Global Connections: Emerging Science Partners

U.S. Collaborators for ESP Engagement

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Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships

Many ESP governments have not yet fully incorporated R&D funding as a strategy for economic growth and prosperity. In Africa, many governments have stated their commitments to investing at least 1 percent of their GDP into R&D.146 However, available data indicate that none have met this goal, and investment remains especially low in sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2017, South Africa had the highest investment on the continent with 0.83 percent of its GDP supporting R&D.147

Given this reality and the recognition that ESPs must be a part of global research efforts, external funding sources are critical to contribute to building capacity, engaging talented scientists, and stimulating local and national investments. These sources include funding from partnering nations through science programs, sectoral programs (e.g., agriculture or health), development programs, international organizations, the private sector, and foundations. Potential U.S. collaborators and funders come from all sectors of the U.S. S&T enterprise, including: 1) federal agencies; 2) universities; 3) scientific societies and science academies; 4) foundations and the private sector; and 5) distributed networks.


U.S. Federal Agencies

Many researchers in ESPs seek grants and funding from U.S. government agencies. However, available grants are competitive and limited. Navigating these complex funding processes can be difficult, especially for ESP applicants who are not proficient in written English or are unfamiliar with the norms and expectations of application reviewers.148

Several U.S. agencies, each guided by its own authorities and program specifications, support research with ESP scientists. In some cases, researchers are able to obtain funding through joint initiatives at the NSF, such as the National Science Foundation–National Research Foundation of South Africa joint research program on biodiversity.149 In such bilateral partnerships, each country is responsible for supporting its own researchers—thus, these types of partnerships can be difficult for ESPs with fewer government resources allocated for research. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global has funded international scientific research on a smaller scale with impressive impact.

USAID regularly engages with researchers in ESPs on scientific research from aid and development perspectives. One example of a notable USAID-supported program is the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), which supports scientists in developing countries and pairs grantees with U.S.-based scientists.150 PEER awards provide researchers up to $200,000 and support projects that address key data or evidence gaps or test implementation research with the goal of informing local or international policies.151 PEER’s December 2020 grantee cohort includes a research project to improve agriculture management and agroforestry with farmers in the Dominican Republic, a project to develop technology for energy storage in Tanzania, and a project to address gender inequality in the STEM fields and sanitation in Malawi, among others.152 The PEER program, administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, is able to leverage the scientific excellence, capacity, and talent of many U.S. agencies, including NASA, the NSF, the NIH, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey.153

One U.S. agency with wide-ranging support for ESP researchers and collaborations with ESPs is the NIH. A major venue within the NIH for partnership with ESPs for global health is the Fogarty International Center (FIC). Established in 1968, the FIC seeks to build partnerships between the United States and international health institutions and to advance global health research to “reduce the burden of disease, promote health, and extend longevity for all people.”154 The FIC offers a variety of grants for which internationally based scientists can apply across a variety of research topics, including infectious and noncommunicable diseases, occupational health, biodiversity, and mobile and digital health. In addition, the FIC offers several grant programs for career development, many of which are targeted at researchers located in designated LMICs. Many of the trainees of FIC career and research programs have continued to collaborate with their U.S.- and LMIC-based mentors after completing their fellowships, contributing to important global health research and discoveries, including the development of a Zika vaccine in Iquitos, Peru;155 strengthening the pandemic response to Ebola in West Africa;156 publishing sweeping international studies on HIV/AIDS and prompting significant changes to treatment protocols in the United States and abroad;157 and potentially revelatory research on Alzheimer’s disease in Colombia.158



Universities are central hubs and entry points for U.S. scientists seeking collaborators. However, the capabilities and resources of universities around the world vary significantly (see Centers of Excellence). Partnerships can take many forms and the potential for success depends on the commitment of both partners to the endeavor. U.S. universities can contribute to these partnerships in multiple ways, including direct funding support for programs; in-kind contributions, such as providing lab space, equipment, and training; and support for visiting positions for faculty, students, and postdocs.

In some cases, institutions may be codeveloped and established from the ground up; in other cases, universities may partner with other universities. U.S. institution-building efforts with South Korea in the 1960s and Singapore in the 1990s are two successful models (see Codeveloping Institutions for Sustained R&D: South Korea and Singapore).

