Report from the Inaugural Science Diplomacy & Leadership Program in Washington DC

SciDip1-wtext ASU’s Thomas P. Seager, Associate Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, delivered a workshop on storytelling, proposal writing and building empathy in science diplomacy.



2015 Report from Participants

From June 21 to 30, 2015, the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO) at Arizona State University (ASU) hosted the first Science Diplomacy & Leadership Program. The course was organized and coordinated by Dr. Marga Gual Soler as part of the Science Outside the Lab series of CSPO’s summer policy immersion programs in Washington D.C. Our group consisted of 14 young natural and social scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs from 8 countries in the Americas: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, México, Perú, United States and Venezuela.


The program had two main goals: i) to familiarize us with the emerging concept of science diplomacy as a tool to tackle regional and global challenges; and ii) to provide us with the necessary skills to become leaders capable of identifying and addressing such challenges and have a positive impact in our countries and the Latin American region as a whole. To achieve these objectives, the program consisted of three modules: Academic, Leadership, and Networking.


The Academic module brought in renowned U.S. and international experts in different fields related to science and international affairs, including Ernesto Fernandez-Polcuch, UNESCO Senior Policy Advisor for Science for Latin America and the Caribbean, Zafra Lerman, the brain behind the Malta Conferences Foundation, an organization that promotes collaborations among scientists to promote peace and stability in the Middle East, and Professor Clark Miller of ASU, who delivered a walking lecture around Washington’s memorials on the history of science in U.S. Foreign Policy. The Leadership module focused on developing science communication, empathy, ethics and cross-cultural skills, all extremely important for our future as global scientists working across countries, cultures, languages and disciplines. The Networking module consisted of site visits and experiential learning activities that exposed us to science diplomacy in action. In this module we took a closer look at the Department of State’s views on cross-national scientific collaborations with Acting Science Adviser to the Secretary of State, Dr. Frances Colón, learned about the future of space exploration at NASA Goddard Center with Costa Rican engineer Sandra Cauffman, met with science attachés from several Latin American Embassies, and played a simulation game to negotiate a biodiversity treaty between two fictional neighboring countries at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.


But, what is science diplomacy? According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), science diplomacy encompasses the use of science, technology and innovation in three major dimensions: i) Diplomacy for science, in which diplomatic relations facilitate scientific cooperation among countries by promoting the sharing of resources and/or infrastructure. Examples of diplomacy at the service of science include building large telescopes, particle accelerators, or the International Space Station. ii) Science for diplomacy, in which science serves as a common ground to improve international relations and ease political tensions between countries, as demonstrated by the recent science agreement between the U.S. and Cuba. iii) Science in diplomacy, where scientific advice helps design policies to govern global spaces and shared resources such as the air, the oceans, biodiversity or space (The Royal Society, 2010). The tremendous value of science diplomacy lies in its potential to work out solutions to global challenges that have scientific and technological implications and extend well beyond national boundaries, and therefore no country can solve them on their own.


The first ever Science Diplomacy and Leadership Program was a transformative experience for all of us. Prior to the course, we did not have a crystal clear idea about the meaning and operationalization of science diplomacy. However, by the end of the program, many of us were surprised to realize that we had been involved in activities related to science diplomacy as part of our international research, science communication or policy engagement activities in Latin America. Most importantly, we learned how to engage in meaningful communication with each other, deepened our self-knowledge and awareness of our roles and responsibilities as scientists, and enhanced our leadership skills, all of which will be valuable resources for networking and collaboration back in our countries.


We return home with a much broader perspective and understanding of all domains in which science diplomacy can play an important role. We are committed to raise awareness about its potential to bridge the gap between science and policy and to better communicate and share the benefits of science and technology with society. To this end, we have developed an action plan that comprises the creation of the Latin American Network of Young Scientists in Science Diplomacy, under the auspices of the World Association of Young Scientists (WAYS) and UNESCO, with the goal of strengthening the links we generated during the program. We will also conduct a landscape analysis to examine the state of the art of science diplomacy in Latin America and define what it means in our regional context. We will organize an international event to spread the concept of science diplomacy and exchange new ideas and experiences. Finally, some of us will represent the voice of young scientists in Latin America at the World Science Forum 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.


We are concerned about the many challenges that Latin America faces in the 21st century. Political and economical divides and ideological rivalries are deeply engrained between our countries. However, our experience in this program reaffirms what we already knew: what unites us is more important than what separates us. The scientific potential of our region is enormous and our generation has an unprecedented opportunity to elevate science as a driving force for the mutual understanding of our countries and region. Challenge accepted!


We wish to thank the support of Arizona State University, the National Science Foundation (#), the UNESCO Regional Science Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the International Council for Science (ICSU), the Embassy of Costa Rica in the United States, the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), the World Association of Young Scientists and all 23 faculty, speakers and institutions that made this life-changing experience possible for all of us.


Authors: Estefanía Alemán, Gabriela Bernaldino, Jhon Bonilla, Ines Carabajal, Patricia D’Costa, Ricardo Doberti, Yessica Elizondo, Lucas Enrico, Hassel Johnson, Anahí Membribe, Giuliana Oyola, Katherin Peñaranda, Yulia Peralta, Marina Solanas, Carlo Altamirano, Marga Gual.