#ICANN59 in Johannesburg: My Story

Mahdi Taghizadeh
9 min readJul 18, 2017
Photo: ICANN Flickr

The fourth step of my ICANN journey was taken in Johannesburg, South Africa! I had attended three ICANN meetings prior to this one in which I was fellow in two of them. You can read my stories for ICANN54 and ICANN55 if you like (Shame on me! I’ve not written a story for ICANN56 in Helsinki!)

I received the news of my selection for this meeting from a friend when I was in the beautiful Qeshm Island in southern Iran for Nowruz holidays. What better news than this when you’re enjoying your new year’s vacation?!

This ICANN Meeting, held between June 26th and 30th, was a Policy Forum; a four-day long meeting focused on policy related issues.

In my Dublin Story, I had predicted that I need to attend three ICANN meetings to find my way. If we exclude Helsinki meeting (in which I wasn’t a fellow and had participated along with the GAC delegation of Iran to help them a little, so I couldn’t focus on my own activities) I feel that my prediction was true and having passed this meeting in Joburg, now I know where to focus and work within the ICANN.

This time, pre-event preprations went smoothly as always except the weird and complicated process of South Africa Visa application! Honestly, it was the most difficult visa I’d obtainted in years!

Eearly in the morning of Saturday 24th, June 2016 I flew from Tehran’s IKA to Doha to have a long 9-hours flight to Joburg! Good news was that Soraya, another fellow from Morrocco, was on the same flight and I wasn’t alone during this flight!

We arrived in Joburg around 3:30 PM and headed to the Sandton Garden Court Hotel by the train called Gautrain. Sandton is a beatiful area in Joburg uptown; our hotel was very close to the Sandton Convention Center (the venue in which ICANN59 was going to be held) and some other hotels and shopping malls.

We checked in quickly and after a quick rest, went to a restaurant neaby along with some fellow friends to have dinner and explore nearby places a little. Hotel was in front of Nelson Mandela Square; where a big statue of him is installed in commemoration of this great defender of liberty.

We had a planned meeting for fellows tomorrow morning; so returned to the hotel to rest and get ready for 4+1 days of tight scheduled meetings ahead.

On 25th, one day before official opening of ICANN59, we (fellows) gathered in Michelangelo Hotel to have the first official fellows meeting.

Michelangelo Hotel in Joburg

We used to have Janice as our leader in fellows session but despite Janice was with us during the rest of the day in fellows session, we had a new leader who has started to coordinate the ICANN Fellowship Program since couple of months ago. Siranush Vardanyan, a fellow herself since very old days, was our new leader and honestly she is as good as Janice in running the program and I really like to appreciate her for every effort she has done for everybody before, during and even after the meeting.

With Siranush Vardanyan

Like every fellows session we had some other ICANN staff as well helping Siranush. This time we had Dennis Chang and Deborah.

With Dennis Chang

We started the session with Siranush’s welcome speech and after that, all fellows introduced themesevles in a few words to get more familiar with the whole family.

We had many guests in our first session who talked about everything; I’d like to keep track of these talks here for my own record:

  • Dennis Chang talked about ICANN’s mission.
  • Siranush talked about the “Community” of ICANN in details and explained her journy as a fellow until she became an ICANN staff.
  • Sarah Kiden and Esteban Lescano (my coach in this meeting) talked about their ICANN jounry and experience as fellows.
  • Marten Botterman from ICANN Board was the next speaker and gave some detailed information about the board.
  • ICANN CEO, Göran Marby, was our special next guest who talked about his vision.
CEO & President of ICANN, Göran Marby
  • David Conrad, the CTO of ICANN, talked about some technical aspects of what ICANN does. Technical stuff, my favorite area at ICANN!
  • Next speaker was, Amr Elsar, an ICANN Fellow who also has recently joined ICANN as an staff. He talked a little bit about the GNSO Policy Development Process.
  • Nigel Hickson, the Vice President of IGO talked about the components of Internet ecosystem.

Unofrtunately I missed some talkes in between as I had to go the Convention Center to get my badge.

I have kept all my ICANN badges from previous meetings as a sign of good memories I’ve had with my friends in those meetings and added this one to my collection as well!

This amazing pre-event day came to an end with a nice karaoke party celeberating the 10th anniversary of ICANN Fellowship Program.

