CESSDA asks ten questions to Cathrin Stöver
Cathrin Stöver is Chief Collaboration Officer at GÉANT. She has 20 years of experience working in global telecommunications and the roll-out of network infrastructures across various continents.
In November 2018, Cathrin was appointed as Vice-Chair of the EOSC Executive Board.
CESSDA asked Cathrin Stöver to answer a few questions.
For those who don’t know GÉANT: what is it and why does the research community need it?
GÉANT delivers pan-European data-communications access for research and education. We interconnect Europe’s 40 National Research and Education Networks over a 500Gbps highly resilient pan-European backbone, providing the research and education community with seamless and dedicated connectivity to over 110 countries world-wide.
However, connectivity is not all we do – with transmission, storage and secure access to data so vital to students and researchers, the delivery of secure AAI services has long been a priority for us. For example, many people will know us for eduroam, the secure global wi-fi roaming service, which is now available at over 100 federations world-wide. But our AAI portfolio also includes eduGAIN – a service to connect identity federations world-wide, and eduTEAMS – enabling research communities to securely access and share common resources and services. Also, our rapidly expanding cloud catalogue is delivering market-leading services tailored to the research and education community.
What led you to start at GÉANT back in 1997 and what is their secret for keeping you for over 20 years?
The GÉANT organisation has existed now for about 4 years, as the result of a merger between two organisations, DANTE and TERENA, which were both created in the early 1990s to support research and education networking in Europe. In 1997, I was leaving Derby City Council after having worked there for a year and was looking for job with a European flavour to it. I very much remember my interview at DANTE in Cambridge and stating, “I have no idea what you are doing, but I am certain I can learn it.”
Twenty-plus years on, I think the reason why I am still in the same organisation is twofold. First of all, working in GÉANT has so far never once been boring. I started out in an organisation of 12 members of staff and our network at the time (it was called TEN-34) covered 11 European countries and offered international capacity to Japan and the USA. Today, we have grown our geographic footprint to 40 European countries and interconnect with more than 80 partners world-wide. Over the many years, I led projects which connected countries in the Mediterranean, created the Latin American RedCLARA network, the UbuntuNet network in South and East Africa and today the West and Central African WACREN network. I have had the opportunity to work with partners around the world to establish NREN organisations which never becomes boring, as no two countries are ever the same and in consequence no two NRENs either. I love that we have a real community spirit in the global NREN world.
The second reason is related to the first, but looks at it from a different angle: in DANTE and today in GÉANT, I have always been given the next challenge (my role in the European Open Science Cloud is just another great example of this) and at the same time, I have been given trust and autonomy on how to go about developing these new challenges. And that included at all times respect also for my family life, specifically when my kids (I have 18-year-old twins) were young. I am very grateful for that and try to reflect this experience on the members in my team today.
You travel a lot – which countries are still on your bucket-list and why?
I have particularly fallen in love with Ecuador and Samoa and these are the two places I would like to return to, not for work, but with my family. I guess that what I like about both places is the relative remoteness – when I am in the Ecuadorian interior or standing on the beach in Samoa, I feel that I am really far away from home. It is a very physical experience. I just love it.
How did it all start with the UbuntuNet Alliance? What is it and what were the key factors to get this up and running?
Since 2002, we have been receiving DEVCO funding to develop “GÉANT-like” infrastructures in the South-Mediterranean area, Latin America and Asia-Pacific region. At the WSIS in Tunis in 2005, we got together for the first time with colleagues from across the African continent, as well as DG-CNECT and started the planning for a project in Africa. As a consequence, the UbuntuNet Alliance was created by five established and emerging NRENs in the Southern and Eastern African region already in 2005.
In Europe, it took us a little longer and we only made a concrete first step in 2009 when the European Commission supported a 12-month feasibility study towards the creation of research and education networking in the African continent. Since 2015, we have AfricaConnect2, which supports all three African regions through their regional partners: ASREN in North Africa, WACREN in West and Central Africa and the UbuntuNet Alliance in Southern and Eastern Africa. Right now, we are planning for AfricaConnect3!
The key factor is always people. Committed and enthusiastic people, who get up and get things done and believe firmly that they can make a difference. Without these champions nothing new can ever be created. If you have a group of committed, enthusiastic believers, who in addition are ready to go and get their hands dirty and do what is necessary – my experience is that nothing can stop you. The second big factor is of course that such a group of people needs not management – they can perfectly manage themselves – but leadership and vision. I have had the pleasure to be working with great leaders – from Tusu Tusubira and Margaret Ngwira in the UbuntuNet Alliance, to Boubakar Barry in WACREN and Yousef Torman in ASREN. It is their dreams that we follow in AfricaConnect and their generosity that allows us all to thrive and learn.
