TWAS was founded in 1983 by a distinguished group of scientists from the developing world, under the leadership of Abdus Salam, the Pakistani physicist and Nobel laureate. They shared a belief that developing nations, by building strength in science and engineering, could build the knowledge and skill to address such challenges as hunger, disease and poverty. From the start, the Academy had essential support from Italian scientists and political leaders.
The Third World Academy of Sciences, as it was first known, was inaugurated officially in 1985 during a ceremony attended by UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. Initially, TWAS had 42 elected fellows – nine of them Nobel laureates. Today, TWAS has 1,176 elected Fellows in more than 90 countries; 15 of them are Nobel laureates. About 85% come from developing nations, and the rest are scientists and engineers from the developed world whose work has had a significant impact in the South. TWAS Fellows are some of the world's most accomplished scientists and engineers, and they are the foundation for all of the Academy's work.
TWAS: Building science in the South
See a 10-minute version of this film, and other Academy films, on the TWAS YouTube page.
(Director: Nicole Leghissa. Released December 2015)
Through three decades, TWAS's mission has remained consistent:
- Recognize, support and promote excellence in scientific research in the developing world;
- Respond to the needs of young scientists in countries that are lagging in science and technology;
- Promote South-South and South-North cooperation in science, technology and innovation;
- Encourage scientific research and sharing of experiences in solving major problems facing developing countries.
TWAS and its partners offer over 600 fellowships per year to scientists in the developing world who want to pursue PhDs and postdoctoral research. TWAS prizes and awards are among the most prestigious given for scientific work in the developing world. The Academy distributes more than USD1 million in research grants every year to individual scientists and research groups. It supports visiting scientists and provides funding for regional and international science meetings.
The TWAS Council, elected by members every three years, sets the Academy’s broad policy and programmatic direction. The Secretariat is headed by an executive director and is located on the campus of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste; it assists the Council in the administration and coordination of TWAS programmes. It issues a range of publications on topics related to science in the developing world.
TWAS has established five regional offices to help organize activities and disseminate information. They are located in Alexandria, Egypt; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Beijing, China; Pretoria, South Africa; and Bangalore, India.
Under a 1991 agreement, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) assumed responsibility for administering TWAS funds and personnel. Legally, TWAS is a programme unit within UNESCO. The Italian government passed a law in 2004 that ensures an annual financial contribution to the Academy's operation. Representatives of the Italian government and UNESCO are members of the TWAS Steering Committee, which meets annually to discuss financial matters.
Members in 2004 approved a name change: TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world. To reflect TWAS's global engagement and networks, the name was changed again in September 2012 to The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries.
TWAS hosts and works in close association with two other organizations on the ICTP campus:
The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD). At its founding in 1989, OWSD was the first international forum uniting women scientists from the developing and developed worlds. Today, OWSD has nearly 4,800 members. Their objective is to strengthen the role of women in the development process and promote their representation in scientific and technological leadership.
The InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) brings together three renowned global networks of academies of science and medicine, representing some 130 academies worldwide. Two of these networks, 'IAP for Science' (formerly IAP - the global network of science academies) and 'IAP for Health' (formerly the InterAcademy Medical Panel) are hosted by TWAS in Trieste. IAP provides high-quality independent information and advice on science, health and development to national and international policymakers and the public; supports programmes on scientific capacity-building, education and communication; leads efforts to expand international science cooperation; and promotes the involvement of women and young scientists in all its activities.
TWAS gratefully acknowledges financial support for its activities, mainly provided by:
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italy
- Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
- Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
- Lenovo Group Ltd., China
- The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
- Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS)
- The Elsevier Foundation
- Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, Isl. Rep. of Iran
- African Union
- The United States National Academy of Sciences
- Academia Sinica, Taiwan, China
- Academia Chilena de Ciencias, Chile