Innovation and Science Diplomacy School, Sao Paulo School of Advanced Studies, University of Sao Paulo
When I read students’ submitted journals in mediation courses, or as part of university DR courses, Day 1 regularly has comments about being unfamiliar with the course subject (e.g., “I feel completely out of my depth in this course – it is unlike anything I’ve ever done before”) and uncomfortable with having to do a daily journal (e.g., “The two things I dislike about this course are having to do this journal, and having to do group work and role plays”); “out of my comfort zone” is a common phrase.
Being selected for this event at the University of Sao Paulo presented an unbeatable opportunity for me to subject myself to the journal – to gain some experience in, and some empathy for, the situation that students describe. I have never been to Sao Paulo before (nor do I speak Portuguese), I know almost nothing about the topic, and I did not know any of the other attendees, who seemed to have travelled from many countries. Everything about the experience was way beyond my “comfort zone”.
I am here at the School to learn, and to see if I can get the beginnings of an international alliance of researchers who will help bring fresh ideas to how we conduct mediation research.
Today started 30 minutes late and we were encouraged to mill around the coffee, meeting each other. Conversation starters were pretty straight forward: “Where are you from?”, closely followed by “How long did you have to travel?” By the end of the day, writing this up, I realised that I had spoken to people from: Albania, Armenia, the Balkans, Benin, Colombia, El Salvador, India, Iran, Nigeria, South Africa, Sweden, UK, Uruguay, USA, and, of course, from all over Brazil. And, of course, the other delegate from UoN. There is a noticeably different atmosphere with so much true diversity and a complete absence of homogeneity.
Key information from today
(i) Being introduced to the key concepts of Science Diplomacy and Innovation Diplomacy:
- The primacy of international relations that are based on equity, and on the value of human rights;
- Using the common language of science to connect peoples and cultures; and
- The importance of collaboration at all levels.
(ii) Emphasis on cooperation and interpersonal influence; and
(iii) Key repeated words throughout the day: trust, bridge-building, and peace.
This is not stereotypical science, I thought. Perhaps I will have to abandon stereotypes. The sciences that delegates bring with them include: agriculture, oceanography, bio-chemistry, biodiversity, molecular science, chemistry, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, genetics, and, of course, climate sciences. And I did find a professor of Law who had travelled from Edinburgh.
What is Science Diplomacy and Innovation Diplomacy?
What I learnt today is that no-one is quite sure what Science Diplomacy and Innovation Diplomacy are. They all agree that it is about the use of science as a tool of diplomacy, the application of the unencumbered language and interests of scientists to create non-political alliances between countries; groups of scientists who work together to build bridges between their countries, especially where there are problematic political relations. They create commonalities where none seemed to exist. These are things that I can understand.
During the presentations, one example was mentioned more than once: over some years, scientists from Cuba and from the USA worked together on a range of projects, building trust with each other – in the full knowledge that Fidel Castro was very supportive of science and scientists. Apparently, it was this collaboration that led to President Obama relaxing travel to Cuba by US citizens. Each time this story was mentioned, it included mention of the current President and all that he has done to reverse that development – including banning the scientific collaborations.
What really stood out for me from today?
The constant emphasis on cooperation, trust, bridge-building. The undoing of my stereotypes about scientists. Here was a room full of highly idealistic people showing no sign of any kind of stereotype, even though they represent probably every branch of science.
And the group work. Yes, of course, we had to do some group work. We have been given a long-term task in which each group is to develop a strategy for bringing Science Diplomacy to assist with a major international crisis (each group gets to decide what sort of crisis to deal with – our group chose water). We must complete the task – and report on it – before the end of this School.
Today it was quite cool, and the sky monotone beige. Many of the buildings here have that grey mouldiness typical of older tropical cities. One important thing, though, Sao Paulo knows how to make coffee. The hotel has beautiful coffee; even the university venue has beautiful coffee.
We all travel together in mini-buses from the hotel to the university and back again in the evening – a matter of safety here in Sao Paulo. This morning, riding in the bus and hearing all the languages, I was struck again by the diversity. There is truly an air of excitement among people – everyone is openly very pleased that they were selected to attend this School. Last night, a small group of us went to a workmen’s street-side bar on a back lane behind the hotel, where we sat at three rickety tables and talked over the day amid bottles of local beer, supplied by the bar’s cheerful proprietress. If this is how students wind down, I think we instructors have it very tough. When I was back in my hotel room, I also realised just how isolated we instructors are. Meanwhile, at the bar, in response to a question, I had mentioned briefly my own purpose in having applied to attend, and was surprised that people were genuinely interested in my, as yet unformed, plan.
The content of Day Two’s presentations was still focused on giving us an overview of Science Diplomacy. Two presentations stood out for me:
Dr Marga Gual Soler: she is a Science Diplomat, and something of a heroine here. She advises the European Union on its Science Diplomacy strategy, and, in November, she leads the first all-women expedition to Antarctica to publicise Science Diplomacy and the climate emergency. During her presentation, she said that, at its core, Science Diplomacy is flexible and creative, responsive to each situation and context. Now what does that remind me of? She also talked about the importance of capacity building to deal with future problems.
Professor Edouardo Viola: he gave a one hour presentation that tracked the political and economic contexts of climate change between the 1990s and now. He showed the links between economic ups and downs, and countries’ responses to the various climate conferences. He showed the links between political stability and countries’ responses to the various climate conferences. And the links between the crisis in democracy and the rejection of scientists, the rejection of expertise. Depressing in some ways, while, for me, so valuable to be given such a clear perspective on how we have arrived at this point. And to see that, even in widely divergent fields, context has such strong influence over our collective decision-making.
During the day I have been thinking about the application of all these concepts in my own work. There are so many commonalities between what is being said here and what happens around mediation, such as the importance of:
- Trust and cooperation;
- People to people contact;
- Long-term capacity-building; and
- People’s ability to overcome their differences.
This event continues until Friday next week. I have so much more to learn, yet I am already discovering that mediators and scientists share such deep humanistic values. I wonder what else we have in common?
Part 2 will follow later this week…