Gabriella Schittek, Global Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Central and Eastern Europe
Gabriella is ICANN’s representative for Central and Eastern Europe. She is responsible for supporting the organisation’s engagement with all ICANN stakeholders in the region, such as businesses, governments, technical community and academia. She has a long background with the country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) industry. Before starting her work with ICANN, she worked with the .uk registry Nominet and the Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries (CENTR). For several years, she managed ICANN's country code Names Supporting Organisation (ccNSO). Gabriella holds an M.A. in Political Science.
Andrea Beccalli, Stakeholder Engagement Director - Europe
Andrea joined ICANN in 2013. As a member of the global Stakeholder Engagement Team, Andrea's responsibilities include working on ICANN's engagement with European stakeholders (governments, DNS industry, Internet business sector, academia, civil society), and supervising ICANN’s engagement and activities in southern Europe.
Prior to working at ICANN, Andrea served as Policy and Advocacy Manager for the International Federation of Libraries Association and Institutions (IFLA) in The Hague, Netherlands, where he strengthened IFLA’s relationship with the UN systems and libraries' contribution to the UN Millennium Development Goals. He was also an Associate Expert at UNESCO's Knowledge Societies Division, Communication and Information Sector in Paris, France, where he worked on the Organisation's involvement in WSIS, Internet Governance, and ICT for development. In Spring 2012, Andrea worked in Iraq for the NGO Internews EU on a policy study on Internet and Freedom of Expression in the country.
Andrea obtained a MA degree as Fulbright scholar from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, Massachusetts; he also holds a MA in International Relations from the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI) and a BA in Political Science from the University of Rome, La Sapienza. Furthermore, Andrea holds Certificates in Negotiation from The Harvard Program on Negotiation at the Harvard Law School. In addition to English and to his native Italian, Andrea speaks fluent French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Lawyr.it: To begin with, can you describe your organisation in a few words?
G.S.: Unique, crucial, complex, interesting.
A.B.: Technical and generally not known to the common Internet user, yet at the base of the global single Internet.
Lawyr.it: Why is ICANN important to our everyday lives?
G.S. and A.B.: ICANN is the organisation that coordinates the Domain Name System (the “DNS”). To reach another person or a website on the Internet, you have to type an address into your computer - a name or a number, such as icann.org or 188.8.131.52. That address has to be unique, so computers and all connected devices know where to find each other. ICANN helps coordinate and support these unique identifiers across the world. In other words, it manages the Internet’s central address book, and also sets the policies around how it is to be maintained. So even if you are not aware of it, our work behind the scenes allows you to connect to the Internet; from wherever you are, you reach the domain - website address - that you want.
Lawyr.it: How does the multi stakeholder model work? How does it help advance ICANN’s goals?
G.S. and A.B.: ICANN coordinates the policies around how the DNS is to be maintained and developed. The way it does so is quite unique, as it is comprised and led by various voluntary participants with an interest in the Internet. These include governments, businesses, academia, civil society, technical community, and end-users. All these actors bring their expertise and deliver input on a voluntary basis into our policy development process. This is what we call the multi stakeholder model. ICANN offers everyone that has an interest in creating Internet policies ways to get involved; the community contributes with their time and expertise, while the organisation coordinates the policy-making effort and then implements the policies that the multi stakeholder community develops.
It is important to note that without the multi stakeholder community, there would be no ICANN, as it is not ICANN itself that sets the policies – we are merely here to coordinate and facilitate the policy making process.
Lawyr.it: In a world that's characterised by globalisation and that is intertwined through the Internet, do you think that it is high time people paid more attention to how it actually works, the risks that it involves and how it affects them, or do you think that because of organisations such as ICANN, we can all take a backseat and rest assured that issues are taken care of?
G.S. and A.B.: The multi stakeholder community is crucial for ICANN. The more diverse voices we have, the more inclusive the policy making is of all stakeholders. The Internet is growing: it is global, and local at the same time. So, Internet policy-making is even more important now as governments, businesses, and other stakeholders grapple with complex and diverse policy challenges, such as data protection regulations, cybersecurity, cyberspace governance and fake news. It is essential for people to participate in ICANN and engage in a dialogue with its global community of stakeholders. The diverse global community’s involvement in policy development would undoubtedly result in better policies in the areas that they care about, to ensure that the Internet continues to run smoothly.