What is EOSC?
There is an excellent parable of the blind men and the elephant, which originated in ancient India, I believe. It is the story of a group of blind men who have never come across an elephant before and who are to describe the elephant by respectively touching one – only one – different part of the elephant. Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant’s body, such as the tail, the trunk, the leg. They describe the elephant based on their different experiences and of course, the descriptions are entirely different from one another.
I think that at this point in time, we could draw a similar picture of the EOSC. I have heard the EOSC described as a repository, as the full integration of the European e-infrastructures, as a portal, as a complete disruption to how Europe does science, as a data storage facility, as Europe’s answer to the challenges posed by GAFAM, as the means to make data FAIR, etc., etc. Probably all of it is true to a certain extent.
So, we need to ask, why are we doing this at all? The best answer to this, that I have heard, is that Europe is the largest producer of publicly-funded research data, but that this data is too often only used once.
To improve this situation, you need to look at infrastructure and data management on a campus, national, regional, European and global level; at FAIR principles; at interoperability and standards for sharing of data across borders and disciplines. You also need to consider a European context, where many Member States have their own plans towards Open Science (and others not yet), and of the commercialisation of facilities. Above all, the crucial question is how Europe and the Member States will fund public research in the future. The complexities are quite staggering. That is why I keep saying that at this moment, for me and on a very personal level, EOSC is mainly an intellectual challenge!
The EOSC Executive Board has recently started its work. What do you see as the first important steps to realise the EOSC?
The EOSC Executive Board (EB) started its work in January 2019 and up until now, we have met three times. We have a Strategic Implementation Plan and descriptions for the five initial working groups of the EB – Sustainability, Landscape, Architecture, RoP and FAIR. Karel Luyben and I as Chair and co-Chair, have also attended the EOSC Governance Board (GB) meetings, where the representatives of the European Member States and Associate States meet. We have started working with the EOSC Secretariat, which is to complement and operationalise our activities.
So, I would say that the scene is set for constructive collaboration in the EOSC governance bodies and we hope that the working groups and also the stakeholder engagement activities will ensure the continuity of the stakeholder dialogue.
I am a community builder and from my perspective, the first thing we need to achieve as the EOSC EB is gaining the trust in the stakeholder community and through that ensuring that we are all on board, pulling in the same direction. For that we need communication and more communication.
What are main barriers for realising EOSC?
I do not think that there are barriers, but I do accept that there are challenges. One is timing, with the EOSC EB having been given two years to conclude towards the operationalisation of the EOSC into what is commonly described as the “minimum common vehicle”.
Another challenge is the governance structure as such. EOSC projects and stakeholder activities have taken place over the past three years and now the EB and GB are parachuted into an existing picture and must lead the way! This is certainly not an ideal situation, but this is what we have and to make this a success we need the good will and willingness to collaborate across the stakeholder community, the EB, GB and the EC. There is a need for generosity and giving the “benefit of the doubt” to make this all a success, but I really do believe that we can do it.
If one big leap forward could be achieved now in Open Science/Open Data, what in your view should it be?
On a political level, I would like to see our governments and ministries fully understanding that digitisation is here to stay and to recognise that Science, Research and Education is just one of the sectors to be digitised.
But I believe that the main leap forward is in increasing efficiency and effectiveness. The Data Scientist report in 2018 stated: “Here’s what data pros know: high quantities of high-quality data are what build accurate models and inform smart decisions. And the more of it you have, the more confident your model will be.” If we want to further strengthen data quality, we will need more efficiency and more effectiveness. The EOSC together with the joint action of the scientific community and the e-infrastructures can ensure this big leap in the right direction.
You live in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. What means of transport do you prefer: train, bike, car?
We sold our car immediately after our move from Madrid to Amsterdam two years ago. And what a relief it is! I commute to work in a combination of tram and metro or bike and metro, depending on the weather. As I have a little dog, a Spanish Bodeguero, I like best to walk, but Doggo is quite relaxed now in the tram, metro or train and has even learnt to sit in the bike basket - with flapping ears and looking bewildered!
If you were President of the European Commission for one day, what would you do?
I would get hold of the best communicators Europe has to offer and hold as many real and virtual walk-ins across as many cities and online-channels as possible. I would dedicate that day to Europe and its institutions and most importantly show-case why Europe matters and why we need it.
For too many years, we have allowed the narrative on Europe and the EU to be driven by those who are out to destroy it. We have to remember that destroying is easy and that building something takes time and effort. But you can only build when you communicate – we need more communication on the benefits of the EU. I very much believe that we are better together.
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