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12 May 2011

A time at TWAS

Mohamed H.A. Hassan, who has served as TWAS's executive director for more than a quarter century, has retired. In the most recent edition of the TWAS Newsletter, he reminisces about his time at TWAS. Excerpts follow.

A time at TWASAt the start...

As I think about my tenure as TWAS executive director, I find it hard to believe that my first trip to Trieste took place in 1974. I was travelling across Europe. I had just earned a doctorate degree in mathematics from the University Oxford in the UK and I had just begun my career as lecturer in mathematics at the University of Khartoum... I returned to Trieste in 1976 as an associate of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). In 1983, Abdus Salam (the Nobel Laureate and founding director of both ICTP and TWAS) asked me to work with him in helping to launch the Academy. I seized the opportunity. I was young, eager and perhaps a bit naive. I thought I would go to Trieste for a year or two to see what would happen. I had no idea that TWAS would become my life's work.

First years...
I often think about those early years: the drafting of the statutes, the organization of the foundation meeting with the Academy's first 42 members in 1983, and the writing of letters to potential donors. I remember the joy and satisfaction that everyone associated with Academy felt in 1985 when the Italian government announced that it would provide TWAS with an annual grant of USD1.5 million – a generous contribution that ensured the Academy's long-term survival.

2004...
I remember witnessing expressions of pride and enthusiasm in 2004 when the Italian government passed a parliamentary law that transformed the funds that Italy gave to TWAS from "voluntary" to "permanent" contribution... I learned about this good news the same day that China's President Hu Jintao spoke to more than 3,000 people attending the opening ceremony of the TWAS 20th anniversary conference in the Great Hall of the People.

The remaining agenda...
TWAS has identified 80 developing countries that continue to lag far behind the rest of the world in their scientific capacity and output... With a collective population of 1.6 billion people, these countries account for less than 1% of the world's scientific publication output... For all of the progress we have made, we have, in a sense, traded a North-South divide in science and technology in science and technology for a South-South divide. 

TWAS ahead...
First, I think it is important for TWAS to decentralize its activities, largely extending greater responsibility to the Academy's regional offices. Second, TWAS should seek to build upon its successful postgraduate fellowship programmes. Third, TWAS should seek to reach its USD25 million target for its endowment fund. Fourth, TWAS should seek to strengthen its position as one of the key voices for science in the South. And fifth, TWAS should engage in a comprehensive study on how it can best position itself to meet the rapid changes now taking place in science and society not only in the developing world but throughout the entire world.

As for me...
TWAS has been a journey of a lifetime that has bestowed rich personal rewards and a sense of accomplishment for which I will be forever grateful... I am sure that I will continue to observe TWAS in the years ahead. Indeed, don't be surprised if I turn up from time to time to participate in TWAS meetings.

Find the full TWAS Newsletter article below.

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