In December 2021, the 76th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly marked a significant moment in the world of science and sustainability by establishing the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD). This global initiative highlights the pivotal role played by basic sciences – mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology – in advancing numerous sectors, from medicine and industry to agriculture and energy planning. These sciences are the driving force behind technological innovations, expanding access to information, elevating societal well-being, and promoting international collaboration aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
South Africa, as a UN Member State, actively participated in the IYBSSD through the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the National Research Foundation (NRF), coordinated by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). Leading this endeavour was Professor Himla Soodyall, the Executive Officer of ASSAf, who represented the DSI, NRF, and ASSAf as the node coordinator.
Throughout the duration of IYBSSD, South Africa pursued several key objectives in line with the initiative’s overarching themes. These objectives included promoting inclusive participation in science, strengthening education and training, investing in basic science, and advocating for open science practices. These pursuits were not only in sync with the IYBSSD themes but also aimed at enhancing the visibility of women in science, fostering international dialogue, promoting science as a global public good, encouraging innovation and economic development, advancing education and human development, and effectively addressing global challenges.
ASSAf took on significant responsibilities in the South African IYBSSD project. These included stakeholder identification and engagement, launch planning, public awareness campaigns, networking, online visibility efforts, media engagement, progress reporting, and event scheduling. All these endeavours aimed at raising awareness and mobilising diverse stakeholders within South Africa.
South Africa’s participation in IYBSSD translated into action through numerous events and activities. These include – among many others – the South African launch, the Annual Young Scientists’ Conference, National Science Week, Scifest Africa, awards recognising contributions to basic sciences, and publications such as Quest Science for South Africa magazine. Impressively, approximately 74 SA IYBSSD events/activities/initiatives were registered on the UN IYBSSD Schedule, and 124 South African organisations, including 79 schools, officially expressed their support for this initiative. During a UN IYBSSD Steering/Advisory Board Committee meeting, South Africa received commendation for being one of the most active UN Member States in its commitment to IYBSSD.
In conclusion, South Africa’s active engagement with IYBSSD, its diverse range of initiatives, and its extensive outreach to stakeholders have collectively made SA IYBSSD a resounding success. It has significantly raised awareness about the critical role of basic sciences in sustainable development. ASSAf is confident that it successfully fulfilled its mandate of creating awareness and mobilising the South African community. Furthermore, this initiative expanded the reach and influence of the DSI, NRF, and ASSAf, strengthening their footprint in the scientific community and beyond.
As we wrap up this remarkable journey of the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development, we extend our heartfelt thanks to the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) for entrusting ASSAf with this important initiative. Special thanks also go to the UN IYBSSD Secretariat, particularly Luc Allemand, for their invaluable support throughout this transformative year. And lastly, but not the least, THANK YOU to the South African organisations and individuals who passionately took up this challenge and organised IYBSSD events throughout the year. You are the true ones that made this year a success!
The official closing of IYBSSD and launching of an International Decade of Sciences (incl. all sciences and all knowledge) for Sustainable Development (IDSSD 2024 – 2033) will take place on 15 December 2023 at CERN (European Organisation of Nuclear Research).