public so that students count on a professional organization when they finish their degrees.
Rafal Sliz: In the last two years I have been leading a group of extraordinary volunteers gathered to make IEEE a better place. This Taskforce was assigned goals by MGA and IEEE Boards to research and develop a set of projects that will make IEEE relevant to the young generation of engineers. This challenge resulted with the IEEE Young Professionals Business Plan (http://yp.ieee.org/bp), with uVolunteering and Xplore Flex as leading projects. With great pleasure, I can say that we have succeeded, both Boards are satisfied with our implementation progress, and the membership satisfaction and retention trends started to increase.
What would you do to increase IEEE Region 8’s awareness in non-IEEE members?
Rafal Sliz: Among non-IEEE members, IEEE is seen as a standards organization. To change this, a comprehensive long-term approach is needed. I envision that it will require strong commitment and cooperation from almost all Region 8 Subcommittees. If elected, I will request each committee to document a set of relevant entry points for non-IEEE members. This holistic approach will be serving as a starting point and guideline in developing a long-term strategy for involving non-IEEE members in IEEE.
Antonio Luque: We live in a world where technology is ubiquitous, and most people use diverse forms of advanced technology without even thinking about it. However, with the use of this technology come new issues: privacy and personal data, cybersecurity, potential harassment, … Technology literacy for non-technical people is dramatically needed and IEEE should be the reference organization in Middle East, Europe, and Africa regarding this. When it comes to technology-savvy people, IEEE is already well known for its standards but we need to continue being involved in technologies that are being created now (see my response regarding industry below).
Industry is the main user of IEEE standards and services. Are any plans for the IEEE Region 8 to get closer with the industry?
Antonio Luque: In the last century or so, IEEE was extremely relevant to the electrical and electronic engineering industry that was being developed at the time. Today there are new industries and technologies being created and advancing, and we are not at all relevant to them. We need to become an authorized voice in internet-based technologies, artificial intelligence, smart cities, and others. There are already initiatives in this direction and they should be emphasized, investing significant resources if necessary. Workers in these industries should see IEEE as the reference organization in areas such as open standards, privacy, or ethical principles, that are to become fundamental in the future industrial world.
Rafal Sliz: IEEE struggles in attracting industry because both parties do not clearly understand each other and the potential benefits of the collaboration. Nonetheless, Region 8 Action for Industry initiative is exceptional and should be supported even more. In addition, Region 8 Young Professionals’ efforts in developing entrepreneurship programs should be supported and publicized to a broader audience. Last year, IEEE established an Industry Engagement Committee that is in charge of creating a strategy and industry-related projects for IEEE Units, i.e. development of corporate membership models. I am certain that this is the starting point in making IEEE relevant to industry, from global corporations to start-up companies.
Vienna office has recently been open officially. Which is the gained value for our Region’s members?
Rafal Sliz: In our profession, it is critical that non-engineers understand the importance of our work. Unfortunately, we are often marginalized because our achievement and interest are not well understood. The Vienna office, as well as the recently established European Public Policy Committee, are meant to provide collaborative support for the technical community across academia, industry and governmental institutions, to create a strong bond between policy-makers and technologists. In the IEEE Region 8 Newsletter, Senior Director Clara Neppel explains the goals and mission of the office. In my opinion, the short-term benefits might not be clearly visible, but the long-term representation among law and policy-makers is crucial to our profession.
Antonio Luque: Now Vienna office is starting its operation and so far the value perceived by members is still very small. We need to ensure that the office serves all members equally, for example by serving as interface between them and official institutions (in Europe but also elsewhere in the Region), national associations, or standard bodies. Members should have support regarding IEEE products in a timezone closer to where they live. Moreover, it should have the function of start providing many services that are available to members in other regions (insurance, travel discounts, …) and not are available in Africa, Middle East or Europe yet.
Even more interesting questions and answers in Part B…