Another approach is the establishment of international satellite campuses. Carnegie Mellon University in Africa, for example, is a collaboration established in 2011 between Carnegie Mellon and the government of Rwanda. The mission of the initiative is to address the critical shortage of engineering talent trained on the African continent and to ensure that high-quality talent is ready to accelerate development in Africa for years to come.159 Similarly, the University of Arizona (UArizona) established a network of “microcampuses” around the globe, with locations including Nigeria, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Rwanda.160 The program allows enrolled international students to obtain UArizona degrees at any microcampus location while maintaining full-time status as a student at a partner university in the country. In doing so, international students obtain U.S. graduate and undergraduate degrees without studying in the United States, thereby fostering mobility and flexibility—potentially a particularly relevant model for a post–COVID-19 world.161 These programs engage faculty from UArizona and from the partner universities, allowing for the codevelopment and codelivery of programs and courses. With this model, UArizona is working to expand capacities and enhance relations with partner institutions across the globe. Such a model could provide more accessible education to people around the world, especially those who do not have the resources or opportunities to pursue international travel, including many women who may be unable to pursue international training due to family and childcare responsibilities.162

Collaborations at the university level have significant potential for developing strong and sustainable scientific capacity, facilitating scientific discoveries, and developing even stronger networks of collaboration outside the primary institutions. Such collaborations not only have the potential for capacity building, but for the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and, in some cases, personnel.


Centers of excellence, defined broadly as research or training institutions, universities, laboratories, science museums, libraries, or other such institutions, are hubs for science and innovation in the United States, ESPs, and around the world.163 In Africa, the World Bank in collaboration with African governments and the African Association of Universities established the African Higher Education Centers of Excellence Project (also known as the ACE Impact Project) to develop several high-quality institutions for training postgraduate students in the sciences. These centers are seen as a way of promoting regional specialization and collaboration and include the West African Center for Cellular Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) at the University of Ghana, which has emerged as an important hub for research on malaria and, more recently, COVID-19.164

Centers such as these are clear contenders for U.S. scientists and institutions seeking to partner with ESPs in advanced scientific endeavors, as they are often home to top-tier talent, as well as top-quality scientific equipment that allows for in-country data collection and analysis.

Confocal Microscope
Graduate interns conduct research experiments at WACCBIP. Photo courtesy of WACCBIP.


Scientific Societies and Science Academies

Scientific societies and science academies, as well as the bodies that work to connect them regionally and internationally, are key for science engagement in the United States and with ESPs alike. While these organizations are typically dependent on other sources for program funding, they can leverage their breadth of membership, their global vision of science, and their expertise, in addition to their strong relationships with federal and private funders, to support fostering and expanding research partnerships with ESPs.

Many leading scientific societies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Chemical Society, American Physical Society, American Geophysical Union, IEEE, and Society for Neuroscience (SFN), are based in the United States and prioritize global membership and engagement, including from ESPs. Scientific society conferences, publications, and programs are, in many cases, intended for a worldwide audience, as they seek to foster and disseminate the best science in their respective disciplines. In doing so, U.S.-based societies are natural partners with ESPs along with other international members and program participants.

SFN, as one example, has thirty-six thousand members from more than ninety-five countries and offers reduced membership fees and alternative routes to membership for residents of developing countries.165 SFN, which also receives financial support from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), administers a year-long online training program for early career researchers in Latin America and the Caribbean.166

National science academies are also excellent facilitators of collaborations with ESP scientific talent and provide opportunities for science policy collaboration.167 They serve as important hubs for recognizing in-country scientific excellence and negotiating potential collaborations and partnerships. TWAS, for example, recognizes the most impressive scientific talent from the developing world.168

The African Science Academies Development Initiative (ASADI) program, launched in 2004, was a ten-year program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to build and strengthen several academies of science in African countries, with major grants awarded to Uganda, South Africa, and Nigeria, and modest support provided to academies in Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Kenya, and the regional African Academy of Sciences (AAS). The program aimed to increase the capacity for evidence-driven, science-based policy advice for African governments.169 To date, eighteen countries in Africa have established Academies of Science recognized by the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC), the African regional network of the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP).170 In a final assessment of the ASADI program, the IAP concluded the program to be a significant success, especially in delivering training and networking opportunities to science academy staff and members, both within Africa and abroad. Initially, the goal was for thirty African academy staff to undertake training supported by the ASADI program, which would provide skills to aid staff in strategic planning, thus strengthening local secretariats. This goal was far exceeded, with more than seventy people participating in the training. Many of these individuals then went on to train others, resulting in more than one hundred people, including academy staff and council members, benefiting from this one training program and contributing to a more sustainable science academy workforce.171 The report also emphasizes the importance of continued capacity-building efforts to further strengthen established institutions, aid in the establishment of new academies, and support continued collaboration across the continent and the world. In addition, the academies must address the lagging participation levels of women scientists in their memberships.172


