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Growing Membership and Expanding Value to Our Members

Nei Kato

Nei Kato

Vice President, Member and Global Activities

This month, I am pleased to introduce Nei Kato, Vice-President for Membership and Global Activities (MGA), who will share with us his plans for enhancing member benefits as well as for attracting new members and retaining existing ones through the development of value-added programs and new services.

Nei Kato is a full professor with the Graduate School of Information Sciences and the Director of the Research Organization of Electrical Communication (ROEC), Tohoku University, Japan. He has been engaged in research on computer networking, wireless mobile communications, satellite communications, ad hoc & sensor & mesh networks, smart grid, IoT, Big Data, and pattern recognition. He served as the Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Network (2015-2017), a Member-at- Large on the IEEE Communications Society Board of Governors, (2014-2016), the Chair of the Satellite and Space Communications Technical Committee (2010-2012), and the Ad Hoc & Sensor Networks Technical Committee (2014-2015) of ComSoc. He is a Distinguished Lecturer of ComSoc and a fellow of IEEE.

It is my great pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to serve as VP-MGA for our community during the years of 2018 and 2019. I plan to work closely with Prof. Song Guo, the Director of Membership; Prof. Octavia A. Dobre, the Director of Sister & Related Societies; Prof. Saewoong Bahk, AP Region Director; Prof. Adlen Ksentini, EMEA Region Director; Prof. Lisandro Zambenedetti, LA Region Director; and Prof. Wahab Almuhtadi, NA Region Director, under the leadership of our president and with the assistance of ComSoc staffs, to pursue dynamic development in terms of membership and global activities. In this column, I would like to share some of the ideas that constitute the MGA strategic plan, including both projects from the previous administration and new ideas we will implement.

In recent years, we initiated many events to promote activities globally and in more local regions. We now mention some of the most notable instances. We have had the Global Communications Newsletter (GCN) published monthly in IEEE Communications Magazine with a focus on news and events carried out by ComSoc and local chapter activities. The Distinguished Lecturer Tour was implemented to deliver the latest research trends, topics and results to every corner of the globe by the most active researchers in various areas according to the needs of local chapters. A student competition program was organized, which provides an opportunity to students to compete with their conceptual ideas or with real implementations of those designs to make our life better through new ICT technologies. The Women in Communications Engineering (WICE) standing committee was created to promote the visibility of female researchers in both academia and industry and to create a comfortable environment for a wide variety of activities. Finally, various awards were introduced in different regions to praise the achievements of researchers. Most of these programs already have had a significant impact on the advancement of ComSoc membership development.

Nevertheless, ComSoc is no exception to the current trend that plagues many other institutions, suffering from a decline of membership due to various reasons. Needless to say, the biggest challenge we are facing now is to put the brakes on this decline. In particular, the problem of declining student member numbers is considered our most urgent problem and demands serious consideration. As of October 2017, the total membership of ComSoc was 26,778; among them, 1658 were student members and 887 were graduate student members. This fraction is too small, which is a problem lingering for many years despite the various measures put into action. Student members are the lifeblood of our society and they represent the future of ComSoc. We need to mobilize financial and human resources as much as possible to stem the tide in this membership downturn.

As the first step to deal with this problem, we have devised two initiatives. First, to motivate and reward volunteers who have contributed to ComSoc activities in their local chapters and successfully recruited a certain number of members, we are going to create an award tentatively named the “Membership and Global Activities Contribution Award” by the MGA Council. So far, we have awards to commend local chapters in four regions, namely AP, EMEA, NA, and LA; and the Chapter of the Year (CoY) award, which is given to the Chapter with the most distinguished activities. On the other hand, there is no award for individuals or small groups who have contributed significantly to promoting ComSoc and recruiting members. As a matter of fact, many young students, who are not ComSoc members, can easily join our society if there is a strong push from an experienced ComSoc member (either a local chapter chair or an influential professor) in their area. We discussed this idea during the AP region RCCC, held in Singapore last year, one day prior to Globecom 2017, and received very strong and positive support from the AP Director as well as many chapter chairs attending the AP RCCC. Here, the important issue is how to implement it in a way that effectively brings about a net increase in membership across many chapters. Countries with large populations like China and India may have the biggest potential in generating good results through this scheme because under each local chapter in those countries there is a tremendous number of students who are not ComSoc members. Once they join ComSoc, they will have further opportunities to know our society, and hence receive more of the benefits that ComSoc can offer them. Thus, the key challenge is how to reach out to the students and young professionals in those countries. One way is to motivate the senior members to make concerted efforts to contact the representatives at local colleges and/or universities to announce special IEEE student rates and incentives. Proper networking is a prerequisite to introduce the benefits of ComSoc to young people at a root level, and this needs to be discussed thoroughly at a high level meeting to determine how our senior members can be mobilized to pursue this mission. In such countries, another interesting idea would be to hold career workshops or job fairs to invite undergraduate and graduate students to allow them to acquire a good impression regarding the ComSoc and realize how it can help their careers flourish. The bottom line is to find the means to instill in their psyche that the tradeoff between investing into becoming a member and receiving long-term benefits in their professional career is worth pursuing.

The second initiative is to change slightly the scheme of fund allocation to local chapters by giving more incentives to chapters that have substantially increased the number of their members. This can be simply implemented by checking the net increase at a certain point of each year from Com- Soc membership statistics. In the evaluation, however, we certainly need to carefully consider whether it is a relatively new region or a long-established chapter with densely populated members and lively activities.

Meanwhile, achieving the goal of increasing the membership of ComSoc cannot be realized by the solo efforts of MGA. The synergy with other councils is of paramount importance. Good publications, good conferences, good global and local activities together with good cooperation between academia and industry are the key factors to attract members and increase the membership retention rate. If the graduating students and young professionals can realize that IEEE membership, certification, and so forth can boost their career, they will be more likely to retain it. This is why it is essential that we find a way to create the right synergy between industry and academia through ComSoc. If we can establish IEEE as a benchmark not just for academic research but also for advancing in the industry between the young professionals, they will be more likely to renew their membership even after graduation. Last but not the least, we need to take into account social aspects as well. As the barriers within different societies continue to shrink in an unprecedented manner, paving the way for new technologies and ushering them into ComSoc with timeliness is extremely important. In other words, ComSoc has to eventually evolve to embrace state-of-the-art technologies by circulating its events, awards, training opportunities, etc., on social media through live videos, social ads, display ads, and so forth.

We look forward to working with all the members of ComSoc to make it an excellent venue for the growth of members. We will listen to you, make use of your strong support and deliver only our best efforts.