2017 Science Forum South Africa Highlights Role of International Partnerships and Science Diplomacy

Now in its third year, Science Forum South Africa 2017 took place in Pretoria on December 8-9, 2017, with more than 3,000 participants from Africa and across the world.

“Science is at the core of the South African development agenda.”
- Minister of Science & Technology, Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor in South Africa

Since its first iteration in 2015, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has participated in the Science Forum South Africa (SFSA), an important event in the science diplomacy calendar, highlighting the role of science, technology, and innovation in society – as well as promoting international science partnerships.

Now in its third year, SFSA 2017 took place in Pretoria on December 8-9, 2017, with more than 3,000 participants from Africa and across the world. This year’s focus was on igniting conversations about science.

Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor, South African Minister of Science & Technology, addresses the SFSA opening session | Credit: Mahlet Mesfin

AAAS Director of International Relations, Julia MacKenzie, said participation at SFSA is one way the organization is deepening its engagement on the African continent. “At SFSA I spoke with young African scientists about their desire to engage broadly— for example, with policymakers, journalists, or with businesses in their local communities. It’s exciting, because if scientists engage broadly like this, then science will be a voice on societal issues, which is at the core of the AAAS mission and is relevant everywhere,” she said.  

During the event, MacKenzie moderated a panel on enhancing evidence-based decision making by increasing connections between scientists, policymakers, and the private sector. “We discussed the importance of training STEM leaders with communication and collaboration skill sets that empower them to work across disciplines and sectors,” she said.

SFSA is just one way AAAS is building relationships in Africa, and South Africa in particular. For example, South African Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor was the recipient of the 2016 AAAS Award for Science Diplomacy. During this year’s SFSA, Minister Pandor noted, “Too little is known about the contributions Africans make in science.” South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was also at the Forum to highlight the importance of science in his nation and the continent, saying, “This is a forum working to advance pan-African scientific collaboration but also to advance regional integration, promote peace on our continent and enhance social cohesion and inclusive development.”

Center for Science Diplomacy Deputy Director Mesfin at SFSA with alumni participants [Margaret Njeri Wabiri, Modikoe Thomas Patjane, and Vanessa McBride (L-R)] of the Summer 2017 AAAS-TWAS Course on Science Diplomacy in August 2017 

The South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) uses the platform of SFSA to highlight both the concept of science diplomacy and leaders engaged in science diplomacy with an impact on the continent. Mahlet Mesfin, Deputy Director of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, also attended the meeting and served as a moderator for a panel that featured the winners of the SFSA Science Diplomacy awards and was focused on how science diplomacy can best advance Africa.  The panelists stressed the role of science diplomacy in accomplishing a wide range of goals that are important for Africa such as addressing global challenges that cross borders, creating successful partnerships, and educating and training the next generation.

Building upon its previous partnership with The World Academy of Science (TWAS), the Center for Science Diplomacy, in collaboration with the Academy of Sciences of South Africa (ASSAf), TWAS, and TWAS’s Regional Office for Sub-Saharan Africa, will be co-hosting a regional science diplomacy workshop in South Africa in May 2018.  This workshop will bring together early and mid-career participants who live and work in sub-Saharan Africa to increase their exposure to key contemporary international and regional science policy and science diplomacy issues.  Applications will open in January 2018. 

According to Mesfin, “What DST and the South Africans put together with SFSA shows the power of what can happen when a country prioritizes regional and international engagement in science and technology. There is so much potential for greater science and technology collaboration with the African continent, and SFSA was a clear demonstration that African scientists are positioned to be partners in any future cooperation.”