President’s “Cairo Initiative” Celebrates a Year of Progress

On Tuesday, June 8, OSTP Director John Holdren will provide keynote remarks at an event commemorating President Obama’s June 4, 2009, speech at Cairo University, which called for deepening relations between the West and Muslim communities around the world. In that speech, President Obama described how America’s strength in science and technology could be enlisted to forge partnerships with Muslim communities and help solve many of our shared challenges. He spoke of appointing a team of “science envoys” to collaborate on programs to develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, purify water, and grow new crops. And he spoke of launching a new fund to support technological development in Muslim communities and help transfer ideas to the marketplace to create more jobs.

Tuesday’s event, at the National Academies’ Keck Center in Washington, DC, will celebrate the one-year anniversary of that “Cairo Initiative.” It will recognize the substantial progress that has been made to date, including the creation of new exchange programs and the deployment of America’s first three science envoys, who have in recent months traveled to more than 10 nations, including Egypt, Algeria, and Indonesia and will recount their experiences at the event. It will also highlight new commitments for further engagement and provide an opportunity for the diplomatic, science and technology, and non-governmental organization communities to comment and ask questions about the path ahead.

Among the many notable achievements to date:

  • An Entrepreneurship Summit led to the creation of support networks encompassing business and social entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, development bankers, and other business experts to promote development in a number of countries.
  • NASA teamed up with USAID to develop “SERVIR Africa,” a program that monitors and forecasts ecological change and allows participating nations to respond to regional natural disasters. NASA now has 39 agreements with 30 Muslim-majority nations.
  • USAID awarded six new Middle East Regional Cooperation projects to fund applied research and science and technology cooperation between Israel and Jordan, West Bank/Gaza, and Tunisia, regarding agriculture, global and regional health, and environmental protection.
  • EPA partnered with the City of Jakarta, Indonesia, to create an air quality management program to develop and apply science-based urban air pollution control strategies, programs, and tools, with the goal of improving air quality and human health.

Among the activities planned for the near future:

  • The U.S. Department of the Interior will work with the Government of Morocco to promote better management and protection of endangered species by creating a Red List of nationally endangered species. Both agencies will also cooperate to strengthen the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to promote sustainable tourism development.
  • Three new science envoys will be named by the State Department with missions in Central Asia, East and West Africa, and Southeast Asia.
  • The National Science Foundation will promote exchange visits by students to conduct research and take courses in areas such as materials science, biology, chemistry, and energy in Muslim communities. This will also allow greater linkage between NSF-funded science/engineering centers and equivalent facilities in Muslim communities.

Clearly much has been accomplished, and more is poised for fruition in the year ahead. A draft agenda for the meeting can be found here. For those who cannot attend, a live audio-cast will be available at

Erin Szulman is a student volunteer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

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