Anindita Bhadra is the co-chair of the Global Young Academy, an organization connecting and mobilizing young scientists around the world. The GYA aims at empowering young researchers so that they can access international dialogue and make global decision making evidence-based and inclusive. Anindita Bhadra talks to us about the GYA and how it pursues a certain vision of science diplomacy, based on inter and intragenerational exchange, interdisciplinarity and inclusiveness.
Can you introduce yourself and the GYA?
I am currently an associate professor of biological sciences at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata. I am specialized in behavioral biology and work on stray dogs, trying to understand the evolution of the dog-human relationship and their behaviour in the natural habitat – so that’s what I do for my science. I am also the co-chair of the GYA, which is a global organisation of young, early to mid-career researchers. The GYA brings together researchers from different countries, different regions of the world and different disciplines. The way we select our members is, of course, based on excellence but also on diversity and inclusivity. Currently, we are represented in 86 countries through our members. We try to enable young scientists to be heard in different platforms. We really strive to become the voice of young researchers. When we say ‘scientists’ we do not only mean STEM researchers but also researchers from other disciplines who, in their daily practices, use the principles of science. We have members from social sciences, humanities, cultural studies, law, etc. We are all scientists because we think scientifically. At the GYA, we want to use science as a medium to reach people, to spread the spirit of science and to work towards access to education for all, to bring science in policy and to foster science diplomacy.
Would you consider yourself a ‘science diplomat’?
Yes, I think so. Even before you start working as a science diplomat, you have to think like one. I have been working in the area of science policy, administration and education for a long time in India and across borders through the GYA. In particular, as the co-chair of the GYA, science diplomacy is part of my portfolio. Even before becoming the co-chair, I was involved in other science diplomacy activities, such as the working group that I initiated together with other colleagues on science diplomacy in South Asia.
What is your shortest definition of science diplomacy?
Building bridges through science.
In your opinion, in which ways does the GYA qualify as a science diplomacy stakeholder?
One of the primary objectives of the GYA is to help young people establishing young academies in their countries, we try to connect young academies with one another, we organise meetings like the worldwide meeting of young academies which happen every two years, etc. We enable exchange between the national academies between regions that would not normally talk to each other otherwise. In that way, the GYA plays a major role in science diplomacy.
For example, in the third year that I was at the GYA, we started a working group on science diplomacy in South Asia. The story on how it came about is rather interesting: The year I joined the GYA, I met a person from Pakistan and one from Bangladesh. We are from countries that are often in political hassle with each other; yet, because we are a global organisation and because we are scientists, here we are, people across borders, talking to each other about common problems in our regions and how science can help us. For me, this experience is what science diplomacy is all about. It was the GYA, which enabled me to talk and to bridge the political gap, to forge new friendships. This is where the working group idea was seeded and how we founded the science diplomacy working group in South Asia. We felt that because of the shared history of the colonial period and the partition that ensued, there are a lot of tensions in this region. Even though we have very common problems, a similar culture and history, we do not collaborate with each other when it comes to science and technology. And this is something which keeps us behind the global north, and that’s why we thought it is very important for scientists in this region to get together and work together and that’s why we started this working group. The working group also has members from Nepal. We are currently organizing a science diplomacy workshop in the region with participants from all these countries and also from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
The GYA also works with other organisations on specific topics relevant to science diplomacy. For example, we are currently working with the International Science Council on a project addressing discrimination in academia. We are also working with the InterAcademy Partnership on the topic of access to education in different countries, and how it has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, we collaborate with the World Science Forum and the World Economic Forum, and several other global platforms where we enable dialogue between organisations, young and senior stakeholders from different fields of science and from different regions. We try to empower people who would otherwise not be part of policy making and science administration, to become more vocal. This is how science diplomacy can really work to give a voice to people who are usually on the fringe, and whose opinions are usually not taken into account. And that is really at the centre of the GYA’s work.
The GYA has a manifest focus on young and early-career scientists. What is the role of young scientists in addressing global challenges, why are they at the core of your organisation?
Often policies are developed with only the next few years in mind while they have actually a long-term impact. Young people are the ones that are going to be at the receiving end of those policies. Yet our perspective, the perspective of the people who will be most affected by those policies, is often not taken into account, which I feel, is inherently wrong. There is this idea that young people are not wise enough, have not enough experience to be involved in the policy process, that they should focus on building their careers and only when they reach a certain position and age, then they have the wisdom to do this. But we believe that people whose life is going to be affected the most by those policies, need to have a say in the policy making process. This is why it is very important to make the voices of young and early-mid career scientists heard at the highest-level of decision making.
Science diplomacy encompasses several practices at the interface between science and diplomacy. One of them is the practice of science informing policy. However, it is rarely addressed who in the scientific community is given that opportunity. How is the GYA addressing discrimination? And what can science diplomacy practices learn from that?
