US woman beats Russian rival to become head of the UN’s tech agency

29 Sep 2022

Image: © Joaquin Corbalan/

Doreen Bogdan-Martin has been elected to lead the agency responsible for internet interoperability for the next four years.

A US candidate has beaten her Russian rival in the race to become the next head of the main UN tech agency.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin was named the new secretary-general of the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) today (29 September). She becomes the first woman to take the role in the group’s 157-year history.

The ITU was founded to manage the first international telegraph networks. Nowadays, it is responsible for radio, satellite and internet communications, developing the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect.

Bogdan-Martin was elected by the member states of the ITU, defeating the Russian candidate Rashid Ismailov.

In an article for Wired ahead of the election, Justin Ling said the two candidates “represent fundamentally different visions for the future of the internet”.

Bogdan-Martin, who won 139 votes out of a total of 172, was endorsed by the US government as a leader who would make the internet open and accessible to all.

The day before her victory was announced, US senator Maria Cantwell, who is chair of the US committee on commerce, science and transportation, said: “It is critical to have a leader with a proven commitment to an inclusive, open internet and universal connectivity.”

She added that Bogdan-Martin “has the values, expertise and extensive experience on the global telecommunications stage necessary to help guide our digital future”.

Bogdan-Martin has more than two decades of experience in leadership in international telecoms policy. When she begins her four-year term as secretary-general on 1 January 2023, she will work to fulfil her campaign promises of building new global and regional partnerships on behalf of the ITU.

“The world is facing significant challenges – escalating conflicts, a climate crisis, food security, gender inequalities, and 2.7bn people with no access to the internet,” said Bogdan-Martin.

“I believe we, the ITU and our members, have an opportunity to make a transformational contribution. Continuous innovation can and will be a key enabler to facilitate resolution of many of these issues.”

The Wired article featured the concerns of several internet experts regarding the potential impact on internet interoperability if Ismailov won the vote. He is a former regional VP of Huawei and has held leadership positions within the Russian telecoms industry.

He was hoping to succeed the outgoing ITU secretary general, China’s Houlin Zhao. Ismailov said he was running to counteract the “dominance” of the US over the internet.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.