START builds climate change science and policy capacity in developing countries for resilient futures.
Meeting the goals of the recently adopted Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires a strategic and sustained effort to enhance and mobilize human-technical resources, strengthen institutional capabilities, and foster regional communities of practice for better management and stewardship of our environment. We, at START, are well placed to meet this critical need. For over two decades, we have trained, supported and mobilized scientists and institutions, especially from the developing world, in local, national, regional and global efforts on ramifications of global change. START alumni are actively engaged in The IPCC and UNFCCC process. START alumni from academia, practice and decision communities are leaders in their communities, universities, and organizations. The story lines in this biennial report are illustrative of the capacity START mobilizes at individual, institutional, and systems level.
The Climate Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals call for greater effort to mobilize and enhance capacity for meaningful actions at regional, national, municipal and local levels. Consistent with the call for environmental stewardship, the Future Earth Program focuses on research for sustainability. START is deeply involved in Future Earth through development and implementation of strategy for capacity building for regional systems, especially in the context of Knowledge Action Networks. Along with the Paris Agreement, SDGs, and the Future Earth Program, START now has a blueprint and strategy to do our share and we shall not fail to deliver.
Please enjoy our biennial report and explore all of the great work that START has accomplished.
START strengthens scientific capacities to inform and mobilize action on critical sustainability challenges
START, founded in 1992, promotes capacity development on global change science in Africa and Asia. Our programs strengthen scientific skills, knowledge and connectivity of early and mid-career scientists and practitioners through experiences that are embedded at the interface of science, policy, and practice. These efforts advance leadership for sustainability that helps to foster more resilient and adaptable development.
START advances science-based inquiry to societal and environmental challenges through the support of collaborative research projects that are implemented by mixed teams of scientists and practitioners. All research projects integrate both natural and social science disciplines and prioritize communication of research results to support policy and decision-making. Our research programs emphasize experiential learning by graduate students and early career researchers.
START creates holistic fellowship experiences that include direct research support as well as specialized training experiences and targeted opportunities for collaboration and exchange at national, regional and international levels. Fellows are matched with universities, research centers and other host institutions where they collaborate with mentors to implement individually designed projects. START Fellowships offer experiential and solutions-oriented learning in sustainability science focused around transdisciplinarity, futures literacy, and leadership in societal engagement. Fellowships foster a global network of critical thinkers and creative problem solvers that are able to use scientific skills, knowledge, and connectivity to co-create the impact they envision.
START Advanced Institutes are one to three-week intensive learning opportunities for early and mid-career scientists and practitioners from a specific region, country or thematic expertise. These training events are facilitated by regional and global experts and include educational modules, hands-on and interactive exercises, and field visits that enhance participants’ understanding, skills and resources to design, organize and carry out global environmental change related studies in their own countries. Following an Advanced Institute, START offers follow-on grants to participants that enable them to apply newly acquired knowledge to address a research or communications need at their home institutions.
Learning & Synthesis Events
START promotes knowledge sharing through learning and synthesis events, which are 4–5 day events organized around specific priority issues that emerge from research supported by START programs. The events provide opportunities for START-supported scientists to come together with other regional and international subject matter experts to share their research findings and perspectives, collaboratively identify key messages for synthesis products, and develop innovative communication approaches for reaching decision makers. Often, events include an additional skill-building component, such as a writing workshop or communications seminar.
Writeshops & Writing Retreats
START promotes scientific publication in Africa and Asia through writeshops and writing retreats that blend elements of facilitated training, expert and peer review processes, one-on-one writing consultations and targeted personal writing time. Writeshops are directed towards early career scholars who have yet to publish extensively; participants progressively revise and refine a scientific manuscript and are matched with writing mentors who advise them before, during and after the event. Writing retreats emphasize one-on-one skill building and dedicated writing time for mid-career scientists.
Groups of energetic individuals from diverse backgrounds are brought together for intensive retreats where they collaboratively brainstorm and innovate science-based solutions to challenges of global environmental change. The teams compete in their creative problem-solving, and winning teams are awarded funding to support implementation of their ideas.
Higher Education Collaboratives
Universities have a vital role to play in helping society to adapt to climate change and other impacts from global environmental change. Realizing the potential of universities to be active agents of change requires new educational approaches that emphasize problems-based and solutions-focused experiential learning. START works with a number of university partners to identify appropriate avenues for mainstreaming climate change knowledge into existing curricula, develop stand-alone programs or modules in climate change and sustainability, create training tools and communication materials, and expand access to reference and teaching materials.
Helping Cities Grapple with Urban Development
START works with partners in Africa and Asia to expand understanding of vulnerabilities associated with rapid change in urban areas. Our current efforts focus on expanding knowledge of threats facing urban food production systems in East and West Africa and South Asia, water and energy system co-dependencies in Southern African cities and robust decision making in Southeast Asia.
Our efforts are helping cities grapple with challenges resulting from rapid and unplanned development and increasing climate extremes that exert stress on urban services, infrastructure and livelihoods.
Strengthening communities of practice and research on risk reduction
START’s initiatives on disaster risk management in Asia support informed decision-making through partnerships that strengthen capacities for conducting integrated, multidisciplinary research and assessment. Our efforts enable more effective communication between communities of science, policy and practice in proactively addressing disaster risk reduction related to extreme climatic events and natural disasters.
START Helps Scientists Understand How Ecosystems and Land Use Are Changing
START programs are advancing actionable knowledge of key socioeconomic, technological, and biophysical factors that drive land use change. As economies grow, urban settlements sprawl and farmlands expand in many parts of the world, these major land use changes cause significant disturbance of vital ecosystem functions.
