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Space Café WebTalk Recap: Soft power and satellites: 33 minutes with Aarti Holla-Maini

by Luisa Low*

Aarti Holla-Maini; Photo courtesy of her

In this week’s Space Café Webtalk “33 minutes with…”, SpaceWatch.Global publisher, Torsten Kriening, had the chance to speak with Aarti Holla-Maini, who, since 2004, has been the Secretary-General of the EMEA Satellite Operators Association (ESOA). ESOA is a CEO-driven satellite association, with 22 satellite operators from across multiple orbits as members.

Aarti is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on space technology, the Global 5G Coalition Network, and the Essential Digital Infrastructure & Services Network.

Starting her career at Airbus, Aarti has over 22 years’ experience in the aerospace industry. This week, she shared her insights into how an improved understanding of satellite communications by society and government can create a better, more inclusive, and secure global society.

Satellites for a more inclusive, secure society

Rather than being solely focused on promoting business enterprise, the association actively works to promote the UN’s Sustainable Development goals and supports social advocacy, such as facilitating broadcasting for humanitarian programmes.

The association’s primary role, however, is to advocate for the satellite sector and all the various ways satellites support social cohesion.

Aarti works to facilitate relations between companies and governments to inform better decision-making around satellite infrastructure and policy, doing so through a “soft-power” approach that she believes is the result of ESOA being CEO-driven, which makes their work results-based, strategic, and output-driven.

Their method is also creative. In addition to attending conferences, contributing to reports, and advising roadmaps, they use non-typical strategies to pique the interest of and influence policymakers.

For example, at the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt, which was attended by government representatives and regulators from around the world, ESOA hosted an interactive quiz to inform policymakers of how the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees uses satellites for broadcasting messages.

“This is the kind of creativity we as an association can bring. It’s really important to pass on messages in a memorable way.”

Blink and miss it: keeping up with the pace of change

Although ESOA has operated in the satellite arena for almost 20 years, there’s no chance of things getting stagnant or falling asleep at the wheel, says Aarti.

Aerospace and satellite technology moves at such a rapid pace you can blink and easily miss what’s happening. Because of this, ESOA and its partner organisations have been forced to constantly reinvent and change tact to keep pace with innovation.

“Five years ago, nobody was talking about 5G, but today, we’re even talking about 6G.”

However, rapid change hasn’t only been influenced by the creation of new technologies. Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters have furthered the digital divide between the “haves” and “have-nots”, a gap her organisation aims to narrow.

“We adapt as the world around us adapts. And for me, in practical terms, that means that the job reinvents itself every year, and the learning curve really stays really, really steep.”

Change is also coming by way of the promotion and support of women in STEM, although according to Aarti, diversity in aerospace still has some way to go.

“I don’t think we are yet a sector that truly feels any pressure to put women in leadership roles. I do think that that needs to change.”

To listen to Aarti Holla-Maini’s insights into the space industry, you can watch the full programme here:

Space Cafe is broadcast live each Tuesday at 4 pm CET. To subscribe and get the latest on the space industry from world-leading experts visit – click here.

*Luisa Low is a freelance journalist and media adviser from Sydney, Australia. She currently manages Media and Public Relations for the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering.

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