By Francisca Mutapi

THE Royal Society of Edinburgh is a renowned institution with a long history of contributing to the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of Scotland through the sharing of learning and knowledge. This year, I join 63 distinguished colleagues as newly elected Fellows of RSE, a prestigious honour bestowed upon us by our peers.

As new Fellows, we carry the responsibility of continuing the RSE tradition of being broad-minded, enlightened thought leaders, making significant contributions to solving the global challenges that face humanity in the 21st century.

These challenges include climate change, the environment, sustainability, health and food security, water and energy security, governance, globalisation, geopolitics, economy, natural disasters and recently the reality of epidemics such as Covid-19.

This year’s cohort of Fellows comes from the fields of law, business, creative arts, science, health, technology, public engagement and charity sector. As a diverse group, we bring different expertise, strengths, narratives and voices to everyday life in Scotland and globally.

Scotland is facing a period of change, including reflecting on whether we are stronger alone or as part of something bigger – both in a national and international context. As RSE Fellows, we work free from commercial or political influence, to address the challenges facing the world today through advocacy, education, research and innovation. Together with more than 1600 current Fellows, we draw on our strengths and expertise and leverage our connections and networks across the globe to contribute to society. By bringing together a group of people who are objective, informed, enthusiastic free thinkers, the collaboration of minds from different backgrounds and experiences can start to untangle issues and problems that seem almost too large to tackle.

A recent RSE report into Scotland’s future energy requirements was brought together by the knowledge and expertise of various fellows from a variety of sectors. It warned that no energy policy, no matter how well-considered, will be capable of solving all the issues of energy supply and use in Scotland, and that difficult and costly choices will have to be made. However, the challenges present an opportunity for Scotland to explore and develop world-leading, innovative solutions.

And this is what we are here to do. We work collaboratively as a diverse range of experts to find innovative solutions for global issues. I conduct and lead scientific research on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), as well as providing input into global health policy. Consequently, my work has had a significant impact on the practice and implementation of control measures against these diseases.

I have contributed to shaping national and global policies by working closely with the World Health Organisation and local governments in affected countries, impacting millions of lives, and although it may sound remote from Scotland, my research and findings on this disease are fed to Health Protection Scotland and the NHS, helping to inform the treatment of British victims of the parasite – such as Prince William.

As a Fellow of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), I will continue to facilitate working relationships within the RSE and the AAS to share knowledge, research and best practise across the globe.

Progressive partnerships and collaborative efforts between The RSE and other global academies are invaluable for effectively addressing domestic and international societal challenges

For me, as I suspect is the case with most of the Fellows, to be elected to the RSE is not the end of a process, it is a beginning. This is an opportunity for us build on the RSE’s influential platform for bettering the current and future human condition.

Francisca Mutapi is Professor, Global Health Infection and Immunity, University of Edinburgh