Alliance for Science expands mission with $10 million reinvestment

By Joan Conrow

September 23, 2020

The Cornell Alliance for Science is expanding its mission of science communication and advocacy and broadening its commitment to diversity and inclusion thanks to $10 million in new funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The grant will support the Cornell University-based global communications initiative, which was founded in 2014 to address misinformation around crop biotechnology, as it widens its focus to counter conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns that hinder progress in climate change, synthetic biology, agricultural innovations and other key issues.

“Science is the answer to the many challenges facing humanity, but science needs effective messengers,” said  Sarah Evanega, director of the Alliance for Science and faculty member in the Department of Global Development and School of Integrative Plant Science. “The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing the pervasiveness of misinformation in the public sphere and the critical need for a science-based approach to address the biggest challenges of our time.”

Under Evanega’s direction, the Alliance has begun conducting original research that makes use of data gathered by its international media monitoring platform. She recently led a study that analyzed the misinformation topics shared by traditional media during COVID-19.

The reinvestment will also help the Alliance fulfill its commitment to become more racially, geographically and gender inclusive in its staffing and programs.

“We are responding to the urgent need to address systemic racism in academia, especially STEM, by reflecting honestly on our own organization to take meaningful steps toward inclusivity and anti-racism in the global context in which we work,” Evanega noted.

To that end, Patricia Nanteza, a 2015 AfS Global Leadership Fellow from Uganda, will assume leadership of the Alliance’s innovative training programs. Over the past six years, the Alliance has trained 796 science champions from 48 countries through international short courses and its flagship 12-week Fellows program, which historically has been held at Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, New York. Nanteza will lead efforts to develop online and face-to-face training programs that reflect the organization’s expanded mission.

“An African-led, Africa-based training program will help us deepen our presence and engagement on the continent,” said Nanteza, who is also a science writer for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). “We are responding to our partners’ requests to offer more demand-driven training and we see this move as strengthening our real-time collaboration with key partners in Africa.”

Since its founding, the Cornell Alliance for Science grown into a vibrant international network committed to achieving food security, environmental sustainability, resilient communities and improved rural livelihoods through the adoption of science-based policies and practices.

The Alliance will continue to amplify pro-science voices from Africa, South Asia and Latin America through an expanded presence at international events, such as meetings convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization and United Nations.

“International policy discussions are too often dominated by anti-science groups from the global North,” said AfS Global Policy Lead Pablo Orozco, a 2016 AfS Fellow from Guatemala who has mobilized Fellows and others to participate in key international gatherings. “It’s so important that scientists, smallholder farmers and social justice activists from developing nations have a voice in decisions that profoundly affect their food security and quality of life.”

The re-investment also provides new funding for the Dhaka-based Farming Future Bangladesh, an Alliance initiative that is working to improve food security and nutrition in South Asia under the direction of Arif Hossain, a 2015 AfS Fellow from Bangladesh.

“Agricultural innovation should unite us all in the critical challenge of feeding a growing world, and we are collaborating with faith leaders, health care workers, farmers, scientists and youth groups to share accurate, timely information,” Hossain said. “We all share the goal of ending hunger and improving nutrition among the people of Bangladesh.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical need to address food security by giving smallholder farmers, many of them women, access to the innovative tools that can help them succeed and prosper in an increasingly unpredictable and hostile climate,” Evanega said. “This new investment in Cornell’s Alliance for Science reinforces the importance of working together to find inclusive, science-based solutions to the grave problems facing humanity and our planet.”