Sunday, 26th of June, was the first official day of ICANN59; Here’s my diary from this day:

  • GAC Opening Plenary was the first session I attended. Despite I’m not affiliated with the GAC; I always try to follow up their general agenda somehow to get up to speed with the policy developments happening there. As always, Kavouss Arasteh from Iran was there actively particiaping in discussions.
  • ICANNWiki Edit-a-thon was the next session I attended. Couple of months ago, I suggested Dustin Phillips to start working on the Persian version of ICANNWiki with the help of my friends and a few weeks prior to the ICANN59 we could give that a birth. Yes! Ladies and gentlemen, we now officially have a Persian version of ICANNWiki at http://fa.icannwiki.org and although our progress has been a little slow, we’re optimistic that our volunteers will translate and add more articles and we will have a version with more contents by ICANN60 meeting. At the Edit-a-thon I could talk to Dustin and Jackie (both managing the ICANNWiki) about our future plans for this Persian ICANNWiki.
  • Thanks God, most of our fellows session were planned to happen in the middle of the day, not early in the morning! In this session we had Janice Douma Lange and Göran Marby again; I’d like to quote this from him in the session:

We are not the Internet, but we are the central part of it.

  • Tech Day (Part 1) was another session I attended this day. Technical talks about DNSSEC, DNSSEC migration process and a case study from .bw guys on DNSSEC deploment were very interesting.
  • I’m an inactive member of RDS PDP WG so I’d like to attend one of this working groups meetings at least to get up to speed with the progress of it. RDS is still in policy stage for now (data protection issues in detail) and not yet operational.

First day of the meeting came to an end with a Gala party as amazing as every Gala party in ICANN meetings! Cheers to all!

Second day, 27th June, 2017:

  • GAC Undeserved Regions WG Session. I attended but honestly didn’t liked the discussion!
  • GAC and ALAC joint meeting. This meeting was interesting to me as I had planed to join APRALO as individual member and I joined as I will explain later.
  • Fellowship session. VP of Policy Development at ICANN was our special guest and explained the PD Process at ICANN.
  • I had registered to help guys at the ICANN Booth for several slots in the meeting and on this day I joined them, helped people, answered their question and talked to attendees at the booth for a few minutes. Being at ICANN Booth is always good and let you meet new people but I have one critisism about this; many fellows stay the booth for long hours during the day while the don’t need and shouldn’t be there! Those guys who have registered to be at the booth to do something should be there; when we have a planned gathering at the booth we can be there; we can spend some time at the booth in between our sessions but staying there as a hubby and making this place crowded without any reason; no; I don’t think that’s the goal behind the ICANN Booth. I reflected my idea about this in the survey we’ve been asked to take.
We asked participants at ICANN59 to pin themeselves on this map. You can see the diversity!
  • GEMS Party at the Hard Rock Café in Nelson Mandela Square was a nice musical end to this day.
Guys from ICANN who are music artists as well 😉

Third Day, 28th June, 2017:

  • At-Large Technology Taskforce (TTF) Joint Meeting with ALAC. I met a friend at the ICANN Booth in this meeting and he was a technical guy like myself. I asked him about the technical groups which may be more close to my domain of expertise (software development) and all of a sudden he was the chair of At-Large Technology Taskforce; Dev Anand invited me to attend this session and topics which were disccussed in this session were as much interesting and close to what I do that I immediately requested to join this working group after the session! Now I’m a member of this WG.
  • GAC and GNSO Meeting. Boring? Boring! I don’t know!
  • Fellows Session.

Fourth Day, 29th June, 2017:

  • GAC Meeting on the new GAC Website. I’d like to attend this session because my focus is on building web and mobile-based products. The talk was interesting as I’d like to join the GAC TTF WG as well but when I emailed them the day after, they told me that this working groups is not that much active and most of the work is being done by ICANN Staff 👎
  • Fellows wrap-up session. Some of the board members of ICANN were our guests, including a member which was a fellow once. Always inspiring.

The meeting came to an end here; but the jounry continues. The family of ICANN; my friends…

Some of my friends were lucky to stay in South Africa for more days and explore Joburg and Cape Town but as I had to leave on Friday evening, I decided to take one of those Hop On Hop Off buses to explore Joburg and visit some places with my friend Monica.

HoHo Red Bus! We explored Joburg for a new hours!
Johannesbug Zoo. Lovely place!
This nice guy accompanied us at the Joburg Zoo when he understood we’re not local and helped us a lot to see those parts of the zoo we liked more in the shortest possible timeframe!

Johannesburg and South Africa were lovely. I left there with good memories and I really like to come back with my wife and daughter one day to see more of the nature and beauty of the country.

ICANN59 was that point for me which I could select where to engage more. Now I know. I’m focused on TTF, RSSAC, MEAC-SWG and ICANNWiki. I’m also now an individual member of APRALO. I will keep an eye on everything else for sure but if I can attend more meetings in the future I know where to put my concentration. Next station for ICANN Meetings in ICANN60 in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I hope and wish to have the opportunity to attend that meeting as well as it’s a 7-day annual general meeting with more time and opportunities to network with people and discuss on the topics I’m interested in.

Once a fellow, always a fellow ✌️