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About Internet Society 26 July 2021

Passing the Torch to the next Internet Society Board Chair

By Gonzalo CamarilloFormer Member and Chair, Internet Society Board of Trustees

In the 2016 Internet Society AGM (Annual General Meeting), I was elected Chair of the Board by the trustees of the Internet Society. I have had the honor and the privilege to serve in that capacity during the last five years. In the upcoming 2021 Internet Society AGM I will reach my term limit as an ISOC trustee and, thus, will be time for me to leave the Board and pass the torch to the next Board Chair, who will be elected at the beginning of the meeting.

I am often asked what are the most significant activities the ISOC Board plans to drive or has driven in a given period. To answer that question, I would like to look back and reflect on what the Board (with the support of ISOC staff) has done in these years and the impact on ISOC and its community.

After the 2016 AGM, the Board organized an initial retreat where we agreed on the leadership style needed to take the organization forward during the next few years. We agreed that the Board should focus on providing the organization with a strategic direction and leave the details of implementing the strategic plans up to ISOC’s management team. We also agreed that the Board should oversee the execution of the plans by measuring ISOC’s success in terms of the impact achieved and not simply based on the set of activities performed over a given period of time.  In the retreat, the Board also discussed its ways of working, including the decision making process to be followed. To be as transparent as possible, the Board decided to record all its official Board meetings and make them publicly available for anyone to watch them at any point. Based on those agreements and with Kathy Brown as our CEO, we set off on a journey to realize our plans.

The first step in our plan was to agree with the community on the overall direction. Accordingly, during 2017 we consulted with the community to revise ISOC’s vision and mission statements. There was a wide consensus that ISOC’s vision that “the Internet is for everyone” was still very much valid and, thus, it remained unchanged. The community discussions also resulted in a revised mission statement and a set of main focus areas that have been our compass since then.

Based on the agreed-on direction, we began working on providing ISOC with both an external and an internal structure that would support our strategic focus areas. With respect to ISOC’s external structure, we agreed with the Public Interest Registry (PIR) Board on a set of operational procedures aimed to increase the efficiency of regular operations and the effectiveness of ISOC’s oversight. During 2018, we also established two new sister organizations: the IETF LLC and the ISOC Foundation.

The IETF LLC formally gave the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) legal status and more responsibility to manage the IETF’s own support activities. The ISOC Foundation was established to provide the community with funding in several important areas where we had identified funding gaps.

Also during 2018, Kathy Brown decided to retire. The Board ran a competitive CEO selection process that concluded with Andrew Sullivan being hired as the new ISOC CEO.

With respect to ISOC’s internal structure, in 2019 we reorganized ISOC in order to provide it with a competence-based structure aimed to improve execution and knowledge sharing. The new structure was intended to enable staff to implement future action plans more effectively.

Revenue diversification had been high on the agenda of previous Boards for many years and was still among our own main focus areas. ISOC’s revenue came (and still comes) mostly from PIR. In addition to the risks associated with having most of our revenue come from a single organization in a single industry (and from a single domain for that matter), the PST (Public Support Test) ISOC needs to pass in order to retain its tax status limits the amount of money from a single source ISOC can get, which in turns limits the amount of support ISOC and the Foundation can give to the community. The Board had tried several initiatives aimed to diversify ISOC’s revenue sources. However, all of them had been mostly unsuccessful in that respect. During 2019 we arranged the sale of PIR for over a billion USD. If the transaction had completed, it would have addressed ISOC’s financial concerns for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, given that the transaction did not complete (as ICANN rejected the proposed change of control), revenue diversification will remain a focus area of the Board at least in the near future.

In 2020, we focused on increasing the involvement of the community in the development of ISOC’s annual Action Plan. Thousands of individuals contributed their ideas through surveys and feedback sessions, which resulted in the annual Action Plan the Board finally approved. The plan is for future Action Plans to also be developed in that collaborative fashion. In order to also involve our community in governance discussions, the Board chartered the Governance Reform Working Group. The Board also established a new funding agreement with the IETF LLC, which among other things included a fund matching program to amplify the IETF LLC’s own fund raising efforts.

During the last part of 2020 and the first part of 2021, the Board focused on improving some of ISOC’s internal policies. We hired an in-house counsel and started a compliance program, which resulted in revised bylaws, Conflict of Interest (COI) policies, and governance processes at both ISOC and the ISOC Foundation.

The above is a quick summary of some of our most significant initiatives in the last five years. The new Board that will be officially seated at the 2021 AGM is already planning their own journey, which will also start with a retreat similar to the one we had back in 2016. I am very much looking forward to hearing, as a member of the ISOC community, about their strategic plans and ideas, and about how they plan to take ISOC forward during the upcoming years.

Personally, I honestly did not expect my experience as Board Chair to be as interesting and rewarding as it has actually been. I have been lucky enough to meet and work with many outstanding people from very different backgrounds during my term. I want to thank all of you for all the time (both face to face and online) we have spent together.

In closing, as we head towards the 2021 Internet Society AGM, let’s all continue working on realizing our vision that “the Internet is for everyone”. As our mission states, we believe in an Internet that is open, globally connected, secure, and trustworthy. Thank you all for all your work to ensure that the Internet remains a global technical infrastructure, a resource to enrich people’s lives, and a force for good in society.

Gonzalo Camarillo
2016-2021 Chair – ISOC Board of Trustees

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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