Researchers from the global south often suffer from access to resources because we have less funding. For example, a publication charge for a manuscript costs almost one month’s salary for me and we don’t have institutional funds to pay for it. It is the same for subscription to major academic journals, we don’t have funds simply because of the conversion factor of the currency. In general, there is a huge discrepancy between the global north and the global south in terms of access.
Other problems are undercurrents of racism or discrimination against women. Often, as you go up the hierarchy, you see fewer and fewer women being represented or people of colour, not only because of the lower access to resources but also because of inherent biases in some organisations. In the GYA, we are very conscious about inclusiveness and diversity. We really question ourselves on whether we do a good job in those matters and if you look at the leadership positions of the GYA, we have a lot of women and a broad national representation. This sends out a very strong message because when you see someone like you in a global organisation, you feel inspired to be there. We see the impact of this in the ever-increasing number of member applications coming from the global south. We also offer science leadership trainings for our members, and members replicate them in their region. Researchers that take part in those trainings often make it to the GYA.
The other kind of discrimination that is more difficult to curb is bias against the LGTBQI community. At the GYA, we have a working group that addresses those issues, the rainbow working group. For example, the group has identified on the UNESCO website that they were using a he/she dichotomy, and they have now drafted a letter to point this out to the UNESCO. This is how we approach science diplomacy, we make subtle changes but they are important for those who are affected. At the GYA, all those aspects are important and we always reflect on our own practices in terms of inclusiveness first and change if we need to, before we ask the same from other organisations. For example, we began by changing the he/she dichotomy in our own application form.
Often behaviour that is discriminatory and culturally insensitive is not even thought about. When interacting on a global platform, you learn that your practices are not the norm for everyone, and eventually learn to be inclusive in your social and cultural practices. And when you go back to your country and share this with your peers that is also a form of science diplomacy, as you share with them how to become global citizens.
What role can science diplomacy play in countering systemic discrimination and bias in science?
Science diplomacy needs to go beyond policies against discrimination and counter the inherent bias that remains in the world of global science. Researchers from the global south often experience bias from academic journals, when some of their papers are rejected while similar research of the same quality by others has been accepted. This kind of discrimination is hard to prove but it exists and this is why we need studies and statistics that actually look at what is happening in practice. Global organisations must ask themselves whether they have been doing this right, whether their actions actually fit their policies. Science diplomacy should work towards organising more dialogue not just within regions but also between regions, between decision-makers and stakeholders. Cultural bias is really difficult to get rid of, only through dialogue, case studies, statistics, workshops, can this change. Science diplomacy could take this role of fostering dialogue to address discrimination.
Do you have any recommendations to young, and maybe in particular female, scientists wanting to be involved in foreign policy and policy advice?
What I always tell my students is that if you want to do something you have to believe that you can. That is the starting point. For young people there is always the stress of having to establish a career, to take care of family, and this stress is often higher for women. How to manage all this? It is not difficult until you think it is difficult. There might be 100 people which may try to stop you, but you will find those five people who will try to help you. You should find your strength in them but first you have to find it within yourself. There will be hurdles, there will be times when you fail and that is excellent. It is how you learn, how you get around problems and how you come up with new solutions. At the end that is the scientific process, failures will happen, people will create roadblocks for you but as long as you believe in yourself, I am sure you can get there! Problems are part of life and they only make you stronger, you have to be your own Phoenix.
For the website-category “stakeholder’s voices”, S4D4C invites selected experts in the field of science diplomacy and foreign policy to share their insights and knowledge with our readers. The interviews published here resemble the “researcher’s voices” where we feature S4D4C team-members and their views on science diplomacy and the project. With the “stakeholder’s voices” we also show the views of experts who are not directly involved in the project.
- 1st stakeholder’s voice, June 2019: Jan-Marco Müller from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. You can find it HERE.
- 2nd stakeholder’s voice, March 2020: Julia MacKenzie, Center for Science Diplomacy at AAAS. You can read it HERE.
- 3rd stakeholder’s voice, April 2020: Chagun Basha, DST – Centre for Policy Research at Indian Institute for Science. You can read it HERE.
- 4th stakeholder’s voice, June 2020: Alexander Sokolov, Moscow Higher School of Economics. You can read it HERE.
- 5th stakeholder’s voice, July 2020: Peggy Hamburg and Krishan Lal, co-chairs of the InterAcademy Partnership. You can read it HERE.
- 6th stakeholder’s voice, August 2020: Nina Kodelja and Alessandro Lombardo, Central European Initiative (CEI). You can read it HERE.
- Stakeholder’s voice **special edition** with Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. You can read it HERE.