Building bridges between global thinking and local action was the tag line of the 2016 International Year of Global Understanding.  This provides an invaluable opportunity for chemistry organizations to rethink their roles and responsibilities in a global context. For IUPAC, its approaching centenary adds a further impetus to the continual quest for sustainability, relevance, and value. Chemistry organizations have a long tradition of helping to develop and promote the interests of the subject and its practitioners. In a rapidly changing world, what is their fundamental purpose, what should be their roles, and how can they refresh themselves to best serve the field and also society at large?
Spectrum of Chemistry Organizations
Since the earliest chemical societies were formed in the mid-19th century, numerous and diverse chemistry organizations have evolved. A web search identified more than 250 that are currently active. [3, 4] At the international level, chemistry organizations have formed as geographical or global federations of national chemical societies and industry associations, as well as of bodies that focus on a specific chemistry subject area, technique, process, or class of substance; or as new entities with a specific goal, such as networking or the promotion of particular objectives. Chemistry organizations have developed a diverse array of activities (see box below). As a well-known example, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), formally founded in 1919, includes many national chemical societies among its members and provides global networking opportunities through its diverse activities. It has developed a number of distinctive functions (see box on next page).
Emerging Changes Necessitate Action
Chemistry organizations are encountering many new challenges and face new realities in the 21st century. Externally, the global landscape in which chemistry operates is changing and the field is compelled to refresh both its identity as a science and its relevance to society. Several clusters of issues can be discerned [6-10] in the field of chemistry, especially:
Position in the ever-expanding space of sciences: As a mature science where fundamental new discoveries are increasingly rare, chemistry needs to find effective ways to refresh and reinvigorate the understanding of chemistry as a central/enabling science that delivers new knowledge, useful applications and the underpinning of adjacent sciences among practitioners and also those in related fields and those who determine the priorities for funding education and research.
Ambition as a science that solves large-scale contemporary challenges: To avoid declining into a science that only progresses through small, incremental, and often predictable changes, chemistry needs to develop the space, ambition, and courage to tackle large-scale and risky undertakings. These include ‘grand challenges’ (large-scale problems that require collective international effort and funding beyond the normal scope of national programmes), whether relating to fundamental problems that will result in disruptive step-changes to understanding, or to applied problems that will contribute to the benefit of society globally.
Perception and image of chemistry among scientists, the public, media and policy makers: Linked closely with the above issues is the need to overcome negative attitudes to chemistry. These include perceptions by some that chemistry is no longer an exciting science and that its practice in both industry and research is sometimes unethical and contributes to pollution and damage to health and the environment.
The shifting profile of chemistry-related activities across geographies: With the growth of chemistry research, innovation, production, and publication in countries like China, India, and Brazil, the locus of chemistry has shifted substantially from its traditional locations in Europe and North America and will continue to do so as new regions, including Africa, increase their capacities.
These are deep-seated developments that have been evolving over time and may require new frameworks of thinking, one recent example being the concept of ‘one-world chemistry’.  Chemistry organizations need to contribute to the substantive adjustments and re-alignments required, including the need to refresh chemistry’s sense of its own mission and purpose; reduce internal fragmentation and barriers to working across disciplinary boundaries; embrace systems thinking within the education, research, and practice of chemistry; ensure the promotion of ethical approaches and research integrity in academia and industry; strengthen the promotion, championing, and steering of the chemical sciences; and strengthen diversity and inclusion. In this endeavour, it is important that all chemistry practitioners—especially educators, researchers, the chemical industry, and chemistry organizations—join forces in contributing to the evolutionary changes required. To be able to do this with objectivity and credibility, some chemistry organizations may need reforms that will amplify their remit and reset their priorities.
Internally, many chemistry organizations, and especially some at the international level, are also experiencing challenges, some of which are:
Stagnating or declining membership:Organizations may need to consolidate or expand their membership base, especially among the young, and concomitantly find ways to enhance the orgnanization’s relevance and value to all members.
Stressed finances:In an era when income from publications and membership are facing headwinds, there is pressure to find a sustainable financial model to support the core purposes of the organization.
Jaded purpose: The mission, objectives, strategic plans, and budgets may all require restructuring in order to align them with priorities and expectations in a changing world, rebalancing income generation, service to the membership, and attention to the needs of society. International organizations may additionally need to repurpose themselves to lead in meeting the global challenges by building appropriate networks to implement solutions, harnessing needed strength through partnerships.
Archaic governance: To overcome issues related to efficiency, while retaining the confidence of both the membership and society at large, each organization may need to make adjustments to guarantee the adoption of best practices with regard to democratic processes that ensure transparency, inclusion, diversity, rigorous evaluation, and renewal that will induct fresh talent into the decision-making processes. Global and regional federations and unions can be especially vulnerable to being captured by interested parties that wish to control or perpetuate agendas or positions. Special efforts may be needed to overcome this.
Responses to the emerging external and internal challenges appear patchy and inadequate. The focus of this article is not to evaluate in detail what the chemistry organizations have been doing, but, notwithstanding their many previous achievements, to suggest directions for reflection.
How can each chemistry organization adapt to help lead and support the repositioning of the field, as well as to ensure its own continued relevance and sustainability? Given the diversity of current organizations, there can be no uniform answer to these questions. What may be useful, however, is a menu of options for consideration that could help to stimulate reflection and focus attention on areas of strength, weakness, and also on opportunities for each organization. Such a menu might cover:
The field of chemistry faces a number of severe challenges in the 21st century as it strives to refresh its purpose, sustain support from society, and continue to provide solutions to contemporary global problems, amounting to no less than planetary sustainability. Chemistry organizations have a central role to play in helping chemistry respond to these pressures, but at the same time they must overcome some major internal challenges that require deep-seated reforms to enable them to give better service to their own chemistry communities and to the field of chemistry. This will require breaking long-standing traditions of many of these associations: champions at both leadership and grassroots levels must step forward and press the case for reform. Each organization needs to do its own critical analysis (with assistance from independent external evaluations as appropriate) to ensure it is fit for its purposes. Implications for national chemistry organizations have been discussed in a separate article.  International organizations must also play their part.
The authors are members of the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD) and participants its programme to promote dialogue on the future of the chemical sciences.
Über die Autoren
Stephen A. Matlin [email@example.com] is Adjunct Professor in the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London.
Alain Krief is Emeritus Professor in the Chemistry Department of Namur University and Executive Director of IOCD. Belgium.
Henning Hopf is Professor in the Institute of Organic Chemistry in the Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany.
Goverdhan Mehta is University Distinguished Professor & Dr. Kallam Anji Reddy Chair, School of Chemistry, University of Hyderabad, India.
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