“Me and Telecommunications”

There are three ways a community enters the 21st Century and becomes an Intelligent Community. The first two are like choosing root canal. The third is the option to floss and brush.

Amirzai Sangin, the former Minister of Communications & IT for the Republic of Afghanistan makes an exclusive appearance at the ICF Summit on Thursday. Mr. Sangin was ICF’s Visionary of the Year in 2006 and has written a new book about his experiences in Afghanistan.

One: A region, community or an entire nation can swerve with near fatal consequences and smack into its moment of truth. It there meets the realities and requirements of the digital age. It is dragged out and hopefully recovers enough to be dragged in to the right lane. This collision often is the result of a total economic or social collapse caused by a tsunami. History does not always signal when it changes lanes. So the local industry begins to fade into the dusty pages of economic history without much warning. More often than not a company or a cluster of them, those upon which prosperity had been built, chases after some hot little trophy city in the Sunbelt. Or sails off to a country in Asia where the workers are still climbing toward the middle class and willing to work for unthinkably low wages. In this case, the community is in desperate shape and reaches out like a man caught swimming in a riptide. The good news is that if you do not panic and go laterally for a while, you can get out of a riptide.

Two: The second route is one that goes backward. In this case, the culture believes that its future lies in the past. So while they say they have set the coordinates to head into the 21st Century, they go by way of the 12th. Old ways die hard, but “dead,” as my Uncle Pete used to say, “is forever.” And as menacing and volcanic as these cultures often are, their economic capacity ebbs and they become dungeons. Their ability to innovate is smothered. They are often theocratic regimes, but God has spoken to smart folks through history and has whispered that they best take those precious two pounds of soft tissue, nerve and non-neuronal cells and blood vessels to better place. Hence, brain drain is the flushing sound heard in these places.

Third: They look around. They begin to learn, adjust and begin to take the steps toward recovery. Not 12 Steps, but Six. The ICF Method, or something akin to it. They realize that they have work ahead, are willing to do it (in fact they are excited by the prospect of it) and, sooner than they expect, they see signs of hope and light.

Amirzai Sangin, the Minster of Communications and IT for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for 10 years (2004-2014), and ICF’s 2006 Visionary of the Year, is one of those rare people who lived in a place where all three occurred!

In his new book, Me and Telecommunications, Mr. Sangin, who before 9/11 had been living outside of Afghanistan (courtesy of the Taliban) and is once again in 2021 living outside it, has chronicled his life and the struggles of his nation. He played a key role in that nation’s advances, having returned in 2002 to build a telecommunications infrastructure that connected the nation, enabled rare democratic elections and made it so that women and kids could surf the Web and learn about the world around them. He also made it possible for every Afghanistan resident to have a cell phone (there are multiple carriers today in Afghanistan) and ended forever the embarrassing situation which found Afghans having to go to Pakistan to make a phone call!

He has much to say about the Taliban and the current situation. Some positive and some negative; all of it fascinating and honest. He is a genuine patriot who loves his country and is insistent that someday, if the new government allows it, he will go back. He says without hesitation that, right now, the telecommunications system, which had continued to grow and digitize when he was there, has become stagnant. “No new fiber is planned or being run.” It is stagnant and the $1.5B in investment revenue his ministry brought to the nation is a memory. Investment has stopped. “But the war is over,” he says. And that is good for Afghans.

Mr. Sangin sat for an exclusive interview with me earlier this month. Portions will be shown on Thursday during the ICF Summit. www.icfsummit.com

Of all the Podcasts, interviews, panel sessions, appearances on TV or whatever that I have done in public, this is one I consider the most riveting and important. This is so for many reasons. One is that Mr. Sangin had begun to bring the ICF Method to Afghanistan. It sounds far-fetched, but it will be clear when you listen to him how he is “one of us.” Yes, there was once a decade when the sunlight of freedom and the principles of ICF did show through in those rugged hills and streets of Kabul.

What is next? I hope you are able to join and listen. I am offering a free registration to hear Mr. Sangin on Thursday during a session called. “Communities on the Verge . . . of what?” at 12:50 PM (ET). https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/icf_summit_2021_communities_on_the_verge

Amirzai Sangin, the 2006 ICF Visionary of the Year (r.) presented the 2012 Visionary of the Year Award to Australian Senator & Telecommunications Minister Steven Conroy.

Louis Zacharilla
Co-Founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. Louis Zacharilla helped found the Intelligent Community movement. He is the developer of the Intelligent Community Awards program. He is a frequent keynote speaker and a moderator at conferences and events.

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