On November 27, we are holding our fourth Huxley Summit, where 300+ business leaders, scientists, policy-makers and opinion-formers will come together to discuss the topic "Collaboration in an uncertain world: The role of science and innovation in addressing complex challenges." Ahead of the event, our Chair, Gisela Abbam reflects on the importance of cross-discipline collaboration in driving positive societal change.


Written by Gisela Abbam, Chair of the British Science Association

In today’s political climate, it can often feel that we live in a divided world with no clear direction of travel. Communities have become disparate and siloed, dialogue is heated and unconstructive, and particularly for us at the moment, here in the UK, ‘business as usual’ has been put on hold because of the uncertainty we are living through. But the challenges of our time won’t wait for politics to settle down. Throughout the world, there are millions, if not billions, of people who don’t have access to the most basic needs, including food, clean water and basic healthcare. And even those who do have access to these supplies are left to live on the fringes of extreme poverty. This is not acceptable.

BSA Chair, Gisela Abbam, reflects ahead of this year's Huxley Summit

I have dedicated my career to achieving better health outcomes for people across the globe through collaborative healthcare. I look at healthcare through a policy lens, cooperating with clinicians, governments, NGOs and organizations all around the world. As we work towards the sustainable development goals, Collaboration is the driving force behind this, and only by working across not only different sectors, but also global boundaries, can we hope to solve these issues.

This isn’t just true for healthcare in a global setting – in the past year, it has been impossible to ignore the huge resurgence of interest in, and urgency around, conservation and wildlife protection. A few weeks ago, Collin’s Dictionary revealed that their 2019 Word of the Year is “Climate Strike”.

The devastating impacts of man-made climate change are happening now – remember the worldwide, record-breaking temperatures that brought countries to a stand-still just this summer, with places like France seeing unprecedented highs of 46°C.

Issues like these touch the lives of everyone on the planet and are as varied as the people we share our world with. On the surface, humankind’s differences may seem like a roadblock for progress, with our multitude of ideas, cultures, and motivations making a Scottish farmer feel worlds away from a Bengalese factory worker, and an American college student seem like an alien creature compared to an Arctic Inuit.

“Climate Strike" is the word of the year, according to Collin's Dictionary

But in the words of the late MP Jo Cox, “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. Most of us want happy, healthy lives for ourselves, our loved ones and communities, while doing the best we can for the natural world and environment. But to achieve this, it’s precisely the things that do make us different – our upbringings, gender, religion, age, etc. – that will bring the range of ideas, perspectives and differing voices that will solve some of society’s greatest challenges.

Homogenous thinking can lead to a stagnation in ideas. Fresh perspectives spark new and innovative interpretations, which create solutions that may never have been reached with the same people thinking about the same problems. Bringing people and institutions together from all walks of life will also allow us to become educated about different cultures and lived experiences, improving empathy, understanding and communication between individuals and nations. It would also allow for discrimination and “othering” to fade, as we start to see each other as a whole, rather than a divided planet.

We have a joint responsibility to work together and act on the challenges we all face, regardless of background or identity. We must draw on the individuals, communities and organisations who have the power and influence to make big changes, while listening to the voices that are so often drowned out, but are usually the most affected by health, climate, and technological problems.

We must join forces by encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration, merging business ideas, and working with people from the other side of the political spectrum. By welcoming and enacting thoughts, action, and resources from people the world over, across all cultures and societies, we can all have a positive impact on the planet and the lives of its inhabitants.

Find out more about the Huxley Summit here