UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

12/01/2022 | News release | Distributed by Public on 12/01/2022 09:36

UNESCO at the World Science Forum: fostering science for greater social justice

A new approach to strengthening science, technology and innovation (STI) systems is gaining steam: one that expands beyond priorities such as investing in research and development and establishing university-industry linkages, to include other equally important dimensions related to human rights, scientific freedom, inclusion and diversity. This emerging trend will be discussed at one of a series of UNESCO sessions at the World Science Forum taking place from 6 to 9 December. The theme of this year's forum is Science for Social Justice. The forum is being hosted by South Africa in partnership with numerous co-organizers that include the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and UNESCO.

This thematic session on Fostering STI Systems in Africa and Equitable International Partnerships for Environmental Sustainability and Social Inclusion is taking place on 7 December. As UNESCO project officer Matthew Wallace observes, 'this new approach to strengthening STI systems is reflected in countries' growing interest in ensuring that the benefits derived from science, technology and innovation are widely shared, extending to vulnerable or traditionally excluded members of society'. He adds that 'countries are also increasingly ensuring that their science agendas align with social, environmental and economic goals. This is apparent from the policies formulated by countries of all income levels since the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in 2015'.

This thematic session is being organized by UNESCO in partnership with the joint office in South Africa of two French entities, the National Research Institute for Sustainable Development and the National Centre for Scientific Research.

The session will be showcasing a major project since 2020 in which UNESCO is partnering with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency to Strengthen STI Systems for Sustainable Development in six African countries: Republic of Congo, Ghana, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The Republic of Congo adopted its first science, technology and innovation policy earlier this year.

The session will be live-streamed from Capetown, South Africa, on 7 December from 5 pm to 6:30 pm. As with all plenary and thematic sessions, the banner of the live stream will feature on the Forum's home page shortly before the event starts.

The UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, will speak at the opening of the World Science Forum on 6 December. She will also address African scientists, policymakers and stakeholders from across the continent at a UNESCO side event on 5 December which will complement the thematic session on fostering STI systems in Arica. At this side event, participants will share the lessons they have learned while striving to strengthen STI systems in Africa. Like other events on the margins of the forum, this 'peer-learning' session will not be live-streamed.

UNESCO advocating for scientific freedom and inclusion

UNESCO is a strong advocate for science as a human right, scientific freedom and inclusion and diversity in science. For instance, the UNESCO Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers (2017) sets out a bill of rights and responsibilities for research staff but also for the entities that employ them in both the public and private sectors.

The Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers details the components of scientific freedom. It states that researchers should feel safe in their work, that they should be free to act as watchdogs of the public interest, such as by alerting to potential risks and emerging hazards. Providing scientists with these guarantees encourages researchers to speak up and to risk working in a more open and creative way. That is good for science and good for society.

Likewise, the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science (2021), provides a roadmap for generalizing the practice of open science around the world, in order to make science more transparent and more inclusive. This, in turn, should boost scientific collaboration and accelerate scientific progress.

UNESCO is organizing a day-long event dedicated to open science on 7 December with the African Open Science Platform. At this event, which is taking place in parallel to the Forum, participants will highlight best practices in open science and exchange information on efforts to mainstream the practice of open science in Africa and elsewhere. The day will consist in a series of roundtables in the morning and training workshops in the afternoon.

UNESCO will be launching the UNESCO Open Science Toolkit at this day-long event. This toolkit is a collection of resources developed with a wide range of stakeholders to help guide implementation of the Recommendation on Open Science around the world.

Participants in this event may also be interested in the thematic session starting at 5 pm on 8 December on the topic of Open Science and a Just, Equitable Scientific Enterprise: Promises and Pitfalls. This session is being co-organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the African Open Science Platform, Frontiers Policy Labs and UNESCO.

UNESCO: a ubiquitous presence at the forum

UNESCO is organizing and participating in multiple sessions at the World Science Forum this year. For instance, on 8 December, Bobby Acharya from the UNESCO's Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) is organizing a thematic session on the theme of physics and accelerators for science and social justice starting at 11:30 am. The session will highlight the role of synchrotron radiation laboratories in making cutting-edge research infrastructure available to all partner countries to build research capacity and develop local innovation while throwing bridges between diverse societies and reversing scientific brain drain. Multidisciplinary light source facilities are attractive role models for similar projects such as the African Light source in Africa, the Mexican Synchrotron or the Great Caribbean-Central American Synchrotron in Central America. The session will describe role models such as the Synchrotron Light for Experimental Science and Application in the Middle East (SESAME), which has been fully operational since 2017, and the East African Institute for Fundamental Research, which is closely modelled on the ICTP.

Participants will have to choose between this thematic session and one starting at the same time (11:30 am on 8 December) which will demonstrate why mentoring works when it comes to Getting Women into Academies and Scientific Leadership. Tony Blowers, who is Coordinator of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), a UNESCO programme Unit, will co-lead this session with the InterAcademy Panel. The session will present the findings of a new study on this topic published by OWSD and the InterAcademy Panel.

Inclusion will also be a central theme of a thematic session on science in exile being organized at 5 pm on 7 December by Peter McGrath from the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), a UNESCO programme unit. TWAS is organizing this session in collaboration with the Global Young Academy to explore global dynamics and best practices involving at‐risk, displaced and refugee scholars.

Giving youth a voice is a UNESCO priority. Programme Specialist Guy Broucke from UNESCO's Regional Office for Southern Africa in Harare, Zimbabwe, explains that 'we are bringing about 50 people in their twenties to a Man and Biosphere Youth Forum from 5 to 9 December in the Western Cape, where they will get a chance to visit the Kogelberg and Cape Winelands biosphere reserves to learn how these communities are using science to develop a green economy and protect the environment'. The participants come from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. On 6 December, they will travel to Cape Town to host a 'world café' at 9 am organized by UNESCO. At this side event, the young adults will get a chance to put their questions to eminent scientists and decision-makers attending the at the World Science Forum'.

UNESCO's global network of biosphere reserves will also be the focus of a side event starting at 2:30 pm on 6 December which will demonstrate some of the many ways in which their inhabitants are harnessing science to foster social justice.

On 7 December, the UNESCO Chair in Geoscience and Society, Prof. Iain Stewart, will be moderating the thematic session on Geoscience for Sustainable Human Progress at 11:30 am, together with Kombada Mhopjeni, who is currently on secondment to UNESCO's Windhoek office from the Namibian Ministry of Mines and Energy where she is Deputy Director.

This is the nine edition of the World Science Forum. The forum was one of the outcomes of the World Conference on Science organized jointly by UNESCO and the International Science Council in Budapest, Hungary, in 1999. The aim was to create a 'Davos' of science, a space where policy-makers, scientists, civil society and the private sector could meet every two years to discuss the social implications of emerging issues in science and technology.

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