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December 21, 2003

A proposal for the "Network of Iranian Academics Abroad" (part 2)
Yaser Kerachian  [info|posts]

This is a follow up to A proposal for the "Network of Iranian Academics Abroad" (part 1).

In the previous post, I explained that one of the most effective ways to reduce the adverse effects of brain drain from Iran is to establish scientific cooperation with Iranian scientists living abroad. For this purpose, I am now proposing the establishment of a Network of Iranian Academics Abroad (NIAA). Although the network can in principle include people from a wide range of areas, from sociology to engineering, NIAA's main focus is on the science. It is very important that any proposal has to be first practical. Nice and ambitious ideas which could never come to practice are not useful. In this proposal, the establishment of the network is done by the new generation of Iranians who have left the country in the last decade or so and are currently graduate students or faculty members in the universities abroad. The primary objective of NIAA is to help the development of science in Iran and not networking among Iranian diaspora as opposed to many existing Iranian associations outside Iran.

NIAA will have an executive committee consisting of two main groups, inside and outside Iran. These two groups will be the graduate students and new university professors at universities inside and outside Iran. At the beginning, NIAA should be based on volunteerism, however to guarantee its continuation, it has to gradually set a funding system and pay some of its staff. NIAA should also try to keep a strong relationship with the governmental offices in Iran so as to facilitate its activities inside Iran. I believe this kind of relationship is a necessity for a scientific network such as NIAA and has to be considered regardless of the government's political agenda. There will also be an NIAA's advisory board of respected Iranian scientists from around the world. This would help the network to keep ties with an older generation of scientists in order to use their experience.

An easy and practical start would be to systematize the visits by Iranian scientists to their home. Every year, in the summer and Christmas holidays, many of the Iranian graduate students or professors go back to Iran for a short visit. NIAA should take advantage of this opportunity and organize different seminars and workshops by these people as a way of transferring knowledge to Iran. The NIAA committee inside Iran will do the logistic works for these activities where the committee outside Iran would arrange the trips and plans the seminars. For this reason, it is essential that the committee members should be dispersed in different universities and different areas of science.

What we have to do first is to develop a web site which contains a database. This database should include the information about the Iranian scientists outside Iran, the conferences and workshops in Iran, the universities and research centers in Iran and Iranian scientific and technical societies located outside Iran.

In the long term, this network can make some ties with organizations such as the United Nation Volunteers (UNV). There is a program called TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) which is now done by around 25 developing countries under the umbrella of UNV. In this program, which first started in Turkey in 1976, qualified expatriate professionals from developing countries return to their countries of origin for short periods of time to share the skills they have gained during their residence in developed countries. To my knowledge, TOKTEN has only very weak connection with Ministry of Science, Research and Technology of Iran through Iranian Scholars' Scientific Information Network Office (ISSINO). Such a collaboration with UNV and other similar organizations could be a great financial help as well as an important factor in strengthening the network.

At first glance, NIAA may not seem to be very useful for the current situation of Iran. One may argue that having few seminars more every year doesn't do too much regardless of whether scientific development should be any concern at all. I would like to emphasize this proposal is just a practical start. We could hope that this network grow in future and expand its activities to other fields and much more than seminars. Just as an example of what such a network of diaspora can do, we can look at the rapid development of information technology (IT) in India which owes a lot to the contribution from Indian IT professionals living outside India, some of whom have gathered in Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association (SIPA).

Somayeh Sadat at December 22, 2003 03:31 AM [permalink]:

I think another thing this network can do is to facilitate co-authorship of papers by Iranian students and faculty inside and outside Iran. The number of papers published by Iranian scientists inside Iran is not that much, and the reason could be that some of them don't have the know-how to publish a paper. (one needs some guidance for the first time). Some of them don't have enough connections. Some of them are not good at English. etc. Once Iranian scientists learn to publish more, they can find their way in the scientific societies themselves and need a lower level of help from this network. It also helps to enhance the reputation of Iranian scientists, and therefore facilitates potential workshops and seminars by non_Iranian scientists in Iran, and by Iranian scientists outside Iran.

JFTDMaster at December 22, 2003 10:38 AM [permalink]:

"Just do it."

Hamed at December 22, 2003 12:05 PM [permalink]:

I have been waiting for your second posts impatiently. It seems a nice idea, but I don't know why I don't like this sort of tree like organizations. Maybe because the were not so successful in Iran. There are plenty of such an organizations with almost the same goal but non of them were so successful. They stop at the very first level, to organize and find some money.

One good think that you mentioned in your posts it the data-base (DB). I think that DB is the only useful thing that does not exist at the moment. Such a database definitely facilitate scientific collaboration inside and outside Iran among Iranian. Therefore, I would like to open a practical discussion about the DB. There are some points.

