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 originally known, was inaugurated officially in 1985 during a ceremony attended by United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. Initially, TWAS had 42 elected fellows, nine of them Nobel laureates. The name was changed twice: in 2004, to "The Academy of Sciences for the developing world" and, in 2012, to the current one, "The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries". Today, TWAS has 1,370 elected fellows — some of the world's most accomplished scientists and engineers — representing more than 100 countries; 12 of them are Nobel laureates. About 84 per cent come from developing nations, and the rest are scientists from the developed world whose work has had a significant impact in the South. TWAS fellows 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 almost four decades, TWAS mission has remained consistent, while its daily work continues to adapt to current circumstances and situations:
- Recognize, support and promote excellence in scientific research in the developing world
- Respond to the needs of young scientists in countries that are still developing 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 challenges facing developing countries.
TWAS and its partners offer over 600 fellowships per year to scientists in the developing world who want to pursue a doctoral degree and postdoctoral research. TWAS prizes and awards are among the most prestigious given for scientific work in the developing world. The Academy allocates almost $1 million in research grants every year to individual scientists and research groups. It also 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 Academy's Secretariat, headed by an executive director and located on the campus of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy, 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 partners to help organize activities and disseminate information: in Alexandria, Egypt; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Beijing, China; Pretoria, South Africa; and Bangalore, India.
Legally, TWAS is a programme unit of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which, under a 1991 agreement, assumed responsibility for administering TWAS funds and personnel. In 2004, the Italian Government adopted a law that ensured 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.
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), founded in 1989, was the first international forum uniting women scientists from the developing and developed worlds. Today, OWSD has over 9,000 members. Its objective is to strengthen the role of women in the development process and promote their representation in scientific and technological leadership; and
The InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) brings together three renowned global networks of academies of science and medicine, representing some 140 institutions 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 mainly provided by:
- the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
- The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
- the Ministerial Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
- the Lenovo Group Ltd., China
- the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
- the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS)
- The Elsevier Foundation
- the Ministry of Reseach, Science and Technology of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- the African Union
- the National Academy of Sciences, United States
- the Academia Sinica, Taiwan, China
- the Academia Chilena de Ciencias, Chile.