Bai Chunli: Partnerships – the key to our future
[TWAS President Bai Chunli delivered this opening address to the 14th TWAS General Conference and 28th General Meeting on 27 November 2018 in Trieste, Italy.]
Good afternoon, and welcome to the opening ceremony of the 14th General Conference and the 28th General Meeting of The World Academy of Sciences!
I am sincerely pleased to see all of you here today, and I am honoured that you would join us in Trieste, especially those who have travelled from far away. This is such an important region for global science – wherever scientists from the developing world gather, you will find that this beautiful city is known as an inspiration.
Six years ago, the TWAS General Meeting was held in another beautiful seaside city – Tianjin, China. It was at that meeting that I was elected to my first term as president of the Academy. And this moment is therefore bittersweet: It is my last General Meeting as the President of TWAS.
The time has gone by so quickly, but when I remember these six years, and our past meetings, I see that we have accomplished a great deal together.
We have extended our membership to 13 new countries, including two Least Developed Countries – the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. And with the new TWAS Fellows elected today, TWAS now for the first time have members representing over 100 countries – actually, it's 104 countries, to be exact.
We have established a number of new prizes – for example, our most important honour, the TWAS-Lenovo Science Prize. And we have helped to encourage two new science academies, in Ecuador and Rwanda.
For the first time, we have over 1,000 young scientists studying for their PhDs at TWAS partner institutions in the developing world.
And our communication initiatives have significantly extended our audience and our credibility across the globe.
"Whatever we have achieved in our history, and whatever we will achieve in the future – it is the result of cooperation, working together with many partners toward a shared vision of scientific excellence in the developing world."
We have reason to be proud of these and many other accomplishments. They represent the hard work of the Academy – its Secretariat, its Council, current and past officers, the Regional Partners. And most importantly, our Fellows: They nominate new Fellows and Young Affiliates. They nominate award candidates. They serve on review committees that help us to choose PhD scholars and research grant awardees. They are our global ambassadors of science.
When we consider all of these activities together, we see that TWAS is playing an important role and having a significant impact in the world.
But with this expertise, and with our global reach, there is a responsibility. The Academy must raise its ambition to do more.
The challenges that await us
Consider the challenges and all of the opportunities that await us. Many are described in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Grow more food, and grow it sustainably. Develop sustainable sources of water and energy. Find vaccines for HIV, malaria and other diseases. Build and launch satellites to improve communication and Earth-imaging systems. Develop green technologies. Design buildings that can withstand natural disasters. Bring more women into the scientific community. Build healthy cities, address rural poverty and provide effective education.
The unique virtue of TWAS is that it gathers thousands of elite researchers into one community. Our Fellows and Young Affiliates, our PhD fellows and research grant awardees – they are in their labs or in the field every day working to solve these challenges. Year in and year out, they are central to the success of our Academy.
As I reflect on these six years, I am continually impressed and inspired by another accomplishment.
Abdus Salam, our founder, brought the Academy to life in 1983 – 35 years ago. Salam was a visionary, but we should not forget that he worked with a network. His fellow physicist, the Italian Paolo Budinich, was a vital partner. And there were 41 other founding TWAS Fellows, from 19 countries.
TWAS has never been an organization that stands alone. It is a network. It is a hub. It is a truly global science academy. Whatever we have achieved in our history, and whatever we will achieve in the future – it is the result of cooperation, working together with many partners toward a shared vision of scientific excellence in the developing world.
The TWAS Annual Report tells us that the Academy had 75 partner organisations in 2017, from every region of the world. Each of them is strong and successful, and we are very fortunate to be working with them.
Some of these partners have been with us for many years, constantly providing a strong foundation for the Academy.
From the start, the Italian government and the Italian people have been a life-sustaining partner. Minister Nicoletti – TWAS is deeply grateful to the generous spirit of the nation. And I know that tens of thousands of scientists and engineers and scholars throughout the developing world join us in our thanks.
The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics – ICTP – has generously supported TWAS, in ways large and small.
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency has provided us with important support for over 25 years – for our research grants programme, for communication and more recently for science diplomacy.
UNESCO has provided administrative support, sustained across many years, that has been crucial to our daily work.
There are so many others: In Kuwait, in Egypt and South Africa, India and Pakistan, in Malaysia, in Brazil and Mexico, in Germany, Italy, Canada and the US. More recently, the Islamic Development Bank and the Elsevier Foundation. To you – and to all of our other partners – TWAS offers sincere thanks. You are truly the co-authors of our work.
"An ever-deeper commitment"
As most of you know, I also serve as the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. CAS, too, has had a long and productive relationship with TWAS. We have benefitted from your expertise, and we have tried to provide our share of support.
I expect that to continue in the future. It is important that emerging countries, which have built strength in science, provide support to countries that want to follow in our path.
In the fields of science, each generation has a responsibility to do as much as possible to advance knowledge and build scientific strength. I am sure that this was the vision of Abdus Salam, and I have been reminded of the lesson repeatedly in my years as a member and an officer of TWAS.
In our time, as in earlier times, the mission is urgent.
By some estimates, Africa will need a million new scientists and engineers in the years ahead. There are similar needs in other regions – South and Southeast Asia, Central America and the Caribbean in particular. A new generation of researchers is needed to address the challenges and to help these countries to realise their potential.
With our expertise and our track record, it is natural that TWAS should be leaders in this mission. The question is: How are we going to do it? What will it take?
These are the questions that require an ever-deeper commitment from our entire community: from science academies and centres, from our partners, and of course from TWAS, and from all of our members.
It is important that we advance science. But we must always remember that when we work together, with creativity and commitment, we can feed people, and bring them light, and cure diseases. As scientists working together, we can help to provide a life of dignity for people everywhere.
It has been a great honour to serve you as the President of TWAS in these years. I thank your again for your hard work, your support, and your friendship. In all of your work in the months and years ahead, I wish you great success.