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Interview of the week – “We are making Barcelona an influential global player through science diplomacy”, Alexis Roig, CEO of SciTech DiploHub

In 2018, Barcelona launched SciTech DiploHub, the Barcelona Science and Technology Diplomacy Hub. We recently caught up with Alexis Roig, CEO of SciTech DiploHub, Professor at Shanghai University for Science and Technology and Senior Advisor on Science Diplomacy for governments across Asia and Europe, to discuss how science and technology are shaping international relations and find out how Barcelona is taking the lead in this new scene.


What is SciTech DiploHub? SciTech DiploHub is a pioneering nonprofit public-private partnership backed by leading research centers, universities, non-profits, startups, corporations and public institutions that positions Barcelona as a global lab in science diplomacy for cities around the world. We represent and promote Barcelona’s knowledge and innovation ecosystem worldwide, thus making the city a more influential player on the global stage: a reliable partner ready to harness science and technology for the sustainable development goals.

This means bringing together many different stakeholders to the conversation and helping them view scientific issues through a different lens. One of my main duties at the head of SciTech DiploHub is aligning diverse interests in support of a joint roadmap for our ecosystem abroad and act as Barcelona’s science and technology ambassador. This confluence of interests must be in the benefit of both the scientific endeavor as well as the legitimate broader geostrategic and societal objectives.


How is the everyday life of a Science and Technology Ambassador of a global city like Barcelona? Well, my work in front of this initiative is both challenging and exciting. We think and act global. In the last year we have travelled to New York City, Washington DC, Boston, The Hague, Geneva, Brussels, Paris and Shanghai among other cities, where we have showcased Barcelona’s scientific strengths; built partnerships with top universities, UN agencies and international organizations; got to know best practices in science diplomacy from ministries of Foreign Affairs; and connected with members of our science and technology diaspora abroad.


Who are the people behind SciTech DiploHub? SciTech DiploHub is a grassroots organization. A joint initiative of Barcelona’s ecosystem: two hundred world-class professionals, including university deans, research center directors, former ministers and mayors, CEOs of leading startups, directors of think tanks, business organizations, and the city’s top scientists, engineers and international relations professionals both at home and abroad. We truly believe that Barcelona cannot miss the boat on global competitiveness. This is why we took action.


Why must a city have a science and technology diplomacy? Major changes in the international scene over the last three decades have dramatically altered the actors having a say on international relations. A new global order is emerging around cities and their markets, beyond nation-states and their borders. New challenges from climate change to health, migrations, water and food security, together with rapid developments in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and gene editing require strong interactions between scientific communities across borders. Cities cannot turn a blind eye to the current global challenges. They are critical in implementing the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda, turning it from a global vision into a tangible reality. Barcelona must be at the forefront of it!


Why Barcelona? With world-class research institutions, a sound tech startup ecosystem and a global hub for international public policy, Barcelona was the perfect candidate to lead this new wave of city-led science diplomacy. With this goal into mind, we are launching a Global Alliance for City-led Science Diplomacy to bring together major metropolises and international organizations in science advice and foreign affairs in order to position cities as legitimate actors in science diplomacy, run pilot projects, and exchange best practices. Barcelona has become the world’s first city with a science diplomacy strategy.


What initiatives are you currently developing? We are implementing a quite comprehensive action plan. Working like a startup allows us to think big and act fast. We are bringing together consulates, international organizations and the city’s innovation ecosystem to enhance collaborative projects. We are empowering the global diaspora of scientists and technology experts educated in Barcelona, the Barcelona Alumni network, and organizing top-notch events to connect our ecosystem with other global hotspots in science and technology. We are training the next generation of science diplomats around the world, delivering policy advice for local city councils and partnering with international organizations, working as a think tank where scientific expertise can be harnessed in support of evidence-based policy.


How do you assess your partnership with Banco Sabadell Foundation? SciTech DiploHub’s programs wouldn’t be possible without the commitment and financial support of our Ecosystem Board, composed of Barcelona’s leading public and private organizations in science, technology and international relations, including Banco Sabadell Foundation. We value very positively the fact that the Foundation believes science and global cities have a central role to play in building a smarter, more sustainable future. From the very inception of the project, the Foundation has actively contributed to Barcelona’s science diplomacy strategy to consolidate the city as an innovation capital, ready to tackle the most pressing global challenges through science and technology.