SIGHT – Lessons learned in 2018

By: 2018 IEEE SIGHT Chair Daniel Lottis

In what follows, I’ll discuss three interconnected lessons that many SIGHT volunteers learned this year. Even if all these lessons are deeply embedded in your mind already, you may wish to read on. In most cases, I find that reading somebody else describe something I already understand rather well can increase the depth of my insight, or allow me to offer remarks that will benefit discussion about the text in question.

The three ideas I’ll address are the value in understanding the diversity and complexity of SIGHT as an organization; the question of how SIGHT leadership should or could function; and the symbiosis between SIGHT and other entities.

SIGHT: Complex or simple?
In many ways, SIGHT is simple. It is an organization that arose within IEEE at the grassroots level aiming at leveraging our technical skills to benefit other humans. SIGHT volunteers focus on people who cannot afford the technology generated by other engineers, either because of a natural disaster or other conditions that render them incapable of paying for what they need.

So what is complex about SIGHT?

SIGHT is made up of a diversity of components interacting in a way that resembles a living organism. Taking a human-centered approach, we start with our volunteers. They are distributed across the entire planet and over a hundred countries, speaking dozens of languages. They range in their focus (within SIGHT) from primarily executing projects to serving as Chair for IEEE SIGHT’s Steering Committee. Some hold leadership roles in local groups, while others build bridges to local communities and partners, or advocate for SIGHT within Sections or Regions. One more aspect of volunteers is fundamental and must not be forgotten – SIGHT embraces individuals who are not IEEE members. These volunteers prove vital, as they often have a different background that complements our own technical expertise and gives SIGHT an advantage over other entities.

The coordination and communication of activities, and efforts by the volunteers is complex. SIGHT as a global movement depends vitally on that coordination and communication, as well as institutional memory, avoiding duplication of efforts, long-distance collaborations, governance, and countless others.

Another fundamentally important way in which SIGHT is complex is in its different SIGHT “groups.” Groups are formed by Student Branches, like-minded IEEE members, Sections, and Technical Societies. Section SIGHT groups can even take different forms: a committee of the section; a stand-alone group very closely coordinated with Section leadership; or a simple position in the Section Excom consisting of “SIGHT Coordinator.”

SIGHT Leadership
A unique experience for SIGHT in 2018 was the two “calls for applications” held – opportunities for IEEE members (even those outside of SIGHT) to apply for positions on the Steering Committee. Due to that unique situation, I can estimate with confidence that we have hundreds of volunteers with very high potential for leadership within SIGHT.

That is very good news! I say that because, quite simply, the global-level steering committee will benefit from additional help. Many qualified leaders are likely to be incorporated into the 2019 Steering Committee for SIGHT and more will serve on the SIGHT subcommittees.

In the second call for self-nominations, nearly half of all applicants indicated they preferred to serve as members of a subcommittee – not a chair. This implies that with well-chosen Chairs, much will be accomplished at the global Steering Committee level. Discussions about leaders and leadership are stylish, but no complex movement is effective if it contains only leaders.

Another corollary of our observation is that there should be no shortage of SIGHT volunteers who are active at Section and Region levels. During 2019 and beyond, we expect to improve on leveraging regional and section leadership to ensure optimally effectiveness.

Symbiosis
Within IEEE, there are quite a few choices for individuals who wish to contribute to Humanitarian and Philanthropic causes. Among them, and with substantial synergetic potential with SIGHT, are IEEE Smart Village, EPICS in IEEE, and the IEEE Foundation. Concepts such as collaboration and cross-pollination imply that there will be instances where an individual with primary engagement with SIGHT will spend time volunteering with Smart Village.

Outside of IEEE, there are thousands of potential partners for SIGHT groups and for SIGHT as a global organization. They can prove to be invaluable relationships for collaboration during natural disaster response, for example. While disaster response is not SIGHT’s focus, discussions naturally arise about its role in these situations. Partnerships allow us to contribute to the support of disaster victims while preserving the focus on SIGHT’s core mission.

In conclusion, SIGHT is beautifully complex and diverse. This has implications for how SIGHT leadership should be viewed and conducted at various levels and locations within the organization. Last of all, we are not alone: both within IEEE and beyond, there are entities with which we can and should partner.

As I conclude, I wish to refer to the multiple “thank-you” remarks in the “Note from the Chair” in the SIGHT December newsletter. I am grateful to all with whom I interacted, including the amazing SIGHT volunteers as well as students and young professionals at meetings I attended. You are amazing, all of you. I am looking forward to remaining very active with SIGHT in 2019 as the “Past Chair” on the Steering Committee.