This is the second article in the series of eight, started in December 2020 and published monthly in the IEEE ComSoc Global Communications Newsletter, which covers all areas of IEEE ComSoc Member and Global Activities. In this series of articles, I introduce the Vice-President and six Directors of the Member and Global Activities Council (namely: Sister and Related Societies; Membership Services; AP, NA, LA, EMEA Regions) and the two Chairs of the Women in Communications Engineering (WICE) and Young Professionals (YP) Standing Committees. In each article, one by one they present their sector activities and plans.
In this issue, I interview Ricardo Veiga, Member of the ComSoc Board of Governors (BoG) as Director of Member Services.
I must say that this opportunity is a big pleasure for me. I met Ricardo for the first time almost 20 years ago, when he was serving as ComSoc Director of the LA Region (2004-05) and I was preparing for one of my first Distinguished Lecturer Tours. For my first experiences as ComSoc Distinguished Lecturer, I chose Latin America. It is a memory that will never fade away.
Ricardo is an Associate Professor at the Universidad de Buenos Aires and responsible for Planning and Management Control for the Faculty of Engineering. He has also been working in the communications industry for 25 years, participating in the start-up of several companies.
He was member of the ComSoc BoG as a Member-at-Large and Regional Director. He also served as Chair of the ComSoc Argentina Chapter, receiving 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. You are serving as ComSoc Director for Member Services in 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 term last year. I still remember our discussion at the ComSoc Management Retreat last January, on how to improve ComSoc services to members, what to give more and better, what new initiatives to launch. The pandemic disrupted all those plans. It is necessary that we continuously have to adapt in uncertainty.
Ricardo: Last year will remain in our memories as the year in which the whole world changed in a few weeks. Almost everything you were used to doing, you had to change. So ComSoc activities had to change as well. It is remarkable that, within this New World and all the difficulties, ComSoc has increased around 8 percent the number of members since 2019.
Stefano: Would you please summarize what is the Member Services Board (MSB) and what are its activities?
Ricardo: The 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. This 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.
It is important to highlight that their implementation is a teamwork handled in collaboration with the four ComSoc Regional Directors: Sumei Sun, Asia/Pacific (AP); Christos Verikoukis, Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA); Nury Ramírez, Latin America (LA); Fawzi Behmann, North America (NA); and Trish Jaraicie and Cindy Tiritilli from ComSoc Staff.
Stefano: What did you and the Board do during this awful 2020?
Ricardo: Early in 2020 we became aware of COVID-19 making its first appearance in China. As early as February 8, we reacted by beginning a discussion among the Board about the possible impact on member services and adjusting plans for DLTs in affected areas. A few weeks later we had to suspend one of our most successful programs among our Chapters, the Distinguished Lecturer Tours (DLT). This program is aimed at giving lectures by a Distinguished Lecturer (DL) at a minimum of three different chapters or locations during the tour.
Immediately we envisioned a new alternative program, which we called Virtual Distinguished Lecturers (VDL). We developed and launched this new program, being the most successful program of this kind among all IEEE Societies, with more than 68 VDLs reaching 110 Chapters during 2020.
Stefano: What about the Chapter Awards and funding?
Ricardo: ComSoc has 216 chapters worldwide (two new chapters were added in 2020) and has established four Chapter Achievement Awards (CAA), and one Chapter-of-the-Year Award (CoYA). These awards recognize and reward the best chapters for their outstanding achievements in providing to their members the highest quality of service. So, the Achievements Awards Committee has selected the Austin (NA), Bangalore (AP), Sweden (EMEA), and Argentina (LA) chapters for the CAA regional awards, while for the CoYA has also selected the Austin Chapter.
In order to support local activities, ComSoc usually provides some funding. Last year, because of the pandemic situation, we have added a second funding support, 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 for 2021?
Ricardo: We are planning to develop additional special activities and programs during 2021. We have envisioned an opportunity to leverage Chapter activities with Technical Committees (TC) in a synergistic way developing a win-win relationship: the TCs by organizing VDLs that can reach every Chapter around the world, while the Chapters can promote among their members the participation in TCs’ activities. We are also launching two upgrading membership campaigns: a) Become a Member, to promote among graduating students; and b) Become a Senior Member/Fellow, for recognizing other members.
We have proposed for the next year a new discount on ComSoc membership dues, using the selection criteria used by IEEE worldwide, which was approved by the ComSoc Board of Governors, leading among other IEEE Societies. It is expected this proposal will help to promote membership of many colleagues around the world.
Within the MSB we are focusing on Regional needs (existing and potential Chapters), and especially on the promotion of women and young professionals in ComSoc’s activities and leadership. Although this Board has a good diversity balance of geography, gender, age, professional background (researchers, industry professionals), for example, we have additionally created a new position in the MSB to strength women and young professionals’ views. And we are thinking to include one student representative to have a voice of the future of ComSoc.
Stefano: Are we going to have any more Chapter Chair Congresses soon? Any new discussion forum to identify how to broaden our services to Members? Best ideas often come from group discussions and by comparing different standpoints. Virtual meetings, in my honest opinion and personal experience in this year, are not equivalent and not so effective, but we have to do our best with what is possible.
Ricardo: Most ComSoc products and services are excellent offerings that fulfill general technical, educational or professional needs. Additionally we need to develop products and services that are intended to fulfill local or geographic needs.
Usually, Chapter Chairs represent the “front line managers” of ComSoc. They are ComSoc’s driving engines in every Section. There are also other chapter volunteers who are ComSoc’s potential new leaders, including those in ComSoc Student Branch Chapters. All of them represent the capillary vessels of ComSoc all over the world, and also the sense of local community. So they are key people for the proper design of products and services that will be valuable for those communications engineers who are local members or potential members.
In order to accomplish this, we have proposed a Membership Value Research Congress with a program of virtual and in-presence activities, and a pre-work with Chapter Leaders to be done through virtual meetings before this event. These meetings will include ComSoc global and local leaders, including women, students and young professionals, who will become the new leaders of the Society.
Stefano: Excellent! A final remark to conclude this interview?
Ricardo: Communications were central during the new situation, allowing us to be working from home, as well as studying, teaching, selling, purchasing, etc. So this industry has been suddenly pushed to help the people to get into a full digital environment. ComSoc has led this through virtual conferences, publications, educational and other new services.
Thank you Stefano for helping us to share our work and ideas, and also thanks to the VP-MGA, Nei Kato, and the President, Vincent Chan, for their continuous support.