We are continuously working on raising awareness and achieving a better understanding of and how ICANN works to a diverse stakeholder base reflecting the global reach of the Internet. We think people should be aware of the fact that there is more to the Internet than just the content or the actual connection. It would be beneficial if most people had at least some basic knowledge on what ICANN is and what it does, as it would make it easier to implement some changes, or to keep people aware of how politics can affect the Internet.
Lawyr.it: Who can get involved in ICANN and what are the opportunities to do so?
G.S. and A.B.: Literally everyone who is interested has the potential to get involved in ICANN. We believe that the Internet’s technical management should fully reflect the global diversity of Internet users.
ICANN is divided into different interest groups – we call them Supporting Organisations and Advisory Committees - who all give their input to ICANN’s policy work. These groups include government representatives, the technical community, academia, NGOs, businesses, and also – very importantly – end-users. In other words, even someone who just happens to be interested in internet-related matters, but does not represent any specific interest group, has a possibility to have their say within the ICANN framework.
Our meetings, which are held three times a year in various parts of the world (in order to ensure that all regions have a chance of attending physically or remotely) are also open to everyone and free of charge. However, you do not need to attend the meetings in person, they are all broadcasted online. Besides, the largest part of the work is also done online, between the meetings.
We also have two programs that aim to bring in new people to our meetings, as it might be easier to start your engagement by attending in person: the NextGen (targets youth from 18-30 years of age) and the Fellowship programme (open for all). These programmes have elaborate agendas to give a good and thorough introduction to newcomers into the world of ICANN.
We also have an online platform, called ICANN Learn, which anyone can access and use to learn more on Internet Governance and other related matters.
Lawyr.it: Why do you think people, and especially law students, should get involved in ICANN?
G.S. and A.B.: In general, people with an interest in the issues around the Internet should get involved, as the multi stakeholder model needs interested and enthusiastic people that want to shape the future of the Internet. Law students are indeed very welcome, as lawyers are key in policy making – they have the skills necessary for policy-writing, as they know what aspects to think of when doing so. In return, for a law student, it is surely a great experience to be able to get involved in policy making, to see how it is done in practice and how they can influence it directly, in a very international environment.
Lawyr.it: Can you give us some examples of the policy development work or the working groups that members can join, and maybe why they could be appealing to those with a legal background?
G.S.: Just to mention one, there is currently a Working Group called “Review of All Rights Protection Mechanisms in All gTLDs”. Do not worry about the complicated name – what the Working Group is looking into is who legally has rights to, or is the legitimate holder of, a domain name under a generic Top-Level Domain, such as .com or .info. This can be disputed sometimes, especially between trademark holders. There are protection mechanisms in place already – such as a number of arbitration mechanisms (our most famous one, being the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy – UDRP), but from time to time a review is needed to check whether these procedures are adequate and strong enough. So, this working group is currently looking into whether the policies we have in place need to be updated; naturally, this is a working group where especially trademark lawyers are needed. For those interested in this Working Group, please visit: https://gnso.icann.org/en/group-activities/active/rpm
We are also just about to form another, very topical Working Group, which will look into ways to comply with the GDPR regulation – at the moment, ICANN is asking its contracted parties (such as registries or registrars) to collect personal data when someone registers a domain name. We have some tentative mechanisms in place today to protect this data, but we will have to look deeper into this issue to come up with a proper policy and thorough long-term solutions. This is another Working Group where legal expertise is crucial.
Lawyr.it: ICANN has had a Fellowship Program for over a decade now, as well as a NextGen program. What can you tell us about the requirements for application and the opportunities they provide? Would law students make good candidates?
G.S. and A.B.: Both programmes are aiming at introducing new people to Internet Governance by bringing them to an ICANN meeting to offer them a hands-on introduction into how our multi stakeholder model is working in practice.
If law students are interested in becoming actively engaged in their regional Internet communities and in shaping the future of global Internet policy, they would definitely make great candidates!
