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TWAS Newsletter
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Murenzi named to key policy post at UNESCO

Murenzi named to key policy post at UNESCO

In five years at TWAS, Executive Director Romain Murenzi has been a prominent voice for science policy in the developing world. He oversaw significant growth in PhD fellowships, a new science diplomacy initiative and ambitious new communication outreach.

Romain Murenzi, the executive director of TWAS, has been appointed to the post of director of UNESCO’s Division of Science Policy and Capacity Building by the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. Prof. Murenzi assumes his new position on 1 July.

Murenzi has over 30 years of experience in capacity building in science, science policy and diplomacy, in both the public sector and in academia. Since 2011, he has served as executive director of The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (TWAS), a programme unit of UNESCO, based in Trieste, Italy.

During his tenure at TWAS, the Academy's core fellowship programmes grew significantly.  TWAS also built a new initiative in science diplomacy, while maintaining a strong presence in global science policy, and its communications initiatives dramatically increased TWAS's global audience.

In recent years, Murenzi chaired the UN Secretary General’s High-level Panel on a Technology Bank for the LDCs, which studied the scope and functions of such a proposed institution, and became a member of the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development. In January 2016, he was appointed by the Secretary-General as a member of the 10-Member Group to support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Division leads UNESCO's work in assisting its member states in the formulation and upgrading of their science policies, the strengthening of the science policy interface, the building of institutional and human capacities in science, innovation and engineering, in addition to mobilizing local and indigenous knowledge with the aim of contributing to the international sustainable development agenda and frameworks, at global, regional and national levels. It also focuses on small island developing states (SIDS) and implements its programmes through, among other means, cooperation with the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and TWAS.  The Division is also responsible for the production of the flagship UNESCO Science Report, the UNESCO Engineering Report and the Global Science Policy Information Network (GO-SPIN).

“I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Prof. Murenzi to the position of director of the Division of Science Policy and Capacity Building” said Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for the Natural Sciences. “He will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the position, taking its work forward in the context of the 2030 Agenda, continuing to backstop TWAS’ vital ongoing role in promoting science in the developing world. Prof. Murenzi has overseen the growth and expansion of TWAS since his appointment by UNESCO's Director-General in 2011 and, while continuing the smooth transition in TWAS, is expected to take his expanded mandate and the programmes of the Division forward in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development.”

Born in Rwanda, Murenzi holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from the University of Burundi (1982), as well as degrees in Physics at the Master’s (1986) and doctorate (1990) levels, obtained at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). In 2013, he obtained a Master of Law degree in Information Technology and Telecommunication from the University of Strathclyde (UK).

In 1992, he moved to the United States to become a principal investigator at the Clark Atlanta University Center for Theoretical Studies of Physical Systems in Georgia (USA). In 1993, he was named an associate professor of physics and in 1999, he was selected chair of the physics department. One year later, he became a full professor.

Murenzi's research has focused on applications of multidimensional continuous wavelet transforms to quantum mechanics, and image and video processing.

He served from 2001 to 2006 as Rwanda's Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Scientific Research, and from March 2006 to July 2009 as Minister in the President's Office in Charge of Science, Technology, and Scientific Research, with responsibilities including Information and Communications Technology.

In 2009, Murenzi left Rwanda and became a senior scholar at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C.; in July 2010 he was named director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Sustainable Development.

Murenzi was elected to TWAS in 2005, and before his appointment as executive director, he served as a vice president on the TWAS Council. He was named TWAS executive director in 2011, succeeding Mohamed H.A. Hassan, who served for more than 25 years.

"I want to thank Romain for the excellent work done with TWAS", said Academy President Bai Chunli, who also serves as president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Since 2011, TWAS PhD fellowships have more than tripled, from 150 per year to over 460 in 2016, thanks largely to new agreements with China, India and South Africa. Today, nearly 1,000 young scientists are pursuing their PhDs under TWAS fellowships, reflecting the high priority TWAS has placed on educating and training top-quality researchers in the developing world.

Under Murenzi's leadership, TWAS emerged as a focal point for science diplomacy, joining in a major partnership with AAAS and high-level projects with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also has been a prominent voice for science policy in the developing world. He led TWAS's presence at a 2014 forum on expanding African higher education for science and engineering, organized by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the World Bank. He appeared frequently in high-level forums to offer developing-world perspectives on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and on other issues related to sustainable development.

The Academy in these years has made a significant new commitment to digital communication and to telling the TWAS story through film. Murenzi was featured in the 2013 documentary "Seeds of Science", which traced the links between TWAS in Italy and four scientists in Kenya. The film was broadcast on Italian television and shown at a range of science and diplomatic events in Italy and beyond.

"Over the past five years at TWAS," Murenzi said, "I have been privileged to work with some remarkably committed people – the TWAS Council and staff, and our many global partners – to build science for the developing world. In my new position at UNESCO, I am confident that many of us will continue to work together toward the goal that we all share: using science and engineering to support sustainable development and better lives for people everywhere."