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1 December 2022

TWAS and Italy: a collaboration built on a shared vision

Through a partnership established in the early days of TWAS, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has become a steadfast supporter of the Academy's activities

There are always reasons why collaborations last long: they are successful, promote win-win situations, and allow concrete achievements. This is the case with the bond connecting The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (TWAS) and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI), which, for decades, have shared the same vision as well as an ever-growing number of accomplishments.

Since the founding of TWAS by a distinguished group of scientists from the global South and North under the leadership of Pakistani physicist and Nobel laureate Abdus Salam, MAECI has offered unceasing support to the Academy by contributing with core funding to its activities.

Both MAECI and TWAS believe that economic growth is important to reduce poverty and discrimination. But they also believe that focusing on growth acceleration alone is not enough, because economic growth must be inclusive and involve social and environmental dimensions. This is why both the Ministry and the Academy support the vision and guiding principles of the 2030 Agenda, committed to fostering peaceful and inclusive societies.

Over the years, MAECI and TWAS celebrated their long, productive relationship by collaborating at events such as Africa-Italy Day in 2014. MAECI's role was relevant in establishing the TWAS-SISSA-Lincei Research Cooperation Visits Programme, which aims at curbing brain drain from the developing world by offering fellowships to scientists younger than 40, who can acquire new skills at Italian centres of excellence and then return to their countries with more knowledge and skills.

At the TWAS 16th General Conference, Edmondo Cirielli, Deputy-Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, was among the guests who offered welcome addresses during the opening ceremony on 21 November.

The event (21–24 November) was hosted by Zhejiang University (ZJU), in Hangzhou, China, and organized in a virtual format, in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST).

TWAS staff writer Cristina Serra asked the Deputy-Minister to highlight some of the most relevant features that have consolidated the partnership between Italy and TWAS in the last decades.

One of the building blocks of the vision of TWAS is the importance of higher education. However, this per se is not enough. What are other elements that may promote all-around growth, especially for developing countries?

Sharing and communicating are the bedrock of progress, and lately, this is particularly emphasized by the growing focus on Open Science, and the potential it offers to address the global challenges we are experiencing worldwide. We all believe that science, technology and innovation will help developing countries grow sustainably, and also respond to major economic, societal, health, and environmental issues like poverty, inequality, pandemics, and lack of natural resources. In this respect, the role that TWAS can play in this context is relevant.

The strategic vision of the Italian Cooperation includes promoting the guiding principles of the 2030 Agenda. How do you believe TWAS helps developing countries build the knowledge and skills to address development challenges?

With its grants, TWAS implements its vision of basic sciences as the foundation for more complex research that in turn enables informed decision-making and practical commitments to human security, social protection, and extended and healthier life expectancy. Tackling the chronic menaces to human well-being, as well as the emergencies and disruptive events, with an evidence-based scientific approach and forward-looking proposed solutions, paves the way to the “sustainable development” we owe to future generations.

Should training programmes in science and technology be promoted with a stronger emphasis in developing countries, where people too often lack basic means for everyday living?

The need for science and technology programmes is even stronger in that part of the world, where societies still struggle in the effort to strengthen skills and find resources to improve their lives in the global South that is central to this Conference. The endeavours of TWAS in this context are substantial and effective, stemming from the mission to make a difference in science and technology in those countries that lag behind. By proposing high-level research projects, TWAS encourages professional training and in-depth studies, which are deeply needed to raise the standards of living for many populations.

TWAS’s headquarters are in Trieste and the Academy is a member of the group of local science institutes known all around the globe as the "Trieste System”. How do you think this contributes to promoting the internationalisation of Italian research and scientific diplomacy?

There is no doubt that TWAS shapes its role to fit the international scientific research landscape. The Academy fosters inclusiveness, promotes education, invests in knowledge and training, and encourages cooperation, to the benefit of developing countries and the scientists’ communities at large. This is why my country is honoured to have been hosting the TWAS headquarters since the Academy's founding in 1983, and to be one of the main donors to such a successful scientific research organization.

Cristina Serra

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