Paola Cicero was intrigued with India’s effort to understand their internet connectivity needs as part of the country’s effort to improve rural communications. As a volunteer at the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) contributing to the Connectivity and Telecom Practice, she soon realized that Mexico, where she currently lives and works, is similar in many ways to India—with a large population, indigenous origin, and significant physical area.
Integrating Technology into Policy Making
The countries also share the same struggle of having wide differences in education between areas, as well as different languages and laws within the same country.
“Connectivity and technology have the potential to solve some of the most important problems of humankind so that the fourth industrial revolution does not leave anyone behind,” says Paola. “Everyone deserves and needs reliable connectivity—no matter if you live in a rural community outside the state of Oaxaca in Mexico or in the biggest city in the world, like New York City.”
Paola describes herself as a lawyer who is a public servant at heart. During her last year of law school, she began working at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She later moved into several public servant roles within the Mexican government, and is currently General Director of the Federal Telecommunications Institute, which is the Mexican regulator in broadcasting and telecommunications.
Paola brought new inspiration from her work with IEEE SA, in terms of technology policy, use cases, skills development, and impact analysis back to her position. After seeing the many different perspectives and disparities between the citizens of her country, Paola now spends her workdays at the Federal Telecommunications Institute tackling a wide range of technology issues and how they impact economic well-being, quality of life, education or health, or even preventing natural disasters.
Bringing Voices From Diverse Backgrounds and Disciplines
Although she’d known about IEEE SA for many years, it was while preparing an agenda for the Mexican government on artificial intelligence that colleagues introduced Paola to the Rural Communications workstream. With a background in international law from her master’s degree at NYU, she soon joined the workstream where she learned about how many similar challenges to rural communications, such as limited resources and education, are solved in a variety of ways.
The workstream is currently working to identify common problems, and then provide specific information and tools for solutions that work not just from an academic or corporate perspective, but in the real world. Then the volunteer-contributed group will begin creating standards and related solutions to help countries and organizations leverage technological advances to overcome those challenges. Paola says that the volunteers in the workstream live in a wide range of countries and are of varying ages and genders, which helps provide a broad perspective.
While diversity has always been a core value for both Paola and her organization, which is part of the United Nations’ HeForShe program, her volunteer experience with IEEE SA has highlighted the importance of having diverse voices when addressing some of the world’s critical challenges, such as rural connectivity. Because she sees firsthand the importance of embracing many different voices to understand the challenges and solutions for rural connectivity, she and other volunteers are specifically pushing for indigenous people and people with disabilities to serve on the project.
“We believe that technology has the potential to help solve the toughest problems of our society,” says Paola. “But it’s up to us to work and collaborate in a diverse way to find the best ways to accomplish that using technology in our favor, instead of letting technology deepen divisions and differences.”
Make Your Mark at IEEE SA
When asked what advice she had for female professionals considering volunteering with IEEE SA, Paola said to not listen to the voice in your head that may be saying you don’t know enough or aren’t an expert. Instead, just do it.
“You may be thinking that you don’t have any specialized technical expertise. But I’ve seen firsthand that there are many volunteers and ways that you can contribute to helping IEEE SA make a difference in the world’s biggest challenges. I’m not an engineer, but I’ve found the experience of volunteering to be useful, interesting, and really even life changing for me as well as the rural communities I serve.”
Over the years, IEEE SA has grown beyond standards development to encompass a full technology development lifecycle, from pre-standardization to market adoption and use. We drive a wide range of activities empowering the world’s innovators to shape and improve technology. Individuals and organizations from around the world are invited to join us to raise the world’s technology standards for the benefit of humanity.
About Paola Cicero
Paola Cicero holds a law degree with honors from ITAM and an LL.M. in international legal studies from New York University (NYU). She also has a diploma from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Digital Transformation.
She began her career in the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has extensive experience in public service. Since 2017, she has been the Chief of Staff of Commissioner Javier Juárez at the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT), the Mexican telecommunications and broadcasting regulator, from where she has collaborated in the research, development, and dissemination of topics such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, digital divide, among others.
Paola has over 10 publications including book chapters and articles.