Member Services Board: More Services for ComSoc Members!: Interview with Ricardo Veiga, Director of Member Services

By Ricardo Veiga - Director of Member Services and Stefano Bregni - Global Communications Newsletter Editor-in-Chief, Director Conference Operations

This is the first article in a series of eight, which will be published monthly in the IEEE ComSoc Global Communications Newsletter and will cover all areas of IEEE ComSoc Member and Global Activities (MGA). In this series of articles, I introduce and interview the Vice-President and the five Directors on the MGA Council, namely Member Services (MS), and AP, NA, LA, EMEA Regions, as well as the two Chairs of the Women in Communications Engineering (WICE) and Young Professionals (YP) Standing Committees. In each interview, one by one they will present their sector’s activities and plans.

In this issue, I interview Ricardo Veiga, Member of the ComSoc Board of Governors (BoG) as Director of Member Services. I also interviewed Ricardo in 2020, as this is his second term as Director of MS. I feel thrilled to hear what news he will report, because he is a very active Director and is known to be very prolific in new ideas to develop ComSoc membership.

I must add that this interview is also a big personal pleasure for me. I met Ricardo for the first time almost 20 years ago, when he was serving as ComSoc Director of the Latin American Region (2004–2005) and I was preparing one of my first Distinguished Lecturer Tours. For my first experience as ComSoc Distinguished Lecturer, I chose Latin America. It is a memory that will never fade away.

Ricardo is an associate professor at Universidad de Buenos Aires and responsible for Planning and Management Control in the Faculty of Engineering. He has also been working in the communications industry for 25 years, participating in several startup companies.

He was a member of the ComSoc BoG as Member-at-Large, and Regional Director. He also served as Chair of the ComSoc Argentina Chapter, and under his leadership his chapter received the Chapter Achievement Award. He also received the ComSoc Latin America Region Distinguished Service Award, the IEEE RAB Achievement Award, and the IEEE Third Millennium Medal, among others.

Stefano: Hello Ricardo! This 2022–2023 is your second term as ComSoc Director for Member Services after your first in the previous two years. You have been serving during one of the most difficult times ever experienced not just by IEEE ComSoc, but by all of humanity in the last century if we exclude the World Wars.

Everything happened right after we began our previous term, 2020–2021. (I served as Vice President Conferences then.) I still remember our discussion at the ComSoc Management Retreat in January 2020, on how to improve ComSoc services to members, what to give more and better, what new initiatives to launch. However, the COVID pandemic disrupted all plans. Uncertainty became the rule.

Ricardo: As you have pointed out, we have to face uncertainty at our best. Let me explain what we did and what we are planning to do.

During the last two years all of humanity was stressed by changing “do business as usual” to “think and do quickly in a different way.” Actually, I am used to living in an environment where uncertainty is the rule, not the exception. Perhaps it helped me to understand the situation more readily.

Our team adjusted as such and focused on fulfilling members’ needs regardless of their location. We have strategized and then implemented specific programs within the scope of our mission, which finally allowed us to grow up to 30,000 ComSoc members last February 2022. With our new Member Services Board, we are planning the implementation of new programs that build on the success and lessons learned from those completed in 2020–2021.

Stefano: Would you please summarize what the Member Services Board is and what its activities are?

Ricardo: As stated in its Charter, the Member Services Board (MSB) is responsible for the oversight of all services and programs addressed to members and chapters, and oriented to membership retention and development all over the world. In particular, this Board is responsible for developing and providing individual-level membership services globally.

The MS Board is responsible for developing and offering programs, and member activities to:

  • Promote community development and activities of common interest
  • Engage young members and support leadership development
  • Engage industry around the world in membership programs
  • Develop and offer programs to serve the industry and academic institutions
  • Promote professional development

All of these programs and activities are handled in collaboration with the four ComSoc Regional Directors from Asia/Pacific (AP), Tomoaki Ohtsuki; Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), Luca Foschini; Latin America (LA), Andrés Navarro; and North America (NA), Fawzi Behmann. Of course, Trish Jaraicie, Cindy Tiritilli, Carol Cronin, and Bruce Worthman, among other members of ComSoc staff, are also key pillars for the success of these programs.

Stefano: What did you and the Board do during the past year?

