From Paris to Pretoria – Dr Heide Hackmann joins Future Africa

UP welcomes international science diplomat, advisor and policy maker, Dr Heide Hackmann (former CEO of The International Science Council) on staff as the Interim Director at the Future Africa Institute. Born in Kwa-Zulu Natal and having travelled abroad acquiring multiple scholarly and career achievements, she returns to South Africa after nearly 30 years with a determined vision to help empower the African science community with her wealth of knowledge, networks, and capacitation expertise.

Dr Hackmann has more than 20 years of international experience in science and technology policy, global science strategy, science systems development and international science advice and diplomacy. She has conceived and delivered numerous international research, policy, and outreach initiatives at the interface of the natural and social sciences. She has served as an advisor to The United Nations' global policy processes and remains active on the boards of numerous international scientific organisations and initiatives.

Dr Hackmann's position as Interim Director at Future Africa sees her coming full circle in her scientific journey. Her career in science policy began in the early 90s after graduating from the University of Cambridge in the UK at the Human Sciences Research Council where she was centrally involved in establishing a national programme on global change and social transformations, affiliated with UNESCO's Management of Social Transformations programme. Following a golden thread, in 2022 she will be taking a lead in catalysing research for social transformations towards sustainability at Future Africa, a research institute and Pan-African platform. As part of her vision, she wants to ensure that African research informs and inspires sustainable development elsewhere in the world and that African researchers are afforded opportunities to shape the global voice for science. This will be done by shaping and mobilising international knowledge networks and resources for success and capacitating people and systems.

Dr Hackmann is motivated by a vision for an included Africa. Her plan was always to return to the continent and apply what she explains as, "a deep understanding of the global science arena, and of how important it is for the global voice for science to be inclusive and representative of African scientific communities, their perspectives and priorities." She further outlines, "all contemporary global challenges are transnational and require input, expertise, and influence from all over and Africa has a lot to offer."  Additionally, she highlights the need to increase visibility and recognition of our continent's excellent scholarship. There is still work to be done in that regard, but Dr Hackmann is encouraged by a change in perceptions and approach between the Global North and South. "The global geo-politics of science have shifted. We have moved away from the more hegemonic band-aid approaches of the past towards meaningful collaboration based on equality and mutual respect," she explains. Collaboration – across the disciplines, across countries and continents, and with society, lies at the heart of the vision and mission that Dr Hackmann wants to advance at Future Africa.

The heartbeat of her work is a commitment to fostering inter- and trans-disciplinarity within the sphere of science. She led the merger of two major international scientific organisations – the International Council for Science and the International Social Science Council – into what is now the world's largest representative organisation for science, the International Science Council. The merger was essentially a decadal project which resulted in a commitment to collaborate by members from over 140 countries in the natural and social science disciplines. They continue to work together to solve some of the most urgent problems in the world. The merger provided a framework to inspire other local level organisations to follow suit. Upon leaving the ISC, an International Fellowship in her honour was established and named: The Heide Hackmann International Science Policy and Diplomacy Fellowship, to be launched later in 2022.

Dr Hackmann's strong belief to do what is right for the world is a gift to the University. "In many ways I have always thought, perhaps too naively, that there's nothing we can't do if we put our minds to it," she states. "If we are passionate about the value of science for society then we have a responsibility to advance science for the public good. As the saying goes: If not us, then who? If not now, then when?"

The best is yet to come from Dr Hackmann's presence within the African scientific community.

Author: Department of Institutional Advancement, University of Pretoria