TWAS has been called the voice of science for the South. The Academy's General Meetings of members and General Conferences provide an ideal forum for TWAS to articulate its purpose and goals by showcasing the dramatic scientific progress being made in the South and exploring strategies for meeting the world's greatest challenges.
The first General Conference held outside TWAS headquarters city of Trieste, Italy, took place in Beijing in 1987, marking first time that China opened its doors to the rest of the world. Participants were able to see first-hand China's ongoing efforts to build scientific strength and apply that strength to economic development. In 2008, Nature magazine cited this event "as one of the meetings that changed the world"—a seminal event in twentieth-century science, with an impact comparable to the meetings that led to the creation of the high-energy physics facility at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the 'green revolution' and the human genome project.
The 1987 conference in China set the framework for all the meetings that have followed. Venues have included Argentina (2013), Austria (2015), Brazil (1997 and 2006), China again (2003 and 2012), Egypt (2005), India (2002 and 2010), the Islamic Republic of Iran (2000), Kuwait (1992), Mexico (2008), Nigeria (1995), Oman (2014), Senegal (1999), South Africa (2009) and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (1990). Periodically, the meeting returns to its roots in Trieste, an internationally renowned scientific hub in north-eastern Italy. The 2018 meeting was in fact held in Trieste.
By statute, TWAS General Meeting is held every two years to convene TWAS Fellows and Young Affiliates in a closed door session to discuss Academy matters. Following this assembly, the event unfolds with an opening, a presentation of awards, scientific symposia and award lectures, namely TWAS General Conference.
Over the years, the distinction between the two gatherings faded to the point that the two terms, "TWAS General Meeting" and "TWAS General Conference", were often used interchangeably.
In April 2021, TWAS Council simplified and formalized the distinction approving that the biennial TWAS general gathering be referred to only as the "TWAS General Conference", with the "TWAS General Meeting" being one part of the whole. Therefore, the 2021 event—organized jointly with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and taking place in November—will be referred to as "TWAS Fifteenth General Conference", which will include, on its first day, "TWAS Twenty-ninth General Meeting".
Each assembly is designed to survey research successes and powerful ideas that shape science in the South. A leading public official, often the president or prime minister from the host country, delivers the opening address. Ministerial sessions, devoted to critical scientific issues, are usually held on the first day. Scientific sessions, focusing on topics ranging from agriculture to biotechnology to materials science, are held throughout. One session traditionally focuses on the state of science in the host country. In other sessions, young scientists are given the opportunity to discuss their research, and a series of prizes and medals acknowledge the excellent work being done by scientists in developing countries.