International Engagement

Using science to address societal issues across borders is a crucial aspect of the work of AAAS, particularly since today’s greatest challenges and solutions are often regional and even global in scope. Recent efforts have helped promote international research collaboration, offering cross-border approaches to solving shared challenges, bringing together diverse perspectives on global threats, and supporting science- and technology-based innovations.

U.S.-Cuba Science Diplomacy

AAAS worked in the forefront toward improved scientific cooperation between the United States and Cuba, signing an important agreement with the Cuban Academy of Sciences in April 2014. The agreement pointed to four promising areas of cooperation between Cuban and U.S. scientists: emerging infectious diseases, brain disorders, cancer, and antimicrobial drug resistance.

In June 2014, Alan I. Leshner, then CEO of AAAS, and Gerald Fink, who was AAAS president, joined AAAS Chief International Officer Vaughan Turekian in an editorial arguing that improved relations with Cuba should allow joint organization of scientific workshops and meetings. President Barack Obama’s plan to establish new diplomatic ties with the island nation, announced in December, allows such scientific exchange, AAAS said in commending the policy change.

Despite economic difficulties, Cuba has fostered valuable scientific progress, articularly in the areas of medicine and biotechnology. Cooperation between Cuban and U.S. scientists on such public health threats as dengue and chikungunya, mosquito-borne viral diseases for which no vaccines exist, could prove vital. “Working together more closely will allow scientists from Cuba and the United States to better share data, identify and monitor outbreaks, and develop more coherent responses,” said Leshner.

Cuban Academy of Sciences in Havana

This AAAS-led group met with hosts at the Cuban Academy of Sciences in Havana. [AAAS/KATHY WREN]

Spurring Global Innovation

At the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I competition in Marrakech, Morocco, young innovators from developing countries presented their ideas before an international audience, while experiencing a crash course in startup culture to better their chances at entrepreneurship.

As part of the U.S. Department of State-led GIST initiative, AAAS brought 30 entrepreneurs from 23 countries to the finals of the 2014 competition. Their ideas ranged from an inexpensive heat-sensor alert system to control fires in South African slums, to an app to help midwives with difficult births in rural Uganda, to an air-conditioning system developed in Mexico that operates with solar power and silica gel. Eighteen mentors, recruited by AAAS, coached the young innovators through four days of pitching their technologies and refining their business plans.

The competition was held at the 5th Global Entrepreneurship Summit, where Vice President Joseph R. Biden said, “When I travel [in Africa and the Middle East] and the entire developing world, I see young people with limitless promise to make not only their countries but the whole world better.”

Cynthia Ndubuisi

Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I finalist Cynthia Ndubuisi [AAAS]

Ebola and Global Health Security

AAAS joined the fight against Ebola in 2014, co-sponsoring a conference on global health security in October that clarified some of the factors that worsened the disease outbreak in West Africa. The event looked for lessons to prevent similar global health threats.

In November, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows organized a forum about the outbreak that brought together members of the Liberian diaspora and representatives of the federal departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security. “The single most important thing we can do to prevent a more serious outbreak here in the United States is make sure we get what is a raging epidemic right now in West Africa under control,” said Aaron Firoved, a former AAAS S&T Policy Fellow and now the senior biodefense advisor in the Department of Homeland Security.

As a public service, Science and Science Translational Medicine made available a collection of their news and research on Ebola published between 2000 and 2014. Meanwhile, Science published the report of a breakthrough sequencing of Ebola virus genomes that clarified the origin and spread of the recent outbreak. (See pages 19–22.)

New Science Diplomacy Course Draws 32 Nations

U.S. astronaut David Hilmers has participated in science diplomacy in a spectacular way: Starting in the mid-1980s, the former Marine flew four space shuttle missions, including one in which he and crew members carried out research provided by investigators from 11 different countries. The mission contributed to international cooperation.

“I don’t believe there is any better way of cooperation, and world peace, than through science diplomacy,” Hilmers told participants at the inaugural June 2014 course on the topic organized in Trieste, Italy, by AAAS and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). More than 50 course registrants and leaders—representing 32 countries, particularly from developing nations—participated in presentations, case studies, and team exercises to develop skills and initiate specific projects. The short course is being offered annually as part of a AAAS-TWAS partnership in science diplomacy.

Connecting Networks in Latin America

As a visiting research scholar at the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, Marga Gual Soler, a Spanish microbiologist trained in Australia with experience in the United Nations, met with policymakers and scientists from more than 20 countries about opportunities for advancing science diplomacy in Latin America. Focusing on intergovernmental research networks involving North and South America, Spain, and Portugal, she investigated how the networks have evolved and contributed to regional cooperation, as well as helping to train and support new Latin American scientists. Her research appeared in the December 2014 issue of Science & Diplomacy (published by AAAS).

ASEAN Science and Technology Fellows

Five Southeast Asian nations, inspired by the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program, deployed eight scientists and engineers in 2014 in a pilot project to expand the use of science, technology, and objective analysis in the political decision-making process. The first multinational effort to use the AAAS model—involving Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam—the program was launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the United States Mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

As an example of a science-based problem, fellow Maria Ruth B. Pineda will work in the Philippines on a governance structure for the ASEAN-Network for Drugs, Diagnostics, Vaccines, and Traditional Medicines Innovation, an information-sharing effort.

At a Jakarta orientation event for the fellows, then AAAS science diplomat Norman Neureiter spoke about improving cross-border relations by cooperating on shared goals for advancing science. “In any country, science, technology, and innovation can be an essential piece of the development process,” Neureiter said. “This experiment in Southeast Asia, based on the AAAS model, will provide invaluable information on how best to leverage science to enhance regional development.”

(For more information on the S&T Policy Fellowships, see the Science, Policy, and Society section.)


Participants in the first-ever AAAS-TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences) course on science diplomacy, held in Trieste, Italy. [EZIO VUCK]