South Korea

After the Korean War, the United States collaborated with the Korean government on a shared goal of institution building, including the development of science universities. In 1970, Chung Kun-Mo, a Korean research professor at MIT and later at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, submitted (on the advice of the then administrator of USAID, John Hannah) a proposal to the Ministry of Science and Technology in Korea to establish a graduate school for S&T in an effort to prevent brain drain. The proposal was accepted, and Chung and the Korean government submitted funding requests to USAID with the support of Korea’s then president, Park Chung-Hee.173 In 1971, USAID contributed $6 million (the equivalent of $38 million today) to establish the Korea Advanced Institute of Science (KAIS), which later combined with the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) to form the national research university KAIST (formerly the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) in 1981. The two would later split into two separate institutions, KIST and KAIST, in 1989 due to different research philosophies. KAIST’s development was advised by Stanford University’s then provost, Frederick Terman, whose “Terman Report,” codeveloped with significant input from Chung, served as a blueprint for the design and building of KAIST’s science and engineering research and education programming.174 Now, as a world leader in S&T, KAIST is working to continue capacity building, this time as a donor, including a $95 million loan to Kenya to establish an advanced S&T center known as Kenya-KAIST.175


Universities have also played a role in directly supporting institution building. As one example, MIT has committed significant resources to institution-building efforts in several countries, including Singapore. Like South Korea, Singapore quickly emerged as a leading innovator in S&T due to its government’s strong support for R&D. When MIT’s first Singapore institution-building project began in 1999, Singapore was an ESP, its GDP an estimated $86.28 billion compared to $372.9 billion in 2019.176 The project, called the Singapore-MIT Alliance, was a collaboration between MIT and Singapore’s top two technical universities, the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University. Before the project’s launch, MIT faculty visited Singapore in 1998 and spent four months developing recommendations for building a strong collaboration with university administrators and faculty in Singapore, including support for exchanges of students, faculty, and courses.

The success of such partnerships, and the extent to which they are fully realized by the ESP, can depend on the investment and commitment of that country’s government. Both South Korea and Singapore committed significant government resources to R&D; thus, the United States could trust that its investments in these institutions would lead to strong scientific partnerships long-term. Today, despite stated commitments, many ESPs have not made the necessary financial investments to develop domestic scientific enterprises.177 U.S. support for current ESPs could aid in securing partner government commitments to develop science capacity, leading to more promising future scientific collaborations and advancements.


Science academies continue to have a role in promoting science, engineering, and medicine. A recent IAP-coordinated report speaks to the value that academies can have as resources for policy-makers. Further, it calls for continued support and facilitation of academy programming and capacity-building efforts for both early career and established scientists.178 By supporting such priorities, the United States could strengthen and foster relationships with top-tier scientific talent globally.

Academies of Science (and their regional branches) recognized by the IAP (see Appendix C: Regional Science Networks) have significant potential for building academy-to-academy relationships that can increase scientific capacity and share best practices.179 The Global Young Academy (GYA), which recognizes scientific excellence in early career scientists, is an important body for connecting with young voices and the next generation of scientific capacity builders.180 Expanding mentorship programs that pair early career scientists and senior scientists (e.g., members of the National Young Academies and senior members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences) hold significant potential as an approach for sharing knowledge between generations and fostering future scientific leaders.181

Science academies may provide a strong platform for establishing and strengthening collaborations with researchers in ESPs. One historical example: the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China, supported by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, was established in 1974 and facilitated early visits and collaborations by U.S. and Chinese scientists as China and the United States reestablished diplomatic relations.182

Scientific societies can also play a key role in fostering diplomatic relations. For example, the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, established in 2008, engages with scientists around the world to build bridges wherever strained diplomatic relationships exist between countries. One of these efforts was focused on building cooperation between the United States and Cuba. In 2014, a delegation of scientists affiliated with AAAS met with scientists at the Cuban Academy of Sciences and engaged in discussions that led to the signing of an MOU to advance scientific cooperation between the two institutions.183 Since that time, the two countries have held multiple workshops on commonly shared concerns, including on the topics of cancer, vector-borne diseases, and neuroscience.184 These workshops aim to bring leading scientists together and create opportunities for information sharing and future collaboration.


