the world academy of sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries

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19 November 2015

Bai Chunli: We must learn from each other

The Academy is expanding its global presence, says TWAS President Bai Chunli in his address at the 26th TWAS General Meeting in Vienna, Austria. And both the North and emerging nations in the South have experience that can be of great value to least-developed countries.

The following is the complete text for TWAS President Bai Chunli's address at the start of the 26th TWAS General Meeting in Vienna Austria:

Esteemed colleagues, dear friends, ladies and gentlemen – 

Good morning, and welcome to Vienna and the 26th TWAS General Meeting. I am gratified to see all of you here today, and I am always so impressed and grateful for your dedication to the Academy. This year, we have a historic gathering: 2015 is the 30th anniversary of the first TWAS meeting, which convened in July 1985 in Trieste, Italy. And this is the first time we have been hosted by a government in the developed world. 

On behalf of everyone at TWAS, I offer sincere thanks to Anton Zeilinger, the president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and a very good TWAS Fellow.

At our first meeting 30 years ago, 250 delegates representing 50 science academies and councils from the developing world came to Trieste in support of an idea: that developing nations would be more prosperous, more independent and more stable if they built their research capacity. Academy Founder Abdus Salam made this point clear in his opening address. He said: "Our major task is – first and foremost – the health of science itself in the South."

See more news from the 26th TWAS General Meeting in Vienna, Austria

Heads of state from every region sent messages of support. UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar attended. So did Hans Blix, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is based here in Vienna. The TWAS meeting signaled that new ambitions and new expectations would begin to shape science in the developing world. 

Across 30 years, TWAS has made a profound contribution, thanks to the commitment and energy of its leaders, and Fellows, its staff...and its many partners. 

In the room with us this morning are men and women who have guided our Academy to important accomplishments. Past Presidents  CNR Rao of India and Jacob Palis of Brazil, and our longtime Executive Director, Mohamed Hassan – we owe them our thanks.

Today, we have a solemn responsibility to maintain their vision and their standards. I hope it may be said that in the past three years, we have made good contributions and continued to achieve progress.

It has been a high priority to extend the Academy's global presence. Over the past three years, we have exerted ourselves to find new nominees and new Fellows from nations where we have little or no representation. We have increased our nominees from 164 in 2013, to 178 in 2014, and now to 185. Last year, we elected our first Fellows from the Central African Republic, Hungary and Austria. Fellows also were elected from countries with few members: Ecuador...Oman...Trinidad & Tobago...Uruguay... Uzbekistan... and Zimbabwe. 

We also have been very proud to see Ecuador establish an academy of science, thanks in part to the efforts of two TWAS Fellows. We also worked closely with Nepal after its terrible earthquake this year, offering resources from the CAS-TWAS Centres of Excellence to support the recovery.

Another priority is the advancement of women. In 2013, 22 women were nominated to be TWAS Fellows. That year, for the first time, women achieved 10 percent of TWAS membership. In 2014, we nominated 33 women, and 10 were elected. This year, 32 women were nominated.  We are making progress in this area. But if TWAS is going to be a global leader, we must increase the ratio of women in our membership. We must also bring more women onto our Council and committees. 

Programmes in education and training are a priority in TWAS's mission, and here were are seeing impressive growth. In 2012, we had 163 PhD fellowships; today, that has nearly tripled – to 441 fellowships. We also have 146 postdoctoral fellowships and 21 visiting scholars, with 18 programme partners in 9 countries.

The CAS-TWAS President's PhD Fellowship programme now offers 200 fellowships per year to young scientists from the developing world. The Chinese Academy of Sciences is also working with TWAS to organize five centres of excellence hosted by CAS. Since they were formed in mid-2013, the centres have welcomed over 750 students and scientists from  more than 40 developing countries for conferences, workshops, and PhD studies.

A new agreement with South Africa will provide 90 new fellowships per year. And an agreement with India is expected to provide 100 fellowships over five years, plus training in science diplomacy.

Our prize programmes continue to have a strong global reputation. We are very grateful to Lenovo, the world's leading personal computer company, for supporting the TWAS-Lenovo Science Prize. This prize, and all of the others, represent our continuing commitment to excellence in research. 

Over the past three years, TWAS has been a key voice in discussion of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Global science leaders are looking to TWAS – to Executive Director Romain Murenzi and Treasurer Mohamed Hassan, and Council members and other Fellows – for perspective on a range of issues. 

TWAS initiatives in communication are extending the global reach of our ideas and our programmes. Our online and print publications have a new, dynamic focus. TWAS and CAS this year released an excellent film about young scientists at the CAS-TWAS Centres of Excellence. 

There is another important goal, and I think it is often overlooked: We need to continually build networks for South-North cooperation.  

This is not a new idea. The theme for the first TWAS meeting was "South-South and South-North Cooperation in Sciences". And over the years, our partnerships with nations such as Italy, Sweden, Germany, the UK and the United States have been extremely important for our effort to build research capacity in the South. 

But South-North cooperation remains crucial. Why do I say this?

We are living in a new era. Thirty years ago, there was a stark division between 'haves' and 'have nots' – nations that had scientific strength, and those that did not. 

Today, emerging nations are making a much larger contribution to research output, but they still have not caught up with the developed nations. A significant group of nations still lags far behind, struggling to develop their scientific capacity. At the same time, we face regional and global challenges that could hardly be imagined when TWAS was founded – climate change and biodiversity loss, threats to our oceans, and the need for sustainable food and energy. 

To address these problems, South-South collaboration is essential. But so is South-North collaboration. All of us can learn from the North – from their universities and research centres, from the way they organize and set policy to achieve success. At the same time, though, the emerging nations have experience that can be of great value to the least developed countries. And even the poorest of nations have knowledge to share with scientific colleagues.

Indeed, all of us can learn from each other.

Of course TWAS is focused on science in the developing world. That will always be our mission. But in 2013, we changed our name to The World Academy of Sciences. We can properly see our role as bringing South and North together, and helping the world to develop its full potential in science and engineering.

This is why our meeting in Vienna is so important. It is a signal to the world: South and North have shared interests, and we are working together. 

For this reason, we are so grateful to the Austrian Academy of Sciences – for their generosity, and their partnership. We are so grateful to all of our partners, in the North and in the South. I am very hopeful that these relationships will grow and deepen over time.

This way our positive impact will multiply, for the benefit of all people. 

Taking this opportunity, I would also like to extend sincere thanks from the management team for the enormous support we have received in the past three years. Thank you, dear fellow members. Looking into the future, I believe we are all committed to making continuous efforts to deliver TWAS's vision for a better world.

Thank you. 

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