Ten years may seem like a mere drop in the ocean of time, especially as the world races towards 2030 with little hope of fulfilling many of the ambitious objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, looking back over our shoulder, we can see that the torrent of events which defined the tempestuous decade were both unforeseen and transformational.1
The framework of science diplomacy was tested by a global pandemic and found to be sorely lacking. So many multilateral mechanisms had already been assailed by those who sought to make national those concerns that must inevitably be global. Our core structures were further weakened by systemic shortfalls and tarnished by criticism. Most worryingly, we witnessed an attack on truth that threatened the ways in which we work together and the efficacy of communication across different parts of society. It was not the decade we might have hoped for.
However, I believe that we have emerged stronger than before, despite these challenges. In my region, the grip of ideologies has been weakened in those communities that have suffered the most. They have often only received respite when knowledge and innovation have been allowed to shine. Whether it is the social sciences interpreting and communicating the plight of migrants, or the communication and development of vaccines for COVID-19, science has given people hope and delivered real benefits.
At the outset of the pandemic, as President of the World Association of Industrial and Technological Research Organizations (WAITRO), I witnessed an extraordinary ignition of innovation and collaboration across a vast global network as researchers went virtual to share ideas and communicate challenges to the attainment of the SDGs. This process coincided with a drive by actors such as UNESCO to make open science real and meaningful, both in software and hardware. Even as countries suffered political and sectarian splits that shocked the world, new mechanisms emerged to make science work better on a local scale. In our world, technology facilitates while confidence empowers.
Although we are so very far from adequately addressing interlinked stresses on energy, food, and water that I discussed a decade ago, I believe that science has developed an unexpectedly loud and respected voice in regions that need it most. People in the Middle East are more eager and engaged than ever. New partnerships have come to mean so much, built across generations and over great distances.
Each new generation brings renewed energy and essential hope. In my region, both of these are palpable and pervasive. People understand the challenges and are driven to be innovative in finding solutions. Science has the stage, and science diplomacy’s leaders must ensure the audience remains engaged.
- Sumaya bint El Hassan, “New Partnerships to Sustain the Middle East and the World,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 3 (September 2012), http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/perspective/2012/new-partnerships-sustai...