Foundations and the Private Sector

Scientists working in ESPs often apply to nongovernmental funders, private foundations, and companies for support of their research endeavors. Philanthropies in particular are well-suited to direct funds toward scientific collaborations because, in comparison to federal agencies, they are subject to fewer restrictions and regulations on how funds may be allocated and used.185 Their grants can fund capacity-building efforts, including training programs, equipment, travel, and activities often not funded by federal agencies (see Capacity Building and Foundations: Rockefeller and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations).186 Foundations and companies, on the other hand, often have more flexible financial resources and more discretion to develop and administer programs.


U.S. foundations have a long history of funding capacity-building initiatives internationally across a variety of scientific disciplines. The benefits continue to be seen to this day. For example, the Rockefeller Foundation’s funding of applied agriculture research in the early twentieth century included the launch of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, whose work helped prevent widespread famine in Asia following the end of World War II.187 IRRI is only one of the agricultural research centers now distributed across the developing world that support research to promote food security internationally, including in the United States, through innovative agricultural research. The institute is managed under the collaboration CGIAR, which the United States continues to support with federal funding from USAID and with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (see Mission-Driven Networks for further discussion of CGIAR).188

Foundations are also widely considered to have been instrumental in establishing modern public health practices. In 1909, John D. Rockefeller contributed $1 million to establish the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm in the American South, which then served as a model for building public health infrastructure in the United States and abroad. In 1913, the Rockefeller Foundation launched its International Health Division, which preceded the founding of the WHO as the most important global health body.189 It took the initial hookworm initiative global and then expanded to research other prevalent threats, including malaria and yellow fever, and build medical education capacity abroad—including through establishing permanent government public health structures and public health education programs.190 Today, Rockefeller still provides significant funding for global health issues, such as committing $20 million to disease surveillance programs, including the Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance Project in Southeast Asia and the East African Disease Surveillance Network.191

Since its founding, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become a top funder of international global development efforts, offering significant support for initiatives in Africa. In 2004, the U.S. National Academies received funding from the foundation to launch ASADI, which sought to develop and strengthen the capabilities of African science academies to provide scientifically driven advice to government officials and policy-makers, especially to improve issues around public health.192

Today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides funding for a vast array of programs across scientific disciplines and development goals. In 2003, the foundation launched the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which started with a commitment of $481.6 million for projects focusing on fourteen major scientific challenges in global health, including vaccine development, development of treatments and preventative methods for vector-borne diseases, and engineering crops to more effectively provide nutrition to populations.193 The foundation is one of the main U.S. partners in Grand Challenges, “a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems.”194


Research initiatives supported by R&D-driven companies and foundations can support opportunities for the use of newer technologies in addressing global research challenges. For example, the Google Earth–supported project Wildlife Insights is a collaboration among conservation organizations using Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology to understand global biodiversity trends and assist with the development of conservation policy.195 The open-source platform provides access to better data for researchers and policy-makers across the world.196

Nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations can also play a key role in supporting ESP researchers. As one example, the nongovernmental organization the Pew Charitable Trusts supports a fellows program in the biomedical sciences for postdoctoral students from Latin America.197 Fellows supported by the program receive funding to go to the United States for postdoctoral training. Pew Latin American fellows contribute to research whose findings are important to U.S. citizens as well; for example, three Pew-funded researchers supported in the 2021 class of fellows are researching the mechanisms that contribute to the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.198

Foundations and companies have significant capacity to support expansive research studies and to pioneer new technology and innovation. As these groups seek to build more robust R&D initiatives and reach new talent and new markets, collaboration with researchers in ESPs and support of capacity-building efforts in ESP countries should be a priority.


Distributed Networks

Distributed networks of collaborators can be fluid in leadership and entry points—they often involve various types of support from government agencies, universities, scientific societies, foundations, and other NGOs. They present a rich entry point for scientists and policy-makers to engage with a variety of partners, scientists, and types of research.