1. again I do not like any centralized DB. What will happen if there is no money, some one hack it, no one accept the responsibility and lots of more bad things which can happen to a centralized DB.
2. What is the way to register peoples? Self-declaration?
3. What is the policy to update the information?
4.This DB is really valuable, so how it will be protected? How you can guaranty that no one will sell the information or abuse?

I think at the very first step, all of us can start to make a personal homepage with a friend list. The friend list includes the name and perhaps the place and filed of study. Each person is responsible for his own list. With an already existence search engine we can mine this information. In the next step one (better more) can design a robot, to start from some points and build the DB and update it regularly. Also you can define a unique protocol and format to make the data organization easier.

Seńor Gręd at December 22, 2003 04:08 PM [permalink]:

I have a comment on the name of the network. Since half (or a part) of this network is supposed to be in Iran, wouldn't it be better to call it something like "International Academics Network for Iran", or something longer like "International Network for the Advancement of Science in Iran"? I don't think these are the best options myself (I'm especially not happy with the word "international". You need a word that conveys a *bridge* between Iranian academics abroad and Iranian Academics living inside Iran), but in any case the final name must be thought through carefully. It'd be good if the acronym can be read too. NIAA has just too many vowels, but that's really a minor concern. Comparing with organizations such as , and learning from their experience, can also be useful.

Seńor Gręd at December 22, 2003 04:55 PM [permalink]:

The way I envisage your proposal, it seems like a VERY ambitious undertaking. I think it is a very good thing that you put your idea on the table so people can share their thoughts. Maybe you should start with a website that is devoted to sharing ideas on making this work. It is also always a good advice to start slowly and build on a solid foundation than to be victim of the SANG E BOZORG syndrome. I think in order to be effective, such an organization must grow naturally.

On another note, certain possible pitfalls come to mine:

-"Elitism"! (Or should I say, "exclusionism"?) This would happen, if the network falls in the hand of a circle of elites who don't provide equal opportunity for people with similar academic merit, due to reasons which has nothing to do with Iran's scientific advancement.

-Politicization. That is the worst thing that could happen to such a network. (Yaser has mentioned this in passing, but I think this must be paid due attention.) Such a network should avoid (an open) allegiance to any political faction.

-Corruption. Wherever there's money, there's room for corruption. Once such an organization is disreputed, then it's done with. But if there's no money, there's no motivation, or just some hard-to-sustain motivation.

Seńor Gręd at December 22, 2003 05:01 PM [permalink]:

Maybe such a network, once it gains prominence, can somehow help ease the issuance of visa for Iranian academics who live in the US and want to visit their home country. :->

hazhir at December 23, 2003 06:23 PM [permalink]:

Yaser, I like the idea. A few practical things:
- Such ambitious initiatives can only be pursued in groups. We are all busy people, so no single individual can handle it all. Moreover, one individual will soon lose motivation without a support group. So, finding a group of active people who like the idea and are willing to invest some time on it will be great.
- Connections with other Iranian groups can be helpful. Through these connections you can involve some resourceful people with good experiences. For example, write up an initial proposal (e.g. 5-10 page) and send it to people in several Iranian groups in diaspora, ask for feedback and emphasize that their experience is valuable for you. While many of these group don't do anything really worthwile at present, they usually have interested and skilled individuals. Moreover, we need to learn working with each other or we continue to grow into isolated, weak groups that have no impact on anything.
- I see a lot of small organizations started by Iranians who has had a good idea and have decided to push it forward. Nevertheless, most of them don't go any further than a website and then collapse/go dormant. This is a very common failure mode for which I don't have a clear dynamic hypothesis, nevertheless, I think it is worth talking with people involved in these efforts and learning from their experiences, before starting a new initiative. This way you can reduce the chances of failure.
- I highlight your idea of having a council/advisory board from more experienced individuals. Their networks and experiences are vital to the success of such effort, and you don't want to seem opposing the established guys, or they will shut down the effort pretty quickly.
Good luck!

Seńor Gręd at December 23, 2003 08:15 PM [permalink]:

You guys are really serious!!

Good luck to you then. :-)

Seńor Gręd at December 23, 2003 08:25 PM [permalink]:

"UN Volunteers working on TOKTEN missions are driven by a desire to return to their home countries to give something back of the knowledge they have gained. They offer expertise in highly technical fields ranging from

environmental protection,
health services and
social sciences to
urban planning.

Their cultural and linguistic affinities facilitate the transfer of technology and pave the way for more permanent relationships with national experts."

Source: one of your links above.

Hmmm. I guess UN doesn't show a lot of enthusiasm for pure science! ;-)

An Iranian Student (AIS) at December 24, 2003 04:16 AM [permalink]:

I fully support this proposal. Can have important long term consequences.
Good work!