In a huge international convention centre in Hyderabad, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) met on 19-22 October for its 21st general meeting.  TWAS recognises and rewards the very best scientists in the developing world and this annual meeting provides an opportunity for them to share experiences and challenges, as well as learn more about science in the host country.  This year’s meeting was hosted by the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), with assistance from its science ministry, DST.  The Royal Society is one of a handful of guest academies who attend; we do so to demonstrate our support for excellent science in the developing world and to meet scientists that we would otherwise be unlikely to meet.

Whilst 500 participants from 54 countries were originally billed, in the event “over 250 participants from over 50 countries” were reported to have attended by TWAS’ Executive Director, Professor Mohamed Hassan.  This made it a smaller meeting than recent ones, and one that occasionally became a little lost in the vacuous space of the convention centre.  The Pakistan delegation of 20 were unable to make it at all due to visa problems, as was the case for one or two others, highlighting the continued frustration of academic and research communities around visa policies.

Nevertheless, the meeting started impressively with the TWAS medal award ceremony for the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh.   In a country whose very real ambition is to reach 2.5% GDP spend on R&D by 2020, and launching 2010-2011 as the decade of innovation in India, Dr Singh gave an inspiring and rousing speech, drawing on Churchill’s prophesy that “the empires of the future will be the empires of the mind”.   He called for TWAS to “provide the space for scientific collaboration on critical issues” and to be “the instrument to catalyse south-south partnerships”.   “It is not beyond the collective imagination to create empires of knowledge in the developing world”, he said.

A similar sentiment was voiced by South Africa’s Science Minister, Naledi Pandor, when she charged TWAS and science academies in the developing world to become “more dynamic actors” in science policy, convening conferences where “deliberate attention [is paid] to our progress in S&T in the developing world”, rather than simply being networks to catch up with peers.  Indeed, two of the most interesting sessions of the meeting focused on mitigation and adaptation to climate change and global health.  Both generated vibrant discussion, as did the consultation session we hosted on our population study.

There is no doubt that TWAS represents some of the very best science and scientists in the developing world, and is unique in its geographic coverage and diversity in this respect, rivalled perhaps only by the global interacademy networks (The Interacademy Panel & InterAcademy Council ).  TWAS can provide a voice for developing world science on global challenges and their impact at regional and local level.  This is why the Society is working with TWAS, amongst others, on its geoengineering follow-up work on the governance of solar radiation management.  So, in addition to its obvious and important social networking function, there appears to be an appetite in TWAS for “responsible advocacy” (Carlos Nobre) – an appetite that the Society would be very happy to help feed.

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