This year’s AGYA Annual Conference took place in Egypt from 26 to 28 October 2018. During the conference, AGYA members warmly welcomed 14 new members. The members convened in the General Assembly to discuss the recent, current and upcoming activities of the academy, in addition to holding elections for the 2019 AGYA Steering Committee and Co-Presidents.
New and Older Members Brainstorm Ideas for the Year Ahead
AGYA members described the atmosphere at this year’s Annual Conference as exciting, animated and inspiring. ‘For me, AGYA meetings always feel like a reunion’, said returning AGYA Co-President Jan Friesen, ‘we all really like and respect each other, so it’s always amazing to meet everyone again’. In terms of the number of members, ‘this year’s meeting was well-attended and, of course, we had great discussions for new projects’, said Friesen, ‘it was very productive, as usual’. New members also reported thoroughly enjoying the experience. ‘This is the first Annual Conference for me’, said Mohammed Alkatan from Kuwait, ‘I appreciate that we members make all decisions for projects, tandems and research collaborations for the coming year internally, including elections for the Steering Committee and Co-Presidents. Everything is done in a democratic way: everybody can express and share their opinions and then we make all of the decisions collectively’. Ahmad El-Guindy also emphasized the importance of ‘academic freedom and the freedom to organize ourselves within AGYA’. ‘This was one of the crucial factors for me when I applied for AGYA’, he said.
New Developments: AGYA Opens Regional Office in Cairo, Establishes Alumni Network and Initiates Research Mobility Programme
The Annual Conference was immediately preceded by a day of festivities at the Al-Salam Theatre in Cairo, on 25 October 2018, in which AGYA celebrated the official opening of its new Regional Office located within the Egyptian Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT). The day’s events featured addresses by key stakeholders, the induction of AGYA’s newest cohort of interdisciplinary scholars and the matriculation of the first generation of AGYA members into the AGYA Alumni Network. To mark the special occasion, AGYA and ASRT co-hosted an international conference on Women’s Empowerment in Science, Technology and Innovation (WE-STI 2018), bringing together scholars, decision-makers and key societal stakeholders from Egypt, Germany and Kuwait to exchange lessons and strategies for boosting women’s presence and leadership in STEM fields.
Going forward, the first batch of 20 AGYA alumni will continue to benefit from connection and collaboration with the broader AGYA network, participate in meetings, and actively support members in realizing AGYA projects. Beginning in 2019, AGYA will also open a new programme line with a focus on research mobility. As its name suggests, the programme aims to increase the mobility of AGYA members, as well as their PhD students and AGYA alumni. Representing yet another benefit of AGYA membership, it will provide crucial mobility grants for interdisciplinary research stays of up to three months in any Arab country or Germany.
Six Members Embrace the Call to Serve on AGYA’s 2019 Steering Committee
Within the framework of the General Assembly, elections are held annually to select a six-person AGYA Steering Committee for the upcoming year, which always includes three Arab and three German AGYA members. After a lively process of nominations and voting, Anis Ben Amor, Jan Friesen, Ahmed Hegazy, Zeina Hobaika, Olfa Khelifi and Lena-Maria Möller were elected to serve on the Steering Committee for 2019. As the only new AGYA member elected to the Steering Committee, Lena-Maria Möller noted that getting elected as a new member of the 2018 cohort ‘reaffirmed what I have felt since the first day: when you join AGYA, you really become an equal member. There are no hierarchies in terms of duration of membership. I appreciate just how welcoming the entire group has been. Everyone is working for the greater good of AGYA’.
Jan Friesen and Zeina Hobaika Chosen to Represent AGYA as Co-Presidents
From the Steering Committee members, one Arab and one German AGYA member are elected to serve as the Academy’s Co-Presidents. In a testament to his excellent performance as Co-President in 2018, Jan Friesen (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Department of Catchment Hydrology) was re-elected to the position, along with AGYA member Zeina Hobaika (Saint Joseph University of Beirut, Faculty of Life & Earth Sciences, Biochemistry Department), who will take on the role for the first time. ‘I feel really honoured to have the trust of my fellow members’, said Zeina, ‘It felt even more rewarding because I've only been an AGYA member for one year, but it was a very full, rich, active year’. Friesen echoed Hobaika in feeling ‘honoured’. For him, ‘being Co-President offers you a deeper understanding of AGYA. I benefit a great deal from AGYA and serving as Co-President allows me to give something back’.
Co-Presidents Aim to Make 2019 a Year for Increasing AGYA’s Outreach
For the year ahead, both Co-Presidents agreed that, in addition to keeping the academy running smoothly, their main goal will be to increase AGYA’s outreach. ‘My goal for the upcoming year’, said Zeina, ‘is to increase the visibility of AGYA. AGYA is an amazing concept and it deserves to be better known. AGYA members benefit from outstanding scientific, social and cultural exchange, as well as networking and funding opportunities’. To do this, said Jan, ‘we need to diversify our outreach and be innovative with the materials we produce to showcase the excellent work being done within AGYA. We should utilize the opportunity to disseminate our research results in various formats, be it calendars, innovative workshop or meeting formats, films, or even comics. There are so many possibilities!’. Another focus for the year will be experimenting with ways to best facilitate collaboration between current AGYA members and the new AGYA Alumni Network. ‘We want to maintain collaboration with AGYA alumni to benefit from their expertise, rich experience, networks and ideas, but without compromising current AGYA members’ opportunities’, said Hobaika.
Idea Competition: New Member Olfa Messaoud Pitches Winning Project on Rare Disease Awareness
Every year, AGYA members develop innovative interdisciplinary ideas to pitch to their fellow members for the Idea Competition that takes place within the framework of the General Assembly. The idea that receives the most votes receives funding to realize the proposed project. This year, the winning idea was developed by a new AGYA member, Olfa Messaoud, who specializes in human genetics at the Institut Pasteur de Tunis, University of Tunis El-Manar. Jumping straight into active participation in the Academy, Messaoud developed an innovative idea for raising awareness around rare diseases in the Arab world and Germany. Messaoud’s proposed project aims to raise awareness among physicians through organizing a workshop on the relevance of rare, non-communicable conditions and the importance of proper diagnosis. ‘Raising awareness will certainly lead to better health care and management of patients suffering from these diseases, as well as their families’, says Messaoud. In terms of public outreach, the project will include participation in the ‘Rare Disease Day’ organized every year in Tunis, which includes patient support groups, research support groups, medical staff and geneticists. Specifically, the project aims to enlarge the reach and range of perspectives represented in this public outreach event by including involvement of German and Arab scholars and practitioners from other relevant disciplines, mainly humanities and social sciences (e.g. sociologists, psychologists, historians, etc.), to complement the usual scientific fields represented.
26 - 28 October 2018