To apply for the NextGen programme, you not only need to have an interest in ICANN, Internet governance and other Internet-related matters, but you also have to show that you are either doing, or have completed a research, thesis or project related to this. At the ICANN meeting, you are required to give a 5-10-minute presentation on this topic/thesis.
Furthermore, you have to be between 18-30 years old, you have to be enrolled as a graduate, postgraduate or doctoral student and you have to live in the region where the ICANN meeting, which you are applying for, is being held. See more at https://www.icann.org/public-responsibility-support/nextgen
The Fellowship Programme is not primarily aimed at students, although students are also welcome to apply. You have to be at least 21 years old, interested in ICANN matters and open to actively getting engaged in ICANN’s policy processes. Also, you need to strictly follow the Fellowship Programme agenda, which means early mornings, late nights and not much time for sightseeing. Furthermore, you will have to write a post-meeting report. For more details, see: https://www.icann.org/fellowshipprogram
Lawyr.it: Judging by the statistics provided on the ICANN website, people from all over the world have joined the Fellowship Program. In your opinion, is this blend of different cultures and personalities the most rewarding part of the fellowship experience for the participants or do the technical aspects of the program steal the spotlight?
G.S. and A.B.: It is true that a large – and the most crucial – part of ICANN’s operations are technical. However, there is a range of other topics that are non-technical, where everyone can get involved. To get a good result, diversity is crucial. It would be wrong if a global resource, such as the Internet, was governed only by one part of society – we need input from all over the world and from various groups, to make the Internet a truly global resource for everyone, and as the Internet continues to evolve we need new perspectives and expertise to address new challenges. The program is also about educating these diverse groups on the Internet ecosystem, the DNS, and ICANN and how everything works. Once participant acquire a basic understanding of these topics, they can then share their knowledge with people back home, and we as ICANN can also gain in more knowledgeable and interested parties participating in our policies.
Lawyr.it: You both have rich and various backgrounds and you are working in a fairly big global organisation. What are the pros and cons of working in such an organisation compared to working on a local or national level?
G.S.: As far as downsides are concerned, having worked here for nearly 12 years, I am surprised how few people within the organisation I actually know. People are spread around the globe and they come and go and work in different silos, so that you often never meet in person. There might also be some cultural differences in working style, which might be slightly frustrating. Sometimes, it is also tiresome to travel many days of the year to be able to do your job.
On the other hand, all the people that you know in and through work, come from all over the world, which gives you a unique possibility to learn loads of interesting facts and things you would not normally know - and you, as a person, grow and develop. I feel privileged having this possibility to interact with so many cultures on a daily basis. This is something I would never be exposed to as much if I worked on a local level. I would also never be able to directly work with questions that actually affect the entire world. Also – as tiresome travelling sometimes might be – I never regret going to a meeting. I always come back home feeling richer as a person.
A.B.: As pros, working in an organisation that is responsible for the technical layer of the internet literally means that the excitement and the work never stop. The internet is a dynamic growing network of networks, and ICANN offers me the possibility to be constantly exposed to new challenges, developments and cultures. It is a work that never turns into a routine; indeed not the typical 9 to 5 job!
The frequent travel and exposure to diverse cultures, languages as well as understanding the technical development of the Internet DNS provides plenty of stimuli to be curious and dynamic. To me, it is also very important to know that at the core, I am working to make the world more united through one single internet and more involved into an inclusive form of policy through the multi stakeholder model, and I am doing that in a non–profit organisation for the public good.
Most of the cons are also linked to taking these positive aspects to the extreme. For instance, the frequent travel, while exciting, can be disruptive to private life. The fact that most of my colleagues are spread around several countries and time zones means that there is a lot of “lone” work, and plenty of conference calls to discuss even the smallest things, often to the detriment of efficiency and of the sense of camaraderie that comes with sharing an office with one’s co-workers. Working for a global organisation and travelling frequently can also make you quite disconnected from the working, social and political life of the country where you reside, particularly if it is not your home country.
Lawyr.it: What made you join ICANN and what do you enjoy most about your current position?
