Bai Chunli, an accomplished Chinese materials scientist, was elected to serve as the president of TWAS six years ago, during the TWAS General Meeting in Tianjin, China. During his two terms in office, TWAS has achieved sustained, substantial growth.
Bai also serves as president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and while CAS and TWAS have long had an important partnership, Bai's leadership has helped to achieve a deeper, more productive relationship. With support from CAS, TWAS has increased the number of PhD Fellowship available every year. Six CAS-TWAS Centres of Excellence have been opened in China. Lenovo, the China-based global leader in personal computing and hardware, has provided support for the TWAS-Lenovo Science Prize, one of the most prestigious honours for researchers from the developing world. And Lenovo is providing key support to the TWAS Young Affiliates Network (TYAN).
In an email interview with Edward Lempinen, the TWAS Public Information Officer, Bai reviewed some of the Academy's recent successes. A key factor, he said, is that developing countries are increasingly recognising the power of science and technology to drive sustainable growth.
"More than ever before in the history of human civilization," he said, "science development and scientific capacity-building have been accepted as the key driving force for national development and sustainability. TWAS's development is embedded in this global trend."
He expressed confidence that TWAS would continue its historic influence, and he urged the Academy and its community to look continually for new opportunities to provide support and have an impact.
After nearly six years as TWAS President – two full terms – what accomplishments are you most proud of?
It has been my great honor to serve TWAS in these six years. TWAS has seen significant growth and increased impact, and the fact that I have been a part of this is very fulfilling. With the solid foundation it has, TWAS has grown bigger and better in these years, and more people are hearing its voice.
I am proud, more than anything, of the significant growth of TWAS in its representation, programmes, impact and involvement in international science and education. Including a projected 50 new Fellows to be elected this year, over 250 excellent scientists from the world’s science elites have been admitted to TWAS, and among these about one in five are women. In terms of geographical representation, scientists from eight new countries joined TWAS, including 18 of them from the TWAS list of 66 S&T-lagging countries and 10 from Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The Academy now sees a better gender and geographical balance in its representation.
TWAS has entered new strategic partnerships with many organizations globally. Significant efforts have been made in training young talents and in strengthening scientific capacity-building in the South. Our PhD programme has doubled its volume. TWAS awards, prizes and grants programmes are recognizing more and more scientists and the recognition in turn brings them further assistance and influence they need and deserve. A network of young scientists under the TWAS framework was launched and is functioning in good shape.
I have seen more and more involvement of TWAS in the discussion and engagement of issues of global concern, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, displaced and refugee scientists, and others. Helped by its science diplomacy programme, TWAS is taking a lot more real actions. We are more and more closely involved in the international science agenda.
Of course, all of this progress and impact would not be possible without the joint efforts of TWAS Fellows, colleagues and collaborative partners.
One thing I want to stress that as president of TWAS and CAS, I have been to many countries in the South. Where I go, I pass on the spirit of science and carry the message of the importance of STI to social economic and sustainable development.
The Academy has shown significant growth since you took office in 2013. In your view, what have been the drivers for this growth?
Indeed, considerable new progress has been made at TWAS. I personally think this progress is backed by three key factors:
First, the role of science has been more and more recognized globally. Today’s world is facing multiple challenges. From the imbalance of globalization to poverty eradication, from climate change to energy shortages, to food security and worldwide pandemics, all these challenges are deeply rooted development issues. The solutions to these issues and challenges can be best found through science advancement. More than ever before in the history of human civilization, science development and scientific capacity-building have been accepted as the key driving force for national development and sustainability. TWAS’s development is embedded in this global trend.
Second, there is a growing need for the developing world to develop science capacity and to apply science to address societal challenges. No matter whether they are developing countries, emerging economies or industrial sectors, all attach greater importance to development of science, technology and innovation (STI). More investments for science and innovation have been made in different parts of the world. I recently visited Panama where I saw a new modern research institute in bioscience with the strong support of the government. That the institute could become a reality is also a result of the contributions of a TWAS Fellow – Mahabir Prashad Gupta of Panama, who serves on the TWAS Council.
Third, the world is growing more and more connected. Nations are very much inter-dependent of each other with globalization. TWAS serves as a good linkage between academia and society, between the developed and developing countries.
Is it possible to demonstrate that the Academy's accomplishments and growth have already had an impact in building the strength of science in the developing world?
I think so. I have listed one example above. There are many others. With TWAS’s advice and assistance, the Rwanda Academy of Science was officially established from scratch with the great support of President Paul Kagame and the Rwandan government. TWAS also helped the establishment of the science academy in Ecuador. Establishment of a science academy in a single country will help invigorate science and research development for generations.
TWAS has made huge efforts in promoting young scientific talents training and improvement for the world’s tomorrow. The TWAS Young Affiliates Network (TYAN) is actively engaging young scientific talents in our community. The plan is not only to help them be on their feet through grant and fellowship supports, but also to unite their strength and highlight their role in building science capacity of where they come from and where they connect.
As a matter of fact, TWAS’s role has been demonstrated in ways beyond the work of strengthening science alone. The CAS-TWAS Center of Excellence for Green Technology (CEGT) transferred green mining technology in the largest copper mine in Myanmar. CEGT provides a greener and more sustainable way for mining production. The solutions have helped create thousands of jobs, which directly serve local economic development and people’s livelihoods.
On a more individual level, one TWAS Fellowship graduate, by cooperating with the biodiversity institute in Myanmar, has discovered more than 10 new plants species. These are all good examples of TWAS’s work today. They are having far-reaching impacts.
In your view, do the emerging nations have special experiences to share with countries that are today listed among the 47 Least Developed Countries? What are some of those lessons? And do the emerging countries have a particular responsibility to support science-related development in the LDCs?
Emerging countries do have a responsibility to support science development in LDCs as they were once under-developed themselves. Supporting science-related development in LDCs brings benefits for both sides. Emerging countries have gone through very different ways of development and experienced different challenges in terms of social economic development. Until this day, one common feature is all of them are making great efforts in strengthening their STI capacities and education to solve some of the issues and challenges they face.
For the LDCs, I believe it is important for them to find a way that suits their own characteristics, to build their future success on their current strength and advantages. And it is highly important to prioritize their agenda and to set achievable goals for development. In the process, an emphasis for capacity-building – science and education in particular – should always be stressed for the sake of long-term development.
Young talents training is a key for continued success. This would be lesson No. 1. Another great lesson would be to be fully engaged in international interactions and collaborations. From our experience, international exchange brings in information, knowledge and resources. It helps build one’s own strength in the long run. The vision of TWAS is to promote science advancement in the developing world. TWAS will always be willing to serve as a platform to advance collaborations and dialogue between emerging countries and the LDCs.
From your perspective, what are two or three of the most important challenges confronting TWAS today, and in the years ahead? Do you have any recommendations or advice to share with the next generation of TWAS leaders?
We have witnessed rapid growth of TWAS in the past period, built on its past success. However, it is a very complex world out there. Changes constantly happen in unexpected ways. One particular challenge is for us to be committed to the mission and vision of TWAS. We should have faith in TWAS’s mission and make continued and extra efforts in complicated surroundings.
It is also a grand mission to convince and engage more of our partners and even more stakeholders to join our cause.
There certainly are lots of challenges ahead of us. Yet I am optimistic there are even more opportunities. I would recommend that TWAS should always be fully engaged in the global science agenda, always stand on the collective strength and wisdom of the whole community and always try to lead and keep track of the trend and frontier of global science development.
I wish TWAS all the best for the future and will continue to commit my own strength to the cause of TWAS.