Ricardo: In 2021 we worked in two main directions: a) consolidate the growth from the previous year, and b) analyze and design new products and services.

Although 2020 was challenging, we adapted very quickly to the new environment. We changed our excellent and long-standing Distinguished Lecturers Tour (DLT) program to a virtual one, for example. This program, aimed at giving lectures by a Distinguished Lecturer (DL) at three different chapters or locations at least during the tour, was changed to virtual lectures that were organized by the local chapters and shared with other members around the world. It was called the Virtual Distinguished Lecturers (VDL) program, and we developed more than 170+ sessions in both 2020 and 2021, being the largest VDL program across all of IEEE.

We also organized the Membership Value Research Congress to gain insights into essential products and services members and potential members need. More than 50 chapter chairs participated in analyzing current products and potential ones, specifically for students, young professionals, industry members, and non-members. The outcome of this congress was a list of product and service outlines and blueprints. Specifically, the recommendations are: a Student Portal, a YP Mentor Program, a Career Center, and a Corporate Membership. Some of these products and services were already adopted for further analysis and implementation during the last ComSoc Board of Governors Management Retreat.

Stefano: What about the Chapter Awards and funding?

Ricardo: ComSoc has more than 220 chapters worldwide, and has established four Chapter Achievement Awards (CAAs) and one Chapter of the Year Award (CoYA). These awards recognize and reward the best chapters for outstanding achievements in providing to their members the highest quality of service. For 2021, the Achievements Awards Committee selected the Central Texas (NA), Bangalore (AP), Sweden (EMEA), and Peru (LA) Chapters for the CAA regional awards. Ultimately, the CoYA was the Bangalore Chapter for their outstanding recruitment and retention work.

In 2021, we launched a proof-of-concept competition titled “ComSoc Internet for All,” aimed at helping to solve the so-called “Digital Divide.” We received very good proposals from ComSoc members around the world, communications engineers and students, to help to solve this situation. There were first, second, and third place prizes, and up to five honorable mentions in each region. We also established a new discount program on ComSoc membership dues, using the selection criteria used by IEEE worldwide. It is expected to help promote membership of many colleagues around the world.

In order to support local recruitment, retention, and community building activities, ComSoc provides funding to the Chapters. Because of the pandemic, we added a second opportunity to gain funding, so the chapters could develop special strategies in order to fulfill their members’ needs.

Stefano: What’s next? Any new membership services that you are planning for in 2021?

Ricardo: We are analyzing with the VP-Publications Chengshan Xiao how to develop member options for (free) access to chosen publications. There are many researchers who already have access to most ComSoc publications through IEEE Xplore, paid for by their own organizations (universities, companies, etc.). However, many others don’t have the same possibility. In my opinion, this initiative will give our members the opportunity to get more value from their membership.

We will also be working on the implementation of a new initiative from IEEE to promote joining two or more societies at a discount. We expect to work closely with those societies where we share members to develop programming for continued engagement.

We are also launching two membership upgrade campaigns:
a) Become a Member to promote among graduating students, and b) Become a Senior Member/Fellow for recognizing other members.

Within the MSB we are focusing on regional needs (existing and potential chapters), and especially on the promotion of women and young people in ComSoc’s activities and leadership. Although this Board has a good diversity balance between geographic, gender, age, and professional background (researchers, industry professionals), for example, we have additionally appointed new members in the MSB to strength women’s, young people’s, and industry professionals’ views, even including student members.

Finally, we hope to do more to connect and support our Student Branch Chapters with local chapters in their area as well as work with Eta Kappa Nu on helping transition their student members who plan to continue in communications technology to ComSoc members.

Stefano: Excellent! A final remark to conclude this interview?

Ricardo: Communications have played a key role during the pandemic. We have demonstrated that we were well prepared for that circumstance. However, we have to use our foresight to anticipate members’ future needs and act accordingly. New products and new ways of providing them are on our agenda thanks to the work at the Membership Value Research Congress. Many volunteers are also willing to help, and spend their time and effort for the benefit of the humanity. Hence, I am confident that all together we will do a great job.

Thank you, Stefano, for helping us to share our work and ideas, and also thanks to VP-MGA Ana Garcia Armada and PresidentXuemin (Sherman) Shen, for their strong support.