Tanya Abrahamse elected chair of GBIF Governing Board

“Look after our biodiversity inheritance as an asset for the future,” says South African scientist and executive

Dr Tanya Abrahamse
Dr Tanya Abrahamse, new chair of the GBIF Governing Board

GBIF Voting Participants have elected Dr Tanya Abrahamse, former CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), as the new chair of the GBIF Governing Board. The election took place last month in Helsinki during GB24, the 24th meeting of the Governing Board.

“Whether your country is ‘megadiverse’ or not, we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to look after our biodiversity inheritance as an asset for the future,” said Abrahamse in her remarks accepting the post. She succeeds Peter Schalk of the Netherlands, who completed a four-year term as GBIF Chair and will continue to serve as chair of the Budget Committee.

A natural scientist with a wide range of management and leadership experience in environmental and developmental policies and processes, Abrahamse retired in July 2017 after 10 years as the first CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute. While leading SANBI, Abrahamse led a network of institutions and people responsible for biodiversity research, policy support, knowledge and information and focused on strengthening the biodiversity informatics agenda for Africa.

During remarks after her election, Abrahamse highlighted the value of biodiversity for development and the role that the GBIF network plays in providing data for good policy and decision-making. Having served as Deputy Director General of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and as an inaugural member of the Science Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General, she hopes to advance GBIF’s contribution to the global effort to make biodiversity science and its data relevant for sustainable development.

“Dr Abrahamse’s appointment advances the strategic interest of the South Africa Department of Science and Technology, which was pleased to nominate her to the position,” said Dr Yonah Seleti, Chief Director of Science Missions and head of South Africa's delegation to GBIF. “We feel strongly that her election supports South Africa’s policy objectives to increase international cooperation in science, technology and innovation, benefitting not just our country but also the African continent and the world.”

“GBIF plays a role on a long value chain of players, and we cannot find solutions to biodiversity science and policy issues alone,” said Abrahamse. “So it is key for us to work in partnership with others.”

After expressing gratitude to Schalk, her predecessor in the role, for guiding GBIF to become “an organization of good standing and stability,” she thanked the board for putting their trust in her and conveyed her hope that other women would join her among the leadership.

Abrahamse and Schalk will join another newcomer on the GBIF Executive Committee, Thomas Orrell, a research biologist based at the Smithsonian Institution, who won election as chair of the Science Committee at GB24.

About Dr Abrahamse

Appointed Chief Director of President Mandela’s Office in 1994, Tanya Abrahamse played a key role in the Reconstruction & Development Programme. In 1997, she was appointed Deputy Director-General in the Environment & Tourism Department (now Department of Environmental Affairs), where she headed the Resource Use Branch, which included Marine and Coastal Management, Biodiversity and Heritage Management, and Tourism. She participated in many international engagements in these and other roles and also served on the Science Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General.

Abrahamse earned her B.Sc in Biology from University of Zambia, an M.Sc and DIC in Applied Entomology and Insect Ecology from Imperial College London, and a Ph.D from the University of Westminster.

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