Often, the research conducted through these networks is global in scale and requires data collection and analysis to be conducted worldwide. For example, UN-supported international research initiatives such as the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the IPCC produce global assessments that rely on data and findings from all nations to inform international policy on shared natural resources.199

Mission-driven networks, which mobilize scientists to address urgent global and local issues, create opportunities for scientists interested in similar issues and topics to form collaborations at peer-to-peer levels and share data for all to use. CGIAR and H3Africa are two examples of networks that bring together scientists from around the world to work toward a common goal (see Mission-Driven Networks).



For fifty years, CGIAR has supported research and innovation to end hunger and food insecurity, with current research initiatives focused on transforming food, land, and water systems amid the pressing climate crisis, primarily in the Global South.200 The network connects fifteen independent, nonprofit research organizations around the globe, each with individual research initiatives that are part of the CGIAR research portfolio.201 The network was initially founded as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research in 1971. At its founding, U.S. membership included both U.S. government representation through USAID and several U.S. foundations, including the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.202 The United States, both through the government and through philanthropies, has consistently been a top funder of CGIAR over the past decades.203

From 2017 to 2021, the CGIAR portfolio focused on two research challenges: innovation in agri-food systems and global integration, which frames the work of agri-food systems within broader systems such as health, climate change, policies, institutions, markets, as well as water, land, and ecosystems.204 CGIAR also conducts much of its research with significant attention to gender inequities and disparities.205

CGIAR’s impact is measured along three main axes: 1) science-based innovation and the development of technologies and knowledge products; 2) targeted capacity development, including at the individual and organizational levels; and 3) advice on policy, including strategy advice for businesses, institutions, and public policy sectors.206 Impacts are tracked on the CGIAR results dashboard, including assessments of contributions to relevant SDGs.207

In mid-2021, CGIAR published its 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy, which will support a systems-level research approach to food, land, and water.208 This work will build on CGIAR’s portfolio to meet the challenges of an increasingly dynamic world, working with partner research institutions and scientists to capitalize on the capabilities and talent of its expansive network to achieve the UN’s SDGs. CGIAR’s 2022–2024 Investment Prospectus describes its strategy for supporting this innovative research in the Global South by pooling its funding resources and allocating funds to research in key impact areas, including nutrition, health, and food security; environmental health and biodiversity; gender equality, youth, and social inclusion; poverty reduction, livelihoods, and jobs; and climate adaptation and mitigation.209


The H3Africa collaboration is a network that fosters genetic research and collaboration among African researchers on the continent to improve African and global health.210 As scientists in other parts of the globe revolutionized genomic research, African countries were largely left behind. The formation of H3Africa in 2011 sought to address this deficit by directing research funds toward inequities in health and economic well-being in Africa and internationally.211 In addition to supporting fundamental and basic science research on communicable and noncommunicable diseases, H3Africa also seeks to support capacity-building initiatives to develop scientific infrastructure, resources, training, and ethical guidance on health research.212

The H3Africa consortium is a network of research sites located across Africa with funding support from the NIH, Wellcome Trust, and the African Academy of Sciences. H3Africa’s endeavors include research projects, collaborative research centers, and biorepositories. Working groups provide guidance and oversight on administration, such as management of biorepositories and community engagement, as well as guiding research directions and priorities (e.g., on cardiovascular diseases, environmental health, HIV, and AIDS).213 H3Africa has made substantial progress toward developing “Principles on Ethics, Governance, and Resource Sharing,” part of an effort to combat “parachute science” and exploitive human subjects research.214

Research from H3Africa has led to important insights into the earliest humans and into understudied diseases, such as sickle cell disease, a genetic disease that impacts primarily those of African descent, including an estimated one hundred thousand Americans, with an incidence of one case for every 365 Black or African American births.215 As H3Africa expands its sickle cell research, as well as its research into other genetic diseases impacting people of African descent, the findings and potential therapies may play a significant role in alleviating this disease burden for all global citizens of African descent, including Black Americans.216

The United States supports H3Africa through several NIH institutes and centers, including the NIH Common Fund, the National Human Genome Research Institute, and the FIC.217 These grants are intended for African-based researchers and institutions to promote a strong genetic research community on the continent and with the African diaspora.218 This support provides opportunities for both peer-to-peer collaborations and institutional relationship building with African researchers and institutions.

International Center for Tropical Agriculture
Researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) bean gene bank at the Kawanda research station in Uganda. Researchers use the beans to breed more resilient varieties that will help ensure food security for future generations. Photo © 2016 by CIAT/GeorginaSmith.