U.S. Department of State
Under Secretary Tara D. Sonenshine
Remarks before Science Diaspora Networking Reception
Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Thank you very much, Bill [Special Advisor William Colglazier].
Earlier this afternoon, at the Global Diaspora Forum, I had the opportunity to articulate why the Diaspora community is so important. I am delighted to speak to you this evening so I can also emphasize the importance of scientists within that community.
They are essential. In the 21st century, the challenges we face are complex. We need microbiologists, chemical scientists, geoscientists, physics scientists, civil engineers, and others in the STEM field to make the breakthroughs that can provide solutions.
But among those scientists, we have to make sure that we do everything we can to empower women and girls in the field. That’s a priority for President Obama, for Secretary Clinton, and for the American people.
Women comprise more than 50 per cent of the population in the world – and although great gains have been made – they continue to be under represented at all levels of society.
I am talking about women in political positions. I am talking about women in boardrooms. Women in the conflict resolution field. And I am talking about women scientists.
This isn’t just about moral fairness – although that is certainly argument enough.
It’s also about expanding our chances for solutions by expanding the diversity of our talent pool.
Studies have shown that – when it comes to solving problems of any kind – we reduce our chances when we restrict the diversity of people working to solve them.
Members of one group or gender tend to reinforce and support one another’s cultural and other biases. But a diverse group is more likely to challenge suppositions and premises. We need the talents of everyone – men and women.
That’s why I am so pleased there was a panel today, led by Deputy Secretary Margolis, that discussed ways that women scientists in the diaspora community can help recruit more scientists.
The truth is, we can do so much more – for young men and women. My department is working hard to do that. Through our Bureau of International Information Programs – or IIP – we work with our embassies to promote science and technology programs.
Our Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs – or ECA – is expanding the talent pool of aspiring scientists. Through our Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program, for example, we increased the participation of STEM students from 21 per cent last year to 28 per cent.
We are working with the diaspora community wherever we see the opportunity. In Brazil, the government’s “Science Without Borders” program aims to send more than 100,000 STEM students abroad in the next four years, with the U.S. as a primary destination.
So our embassy in Brazil has been working with the Brazil-USA Association of Educational and Cultural Entities to earmark $ 200,000 for scholarships so that young Brazilians – including low income students – can apply.
In India, we saw how accomplished women from the diaspora can make a difference. Last February, we convened a digital video conference in which Sunita Williams, a U.S. astronaut of Indian-Slovenian descent, visited India to address more than 3,000 young people. An additional 70 Indians engaged online.
Sunita inspired them with her own story about beating the traditional barriers that women face. At one point, she observed – and I quote: “From space, you cannot see borders between countries. Looking at the world from that perspective, I wondered how anyone on this planet could be fighting one another.”
A visit like that can make the difference. It can make a young person decide to take that leap into science. The more partnerships, coalitions and networks we build, the greater the opportunities we can give them. The greater our chances of making the scientific breakthroughs that find solutions, grow economies, create jobs – and make life better for everyone.
So I am delighted to join with today’s partners in signing this memorandum of understanding for Public Diplomacy Partnerships on Science, Technology and Innovation.
But before we bring the partners forward, I would like to introduce Dawn McCall, who heads our Bureau of International Information Programs. She has a few words to say.
Thank you all for listening to me today – and more importantly, thank you for working to support our future scientists.