The International Science Council’s first full year of operation has been a period of intense activity, with the aim of positioning the ISC as a distinctive and effective global voice for science. We put in place the Council’s new governance system and launched our first three-year action plan, setting out an ambitious programme of priority projects. We took stock of progress to date, working to consolidate existing partnerships and scientific initiatives. And we extended our global reach, appointing the Council’s first patrons and a Special Envoy for Science in Global Policy.
The Council has expanded its networks and spheres of influence throughout 2019, working to enhance the visibility and voice of international scientific research and scholarship on issues of major concern to science and society. We have acted to increase the integration of science and evidence-informed understanding in major international policy processes. In June 2019, the Council appointed its inaugural patrons: Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, Chair of the Elders and leading defender of climate justice; and Ismail Serageldin, Emeritus Librarian of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. These patrons are using their international standing and influence to assist the Council in advocating for the social, political, economic and cultural value of science to policy-makers and the public. In addition, the appointment of Flavia Schlegel as Special Envoy for Science in Global Policy has bolstered our presence in, and engagement with, the UN and other global policy fora.
In line with our statutes, we have appointed four advisory committees on the basis of nominations from our members: Science Planning; Freedom and Responsibility in Science; Outreach and Engagement; and Finance and Fundraising. Together, these committees bring together considerable scientific expertise and experience from differing sectors and settings, and will be crucial in taking forward our Action Plan 2019–2021 and shaping the next few years for the International Science Council.
Our regional offices in Africa; Asia and the Pacific; and Latin America and the Caribbean have built new partnerships, in particular through emerging ‘open science platforms’. These platforms will convene different interests, ideas and institutions with the aim of mobilizing resources and building and strengthening the expertise required to advance data-intensive, solutions-oriented research in the Global South.
The Council’s convening power was perhaps best demonstrated at the Global Forum of Funders hosted by the United States (US) National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington, DC in early July 2019. This event brought together more than 80 science funders, including international development aid agencies, private foundations and national research councils. The Forum resulted in a common call for a decade of global funding action to address the world’s most pressing challenges, as captured in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This statement of shared purpose from research institutions and funders was noted in an article published in Nature Sustainability in September 2019 (Messerli et al.), which highlighted the ISC’s unique ability to mobilize a diversity of expertise in the context of sustainability science. This exemplifies the kind of globally connected, scientifically impactful organization we want the Council to be.
The development and launch of our first action plan, Advancing Science as a Global Public Good, has been a major focus for activity in 2019. This Action Plan 2019–2021 sets out a portfolio of twelve projects, framed by four domains of critical importance for science and society: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the digital revolution, science in policy and public discourse, and the evolution of science and science systems. The Action Plan further incorporates activities that address the commitment of the ISC to uphold and advocate for freedom and responsibility in science. It also includes a vision for building the ISC’s presence in different regions of the world, for amplifying the voice for science through outreach and engagement, and for strengthening our funding base.
The development of this strategic action plan has depended on the guidance, energy and commitment of our Governing Board, our members and partners, and staff at our headquarters and regional offices. We thank them sincerely for their collaboration and efficiency. Of course, as we implement the projects set out in our plan, and continue to deliver on existing activities, the goals we strive to achieve will require us to continue to scale up, to further consolidate our resources, to seek new partnerships, and to strengthen existing ones.
As we write this introduction to our Annual Report 2019, our world is engulfed in a crisis of almost unimaginable proportions, during which the ISC’s power to convene expert minds in the traditional way has been stymied by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This external threat has forced us to rethink and to find new, equally effective ways to convene our expert communities and deliver on our Action Plan 2019–2021. In this regard, some activities will be expanded and their schedules brought forward; new activities responding to the crisis, within the realms of our four domains of action, will be added; and some activities will have their timelines adjusted to reflect the new reality of our world.
In these times of great uncertainty, we can be certain about one thing: that science, and scientific thinking and values, must be central components of responses to global challenges. The International Science Council, with its vision of science as a global public good, stands ready to promote, support and enable the achievement of these goals.
Daya Reddy, President
Heide Hackmann, Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Photo: Heide Hackmann and Daya Reddy