For the next five years, Euclides de Mesquita Neto will be responsible for coordinating the activities of the GRC, which connects more than 60 research funding agencies on all continents (photo: Edu Cesar/Pesquisa FAPESP)
Published on 10/10/2022
By Karina Toledo | Agência FAPESP – In early September 2022, Euclides de Mesquita Neto, a mechanical engineer and a member of FAPESP’s Adjunct Panel for Special Programs and Research Collaboration, took office as Executive Secretary of the Global Research Council (GRC), a virtual organization comprising the heads of more than 60 research funding agencies from countries on all continents.
The Executive Secretariat is one of the GRC’s three decision-making bodies, alongside the Governing Board and Executive Support Group. Its main role is to mediate relations between the Board, Support Group and member funding agencies, foster interaction among funding agencies in the main regions of the planet, and more recently develop strategies to facilitate global coordination of research funding at a time of daunting global challenges such as climate change.
The GRC was established in 2012. Its first Executive Secretary was from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), followed by representatives of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI). This is the first time the post will be filled by a country not in the Global North, and Mesquita Neto expects more consideration to be given to issues important to developing countries as a result. “Although climate change is a problem that affects the entire world, it requires localized solutions. There are issues that are specific to the Amazon, for example,” he said.
Mesquita Neto graduated in mechanical engineering from the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) in 1978. He earned a master’s degree from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in 1981, and a PhD from the University of Hanover’s Institute of Mechanics in 1989. He has been a professor at UNICAMP’s School of Mechanical Engineering since 2004. He joined FAPESP’s Engineering Area Panel in 2008 and moved to its Adjunct Panel for Special Programs and Research Collaboration in 2016.
In an interview given to Agência FAPESP, he spoke about the GRC’s plans and challenges for the next five years.
Agência FAPESP – How long will FAPESP be responsible for the GRC’s Executive Secretariat and how were you chosen for the post?
Euclides de Mesquita Neto – At the end of last year, the GRC issued a call for proposals from member entities to host the Executive Secretariat. FAPESP submitted a proposal, which was approved at a meeting held in March of this year. Michael Bright of UKRI was the Executive Secretary until June. There was a transition period, and I officially took office on September 8 for a five-year term.
Agência FAPESP – What does the Executive Secretary do?
Mesquita Neto – The Executive Secretary is an intermediary between the GRC’s other two governance structures: the Governing Board, which is the highest decision-making body and whose members are elected every three years; and the Executive Support Group, a group of experienced people who help formulate the scientific policies of the funding agencies. It also liaises with all the agencies in the GRC’s five regions: Middle East & North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia Pacific, Americas and Europe. Annual meetings are held for each region, and the Executive Secretary coordinates the organization of these meetings. In addition, it oversees the implementation of the GRC’s Vision and Roadmap, a document containing the goals and procedures established for the years ahead, as agreed by its members. One of the aims of this Roadmap is to strengthen the regions. The fact that the Executive Secretary is from a country outside the northern hemisphere for the first time enables us to take some more local issues into consideration. Although climate change is a problem that affects the entire world, it requires localized solutions. There are issues that are specific to the Amazon, for example. Assuring good relations among the countries that make up the five regions is a challenge for the Executive Secretariat. Europe has a strong tradition in this regard. Sub-Saharan Africa is already well-organized. In the Americas, all this is somewhat incipient. The GRC also has working groups on matters considered priorities. The most important are the Gender Working Group [which promotes gender equity in science] and the Responsible Research Assessment Working Group [which works to improve the metrics used to assess projects and discusses issues such as open science]. But one of the most daunting challenges for the coming years is sorting out exactly what the GRC’s role should be.
Agência FAPESP – Could you elaborate?
Mesquita Neto – The GRC began as a forum for the heads of funding agencies to network and share information on best practices etc. For some time, we’ve been maturing the idea that we can go beyond this by coordinating research funders worldwide. The main problems we face are now global, and the solutions require global coordination. Besides climate, there are all the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in its Agenda 2030. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, each funding agency sought its own response. Many were successful, others less so, but the fact is that the responses weren’t coordinated. There was a great deal of redundancy. In some cases, more mature institutions could have supported others that proved unable to implement their projects successfully. It became clear that more effective coordination is needed.
Agência FAPESP – Would that be coordination relating to the selection of topics and organization of expertise, or does it also involve funding?
Mesquita Neto – There’s an appetite for ways and means of facilitating the links between members and relations with outside bodies, such as the Belmont Forum or the World Health Organization. The Belmont Forum has an interesting business model. Its aim is to organize research activities in sectors associated with environmental changes and sustainability. An organization of that kind but with funding agencies doesn’t exist yet. There’s a proposal, which is set to become a GRC working group, called Multilateral Funding Engagement. With the Executive Secretariat coordinating, we’re discussing what kinds of instruments would be viable to organize research funding across countries.
Agência FAPESP – How well do funders in the Americas work together?
Mesquita Neto – In 2019, FAPESP hosted the GRC’s annual meeting in São Paulo, in partnership with DFG [Germany] and CONICET [Argentina]. A regional meeting was held in Chile in the same year, and we concluded that our organizational work in the region needed to improve. We, therefore, decided to coordinate the 2020 regional meeting with Argentina’s and Uruguay’s agencies. It was to have taken place in Buenos Aires, but it was canceled because of the pandemic. Instead, we held two series of virtual seminars – one on COVID-19 [FAPESP COVID-19 Research Webinars] and another on research infrastructure [Americas Regional Scientific Webinars on COVID-19]. In November, there will be another series of seminars, at which nine entities – in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Panamá, Paraguay, the United States and Uruguay – will present the mechanisms available there to foster partnerships. This is a pioneering initiative if we consider the aims and the large number of entities involved.
Agência FAPESP – Why does FAPESP consider participation in the GRC important?
Mesquita Neto – It’s a special space, a chance to sit down and talk to the heads of leading research funding agencies such as DFG, NSF and NSFC [National Natural Science Foundation of China]. It greatly facilitates access to these entities. The benefits are tangible and intangible. In addition to visibility and contacts, we gain access to information about ongoing initiatives around the world. This helps FAPESP decide which research funding policies should be priorities in response to global conditions.