The 27th General Meeting of The World Academy of Sciences – TWAS – was the culmination of months of planning and careful consideration on both sides. We have been very busy in the past five-and-a-half days, and we have accomplished a great deal. In the process, we have created a new community of scientific cooperation that will draw Rwanda and The World Academy of Sciences closer together, to the mutual benefit of both.
His Excellency President Kagame expressed the spirit of our meeting eloquently. During his address to our opening ceremony, he talked about the critical importance of science for development. He said, quote: "The focus has always been about opening up to the wider world and finding a pathway to understand our situation, identify the best tools available to us, and then use that knowledge to reach our full potential."
In the course of our meeting, we made significant accomplishments in two areas:
1. The 27th TWAS General Meeting has established a vital new connection between Rwanda and the global science community.
The World Academy of Sciences has over 1,200 members representing more than 95 countries. Now, more than ever before, Rwandan scientists and policymakers will be linked in to our network.
Indeed, this has been an auspicious week for science in Rwanda.
The Rwanda Academy of Science was formally launched just before the TWAS meeting. We have met with the Academy's leadership and we have pledged to introduce the Academy to regional and global networks of science academies. These networks are critically important for sharing and building knowledge about best research practices, science policy and other areas.
For the first time, our Academy selected a Rwandan scientist, Jean Bosco Gahutu of the University of Rwanda, to deliver a TWAS Medal Lecture. He spoke on his research into an important area of public health: the biofortification of beans to prevent iron deficiency, especially among children and pregnant women.
The symposium "Science and Technology in Rwanda" featured nine researchers and policymakers, with detailed presentations on advanced work including Internet and Communication Technology; anti-malaria efforts focused on pregnant women; and innovative efforts to manage the pollution that comes from abandoned mining sites.
This symposium gave leading global scientists an impressive view of the research work being done here in Rwanda.
Further, our meeting in Kigali for the first time gave TWAS a chance to meet the Rwandan science community in person, and to explain the high-level opportunities available through TWAS – including PhD scholarships, postdoctoral research fellowships and research grants.
We believe that this meeting and the dialogues that grow out of the meeting will enable TWAS and the Rwandan scientific community to establish a constructive, long-term cooperative relationship.
2. The TWAS General Meeting also featured decisions focused on improving and expanding our Academy's vital connections to the developing world.
At this meeting, we elected 40 new members, bringing total TWAS membership over 1,200 for the first time in its 33-year history. Of the new Fellows, 12 are women – a ratio of 30%. That is historic: Never before has such a high proportion of women been elected in a single year. The new Fellows come from 18 countries, including several that have had few or no TWAS Fellows.
In addition, we launched our TWAS Young Affiliates Network. This will bring together the early career scientists who come from the world's developing regions to serve five-year terms with our Academy. This year, we selected 25 new Young Affiliates from 20 countries. We anticipate that the network will give our Young Affiliates a stronger voice within TWAS, and in the global science community.
TWAS took further steps at the Kigali meeting to make the Academy fully representative of the diversity and skill in the global science community. Through adjustments in our election procedure, we hope to bring in Fellows from countries that have been under-represented in TWAS, including women and scientists from African nations and Least Developed Countries.
Our new five-year strategic plan, approved by the TWAS Council, will reinforce these efforts.
This has been a rich and rewarding meeting. It has inspired admiration for the scientific work that is underway in Rwanda and throughout the developing world. Further, it has renewed the hope that, through our commitment and constant hard work, science will make essential contributions to a healthier planet and stronger, more prosperous communities in Africa, and across the world.