Advancing actionable knowledge on agriculture and food security under a changing climate
Strengthening capacities for understanding how agricultural systems and farming communities will be impacted by climate change was among START’s earliest work and has remained a consistent theme at START over the last two decades.
START’s current work in agriculture includes involvement in the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions project as part of DFID-IDRC’s Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia, which focuses on climate change hotspots. In addition, START is advancing understanding of the unique challenges facing food producers in urban and peri-urban areas of Africa and Asia, and is promoting the work of young scientists in agricultural adaptation research through the African Climate Change Fellowship Program.
START is entering its 24th year of operation with the mission to strengthen science in developing countries to meet global environmental change challenges. Over the past two years START has:
- More than 171 scientists/practitioners reached through direct training/research support.
- 62 START fellows in programs on disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and earth observations. These fellows were able to travel to host institutions and receive training and mentoring to jumpstart their work in global change research and adaptation.
- Launched the Pan-Asia Risk Reduction (PARR) Fellowship Program. Piloted one new program aimed at training and connecting risk management communities across Asia. (The pilot round of our Pan-Asian Risk Reduction Fellowships has created a new network of scientists, practitioners, and institutions throughout Asia on managing vulnerabilities and risks associated with natural disasters.)
- Awarded 28 follow-on grants to scientists and practitioners to extend their START learning experiences at their home institutions.
- Initiated 6 new partnerships to advance systems-level capacity development for sustainability.
- Grown our social media audience by 60%. Increased email contact with our alumni and supporters by 950%.
- Organized 54 events to engage stakeholders, train scientists and practitioners, and create a space for networking.
- 103 program outreach products produced (includes reports, journal articles, film & radio shows, posters, adaptation plans, blogs, policy briefs, etc.).
START launched its online alumni directory in 2013, and in the past two years it’s grown to include over 300 climate change experts. The alumni directory helps START program participants find one another to collaborate and strengthen network ties. It is also a great resource for funding agencies and project managers of new initiatives looking to find vetted research partners in the regions.
TEA-START Regional Center
The Temperate East Asia Regional Centre for START (TEA-START) is located in Beijing, China and supported as a key laboratory in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In the past two years, TEA-START has expanded by adding 6 new staff members, and received accolades from the Chinese government. The Centre has conducted training on ecosystem-climate interactions for 16 young researchers, organized a workshop with NASA on earth observation of South Asia Climate Change, and published research in academic journals.
SEA-START Regional Center
The Southeast Asia Regional Centre for START (SEA-START) is located in Bangkok, Thailand and affiliated with Chulalongkorn University and the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT). In the past two years, SEA-START has collaborated with Thailand Research Fund to establish a new climate change adaptation research program, received a grant from the Asian Development Bank to review regional capacity building in climate vulnerability and adaptation assessment in the Greater Mekong Sub region, and collaborated with the International START Secretariat to develop seminars for graduate students, forums on transdisciplinary approaches to research, and summer school courses.
In 2014, START pilot tested a new program. We funded 6–12 month fellowships at four different regional START partners: the Temperate East Asia Centre for START (TEA-START) in Beijing, China; the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for START (SEA-START) in Bangkok, Thailand; the University of Ghana; and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Our intent was to provide more on-the-ground support to our regional partners, as well as strengthen ties between the regions and the International Secretariat. Overall, our regional partners and the START Fellows reported that it was a positive, mutually-beneficial experience. Two of these fellows, Dori Nguyen (at University of Ghana) and Rungkarn Rujiwarangkul (at SEA-START) have been featured in START newsletters that include more information about their experiences. START plans to continue this Regional Fellowship program when funding sources are identified.
Staff & Board members
The past two years have ushered in changes to the Secretariat staff and board. Venerable program staffers Skip Kauffman, Clark Seipt, and Katie Dietrich retired or took on other challenges with our well wishes while we’ve welcomed Shayne Piltz, as our administrative assistant, along with Mary Thompson-Hall and Niki West as Program Specialists. Roland Fuchs, Heide Hackman, Chao-Han Liu and Gordon McBean rotated off from START Board of Directors. We welcomed Ghassem Asrar, Mohamed El-Ashry, Joachim von Braun, A.H. Zakri, Rémi Quirion, and Reneé van Kessel-Hagesteijn. As new members of the START Board of Directors.
Engagement with global/regional initiatives like Future Earth, FCFA, and CARRIA
START’s work is most impactful where strategic partnerships are enabled that optimize complementary strengths to address regional needs and priorities. Over the past 23 years, START has actively engaged in wide ranging partnerships in the global environmental change community, and is currently partnering with Future Earth to advance capacity development. START is also a partner in two large consortium-led programs: the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), an IDRC and DFID-supported program to advance adaptation knowledge in climate change hotspots, and the Future Climate For Africa (FCFA) program that promotes knowledge to support enhanced uptake of climate information in policy and decision making.
Core operational and program funding for the International START Secretariat is secured through grants from the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), and grants and contracts from development assistance and other multilateral agencies. About half of START’s total income is from US government grants, and the other half from international NGOs, foreign government agencies, foundations and donations. START consistently partners with other organizations to secure resources for our programmatic portfolio. START spends over 90% of its funds on program activities focused on our core mission.
START has successfully passed annual financial audits in accordance with our US 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization status, and with a US government administrative audit for federal grant fund recipients. START annually files US Tax returns (Form 990); information is available on START’s website.