Dr Olive Shisana, CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council HSRC), has been appointed as the new president of the International Social Science Council (ISSC) during a meeting of the ISSC in Nagoya, Japan, on 12 December 2010.
The ISSC, founded in 1952 under the auspices of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), has the following aims:
• To advance the social sciences in all parts of the world;
• Support social science capacity building, especially in countries and regions where it currently not well-developed,
• Provide a central clearinghouse for collection, interpretation, analysis and dissemination of data on social science resources, their availability for research and their impact on society,
• Broaden international collaboration among the social sciences,
• Expand exchange and joint work between the social sciences, the humanities and other sciences,
• Link social science knowledge effectively to public policies and social need in order to improve the quality of people’s lives,
• Promote the social science literacy of citizens.
In her acceptance speech, Dr Shisana alluded to the fact that the social sciences had been marginalised over the last 25 years as a non-scientific body of knowledge that does not merit enhanced funding. The ISSC has done much to change this situation and “is leading the charge to take the social sciences to a level where they rightly belong: addressing global issues and challenges, helping humanity to make sense of the world around us despite the complexities of the change processes going on, and enabling us to continue to be actors and agents of change in our relationship with nature and in the relationships within and between communities and countries.”
She said the role of the ISSC would include that of contributing towards making knowledge truly global, effectively countering the tendency to elevate only certain kinds of knowledge, produced in some parts of the world (the global north) to the status of global or universal knowledge.
She made a pledge that during her presidency she will build on the successes of the past, while growing the organisation by increasing membership from the South.
“Many countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia have flourishing Medical Research Councils or similar organisations and could benefit from the establishment of similar councils for the Social Sciences… Areas of priority focus will be Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean”, Shisana said.
Dr Temba Masilela, newly appointed deputy CEO tasked with research, said “this appointment is an acknowledgement of the leadership that can be provided by the global south and a tribute to all African social scientists — past and present. The research communities working in the social sciences, humanities and arts in our country are honoured by this appointment.”