John DUDLEY, Universite de Franche-Comte, France
Joseph NIEMELA, Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics ICTP , Italy
A continual challenge in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development goals is that the problem-solving potential of science and technology to address concrete development challenges is poorly appreciated by the public and insufficiently prioritized by policy-makers. To this end, for over ten years, a global partnership of scientific societies and other organizations has worked with the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) to raise public awareness of the importance of science for sustainable development, structured around the particular theme of light science and optical technologies. This partnership led to the proclamation of the year 2015 as the United Nations International Year of Light, and the recognition since 2018 of an annual UNESCO International Day of Light.
The choice of “light” as a focus theme is motivated by the fact that it is a highly accessible topic appreciated by all ages, and easily opens doors to broader conversations on the role of science and technology to providing development and societal benefits. Moreover, light-based technology has revolutionized medicine, is essential in developing new energy solutions, and has opened up international communication via the Internet and video conferencing tools. The subject of light also naturally encourages interdisciplinary events combining science with art, allowing interactions between communities that remain far too frequently distinct, and attracting participation from members of the public who would not generally attend a science-only outreach activity.
As a result, these International Year and Day initiatives have been remarkably successful. The International Year of Light in 2015 is widely recognized as amongst the most effective of any of UNESCO’s international observances, with over 13,000 activities taking place within a 12-month period, involving millions of people in more than 100 countries. And the International Days of Light celebrated since 2018 have reached an estimated audience of over a million, with more than 1500 events taking place in more than 70 countries.
However, the coordination and implementation of such an international outreach initiative poses vast challenges. For example, it is necessary to effectively identify communication channels to politicians to ensure the necessary high-level governmental support to place resolutions before the UNESCO General Conference and the United Nations General Assembly. And it is also necessary to adapt outreach programmes to available resources in developing countries where ideas that work well in wealthy countries are simply not possible to implement. In this contribution, we will aim to share our experiences of developing such global outreach programmes, and we will describe in particular a number of practical aspects of coordination and organization of such large multi-partner initiatives.
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