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Introductory Remarks at Global Diaspora Forum Science Diaspora Reception

E. William Colglazier
Science and Technology Adviser
Great Hall, National Academy of Sciences
Washington, DC
July 25, 2012


Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the Science Diaspora Networking Reception. The purpose of this event is to allow you to network as much as possible, and we will let you get back to that as soon as possible. My name is Bill Colglazier. I have had the privilege of serving this past year as the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary. So it is a great pleasure not only to welcome you on behalf of the State Department, but to do it in the National Academy of Sciences building where I worked for 20 years. I would like to thank the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine for hosting us in the Great Hall of this beautiful building. It has only recently reopened with the historic features restored and new atriums and conference facilities created.

I would like to thank the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance and the National Academies for sponsoring this reception. Thanks also to the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) and Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) who played an integral role in organizing everything you see here.

I would especially like to thank the Secretary of State’s Office of the Global Partnership Initiative and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Innovation and Development Alliances for putting on the Global Diaspora Forum today and tomorrow, and allowing us to be part of it. The Secretary’s keynote speech this morning was inspirational and powerful. She spoke from the heart about how diaspora communities in the U.S. can help to build a more prosperous, peaceful, and secure world.

Several professional scientific and engineering societies are also with us tonight to collaborate on a wonderful new effort that you’ll hear about shortly.

As we all know well, science, technology, and engineering play an integral role to almost everything in our lives. The rapid pace at which technology advances is remarkable, and it is accelerating.

These advances improve people’s lives and are major drivers of economic growth in this globally connected world. When I meet with representatives of other countries, they all want to talk about how to better use science and technology to foster innovation, to make lives better for their citizens, to lift their economies, and to solve pressing problems.

The U.S. has benefited enormously from attracting smart, creative, and talented people from around the world to live, study, and work here. They are professors, innovators, and professionals in every field. One of the most productive ways that the science and technology diaspora in the U.S. can help their countries of origin is working to strengthen their home countries’ capacity in science and technology – both human capital and institutions – and creating collaborative efforts with American universities, companies, and NGO’s.

The history of science diasporas in the United States is embodied by the story of Silicon Valley. From the 70s to the 90s, tens of thousands of foreign-born graduate students from developing countries accepted jobs in Silicon Valley, and by 2000, half of the scientists manning our information technology revolution belonged to the science and technology diaspora. Approximately 52% of startups in Silicon Valley are founded by immigrants.

In the early 1980s, other foreign-born engineers took the Silicon Valley model of high-risk investing home. These “diaspora investors” knew the culture and the language, but importantly they also had American networks and technical experience. Some of the countries from which these diaspora investors hailed now have their own traditions of entrepreneurship, startups, and risk capital investing.

Diaspora communities account for significant resource flows through remittances to the developing world -- over $375 billion in 2011. Those are impressive numbers, but science diaspora leaders are “gatekeepers” for an immeasurable wealth of knowledge --“scientific remittances.” The science and technology diaspora is a vastly untapped resource of human capital and knowledge transfer.

Recently founded Science Diaspora groups are the Wild Geese founded in February 2011, the Caribbean Science Foundation founded in September 2010, and the Society for the Advancement of Science and Technology in the Arab World (SASTA) founded in 2009. Another example is the Turkish-American Scientists and Scholars Association –TASSA -- which provides valuable input and support for collaborative science to address shared global challenges and to stimulate economic growth.

I want to mention the important role that women scientists from the diaspora can play in engaging and supporting the next generation of women scientists, engineers and innovators. The Secretary of State recently announced the NeXXt Scholars Initiative, which provides an opportunity for young women from 47 countries with a Muslim-majority population to attend U.S. women’s college and pursue an undergraduate STEM degree. Women in science diaspora networks are very effective in serving as mentors to encourage more young women from their countries of origin to pursue careers in STEM.

We are here today and tomorrow to not only celebrate the accomplishments of diaspora communities, but to forge new partnerships and to find ways to help make your efforts more effective. Our speakers this evening will be discussing a few new initiatives, with a special focus on the unique role that the science diaspora can play. We count on you to come up with other new initiatives, collaborations and organizations that can enhance the remarkable contribution of the science diaspora communities.

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