As this utterly strange and terrible year draws towards its conclusion, with many uncertainties and dangers still hovering out of sight, we are heartened by the tantalising prospect of highly effective vaccines being rolled out worldwide during the first half of 2021.
Despite the hopeful signs that point to Covid-19’s control and eventual defeat, we still face an unprecedented range of societal and economic challenges, from climate change to the rise of authoritarian nationalism, from dramatically accelerating inequality and unsustainable debt to the twin spectres of misinformation and weaponised disinformation.
These challenges make it a good time to reflect on the potential impact and responsibilities of international associations in the post-pandemic landscape.
Associations naturally thrive during times of growing international freedom to travel, trade, meet and exchange ideas, something we have grown used to over past few decades. But it is during times when these are under threat, as looks increasingly likely in the decade to come, that associations take on the critical role as a beacon for civilised values and progress. In the depths of the Cold War, it was COSPAR, set up by the International Council for Science, that not only enabled the scientists of the USSR and the Western powers to collaborate, but also provided the most important political back-channel to mitigate dangerous geo-political tensions. Many other associations have successfully fought for intellectual and moral principles: overturning injustices, changing government policies, and shaping global protocols and treaties. Most importantly – because this day-to-day work underpins all their other impacts – they have provided high-profile platforms for members of their communities from all around the world to share their work, ideas, and culture with both their peers and much wider circles of influence.
It’s hugely important that Israeli scientists are able to share their world-class research and expertise, something made more likely thanks to UAE’s announcement of official relations, and also that African healthcare workers can readily obtain visas to attend events in the EU and USA, not least to share their frontline experience. It’s vital that associations use their influence to prevent Western and Chinese technology from becoming two disconnected, non-sharing ecosystems. And to stand up for the rigorous, hard-questioning, open-to-change scientific method as a bedrock in the search for objective truths.
The challenges we face offer international associations an unprecedented opportunity to affirm the universal value and positive societal impact of bringing together global communities of shared interest and expertise. The four cities that make up Global Association Hubs stand ready to support you in this enterprise.