G.S.: Through my previous positions (at the .uk registry Nominet and CENTR – the Council of European National Top-Level Domain Registries), I knew ICANN fairly well, since part of my working tasks were to keep an eye on ICANN’s business and attend its conferences. Then, when a suitable position opened, I was curious on what it would be like to actually work at the heart of what I had followed for so long. However, it turned out that it was not that big of a step to take, as being part of the multi stakeholder community had already given me an excellent, hands-on insight into how ICANN is working. The biggest change was the fact that I changed sides – from being a Community member, now I actually am in a position where I am serving the Community.
In my position, I really enjoy the diversity of the stakeholders I am dealing with. In my daily work, I am interacting with people representing all kinds of groups – ranging from the technical community to academia, governments, businesses, NGOs and so on. It therefore never gets monotonous, as they are all representing different interests and you have to adjust to their needs.
A.B.: I first heard of ICANN’s work while I was preparing my final dissertation in Political Science for the University of Rome. In the early 2000’s, I was interested in writing about the role of the Internet in coalescing a global civil society movement. Although that was just a bit over 15 years ago, in Internet time it was another era, pre-social media and pre–smartphone, and the Internet still felt like it was something new and not “a given” in our everyday life. After graduation, I went to work for UNESCO on ICT for Development and although I was not directly working with ICANN, I was still intrigued by this organisation and its multi stakeholder model, so I kept following its work online and the discussions around Internet Governance.
Several years later when the opportunity came, I applied for a position as regional manager for Europe and joined ICANN! Now, 5 years in, I still enjoy the diversity of topics and stakeholders I am dealing with, as well as the opportunity to keep learning about how the Internet works and getting new people involved in the management of its global unique DNS.
Lawyr.it: You are both working with various institutions such as local governments, EU bodies, Internet communities and so on to implement ICANN’s objectives and vision. How difficult is it to coordinate with all these different institutions and do you think it takes a certain type of person for this job?
G.S.: Our topics are often quite complex and hard to understand if one is not following ICANN’s business closely. It is not always easy to make people, who just superficially - or completely do not - follow our work, understand the importance of some issues and why it pays off in the long run to get engaged in ICANN. This can sometimes be a little frustrating, especially when you see that someone could easily make a change to the better, but will not, because there is still a lack of understanding. I do not blame them, though. Understanding ICANN for an outsider is not an easy task. On the other hand, it is really satisfying when you see that people are listening and you actually can make a difference.
A person that works for ICANN should be open-minded, flexible, culturally sensitive and ready to work with all types of people, as everyone is represented within ICANN’s community. Also, you should not mind travelling, as a lot of travel is required for most positions. This might sound fun to many, but after a while you will realise that travelling a lot is quite exhausting.
A.B.: ICANN topics are not the most “attractive” in the debate around Internet governance as they are quite technical, and, as my colleague, Gabi, said, the average internet user does not need to know about ICANN to use the Internet. Yet as the Internet becomes central in almost every aspect of our life, an understanding on how it works is important particularly for policy makers to inform better policies and regulations that can have an impact on how the Internet works. Same applies to the business sector and civil society; to tackle the complexity of the issues around Internet governance, an understanding of ICANN’s role certainly helps.
A big part of my job is to explain how ICANN works and how to get involved, thus a passion for meeting new people and speaking in public (often impromptu) is important; it is not a desk job, so being ok with frequent travel is also important.
Lawyr.it: And lastly, what is the best piece of advice you have received that has helped you throughout your career and that you want to pass on to our readers who are primarily law students?
G.S.: I am not a lawyer myself, but this piece of advice is, I believe, universal and true for everyone: “If you really want something, you will get it. You might not get it directly and might have to take some detours to get there. But you will get it one day. Just do not lose aim.”
A.B.: Looking back into my career, a common thread is that I kept a close link between my studies and the work experience. I went back to grad school twice in different times and I used these opportunities to do more reflection, analysis and investigation, something that becomes a luxury when you start working full time. So, my piece of advice is to keep the curiosity to go deeper into the issues of your interest, and to look for a job that allows you to do that. If not, do not hesitate to take a break and go back to school, and use that as a springboard for your next job!
By Andrei Gongea
This material was published in Lawyr.it Vol. 5 Ed. 3, September 2018, available only online.