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Reflections On ACS: Past And Future

by Judith L. Benham, Board Chair
December 21, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 51

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

For my final ACS Comment as chair of the ACS Board of Directors, I want to share reflections on our accomplishments and our future challenges and opportunities.

It has been a humbling experience and an absolute privilege to serve as chair of this exceptional group of dedicated colleagues. They devote enormous amounts of time to ACS. Blending disparate backgrounds with intense deliberations, they have become a strong governance team for ACS. The board strengthened its focus on policy and oversight; developed—with staff, governance, and members—a robust strategic plan that has won acclaim from other scientific societies and our members; and developed a culture of mutual respect, candor, trust, and transparency. Continual inquiry into issues is supported by cooperative engagement moving forward.

It has been exhilarating to work on challenges facing ACS: implementing our strategic goals, supporting members facing professional challenges, and influencing change in ACS and in society. We advanced our strategic plan ( We renewed our emphasis on education, launched sustainability initiatives, strengthened advocacy and communication, increased our international focus, and took steps to support financial sustainability.

Like all organizations operating in this recession, ACS has dealt with its share of meaningful issues. Our financial sustainability is critical to our initiatives for our science, profession, and society, and it is a strategic goal. The state of ACS remains strong, largely because governance and management partnered to significantly reduce expenses and preserve revenues. These were very difficult but necessary steps. I believe the unstable global economic situation will continue, and we will be faced with ongoing challenges. New revenue models and enhanced development will increase our nimbleness; maintenance of net contribution and rebuilding of reserves will preserve our resilience.

Our goal of “enlisting the world’s scientific professionals to address, through chemistry, the sustainability challenges facing our world” is a shared responsibility that is well beyond the capability of any one group to lead. Being open and welcoming are essential to maximize our impact. The board-appointed Sustainability Stakeholders Steering Group (S3G) adopted a shared leadership model, with all participating committees equally responsible for moving the strategic agenda forward. At the San Francisco meeting in spring 2010, S3G plans to hold a plenary forum to solicit and engage members in creative projects. Similar outreach is essential across the global chemical enterprise. Sustainability issues are so large, complex, important, and imminent that they require the best minds, hearts, and energies for needed progress. Shared aspirations encourage us to work together.

An emerging trend in the association world is the realization that collaboration can result in achievements far beyond the capabilities of individual organizations. Because global challenges require global solutions, ACS is seeking international partners. The board executed a collaboration agreement between ACS and the Royal Society of Chemistry focused on sustainability and covering educational materials; seminars with participation by scientists, media, and decisionmakers; and communications training. Sustainability, a global topic with immense cooperative opportunities, is an appropriate focus. We have a similar partnership with the Society for Chemical Industry, and we have approved alliances with the Chinese and German chemical societies.

ACS President Tom Lane and I attended the IUPAC Congress & General Assembly to help plan the 2011 International Year of Chemistry (IYC) activities. As our partners, sister societies, and world colleagues plan activities to support IYC, ACS committees, divisions, and local sections are identifying how they can contribute to IYC’s success. IYC offers promise to increase public appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs, to encourage interest in chemistry among young people, to generate enthusiasm for the creative force of chemistry, and to celebrate the contributions of women to chemistry. I hope our efforts for IYC will lead to a successful year and will also be the foundation for continuing initiatives to address challenges facing science, our profession, and the society for years to follow.

Inherent in ACS efforts is education for students and professionals, for outreach to the general public, and for information and recommendations to decisionmakers and influencers. Overall understanding of science and appreciation of its importance must improve. Recommendations from the Board-Presidential Task Force on Education lay a starting path and must be advanced. We all play a part, whether as educators, advocates, or spokespeople. Together, our voices have greater impact.

We face a crossroads for ACS, our profession, the science enterprise, and society. The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. All institutions—education, industry, government, and social—are challenged. We may be at an inflection point similar to the Industrial Revolution or the dawn of the digital age. We have a unique opportunity to remain focused, to have impact, and to create our future. We must stay aligned with our strategic plan and make meaningful progress. The opportunities are ours to seize.

ACS is vast and supported by the efforts of many people. I thank ACS members and staff who support our initiatives; technical divisions, which sponsor stimulating programs; and local sections, which reach out to their communities. Our shared leadership and hard work guarantee that we can continue to be the world’s leading scientific society, serving the needs of our members, science, and society, and “improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.”

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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