New Year's message from Tanya Abrahamse, Chair of the GBIF Governing Board

2021 was a year of highs and lows. Having started the year with hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic would quickly run its course, we’ve seen new waves ripple throughout the world. On behalf of the Executive Committee and the Secretariat, I congratulate you on your perseverence and look forward to a better 2022.

Despite these challenges, GBIF has excelled thanks to the dedication and flexibility of our global network. As we begin 2022, I would like to highlight one particular success from 2021: increasing the diversity of GBIF. This issue has been a focus for me as Governing Board Chair.

In 2021 Kudzai Mafuwe, Laban Musinguzi, Tsiky Rabetrano, Leonardo Buitrago, Vijay Barve, Chihjen Ko, Melissa Liu and Lily Shrestha have joined GBIF as regional support contractors for Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, respectively. We welcome them to these new roles, which are an important step towards strengthening regional capacity and diversifying GBIF. The contractors work remotely from their home-bases—either at a GBIF node or independently—giving the GBIF network local expertise, increased language ability, and better time zones for easier communication. In most cases the contractors work for GBIF part-time and spend other hours on node tasks or other biodiversity-related endeavors. The representatives are based in Colombia, India, Madagascar, Nepal, Taiwan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

CODATA’s independent Twenty-year Review of GBIF identified the need to strengthen regional capacity, and the Governing Board discussed and generally supported the idea of GBIF regional offices or teams during in its 2020 meeting. These new roles do not constitute regional offices but do allow us to explore new ways of working. This work model aligns with the new GBIF strategic framework 2023-2027, which emphasizes the development of a distributed workforce to better meet diverse needs as GBIF grows.

The GBIF network also includes elected regional representatives and national node managers—each with important and specific roles. The role of the regional contractors is to work closely with the Secretariat to fill capacity gaps between node managers and regional representatives, particularly in countries without GBIF participant nodes.

The idea began in early 2021 when the Secretariat identified an opportunity to engage regional support contractors to provide in-region technical support to the BID- and BIFA-funded projects in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. The Secretariat received many strong responses from highly qualified candidates during these three open calls for contractors. Applicants located in GBIF participant countries were required to submit letters of endorsement from that country’s head of delegation or node manager. The selection process included expert panels, technical skill exercises and online interviews.

Since beginning their new roles in late 2021, the regional support contractors have held Secretariat-facilitated meetings with the regional representatives and node managers to discuss communication and workflows. The success of the regional support contractors depends on good communication, coordination and collaboration with the regional representatives, nodes and the Secretariat—for example, in identifying and following up on opportunities for engagement of new partners for GBIF, which remains an ongoing priority.

This initiative is an exciting development for GBIF, as it strengthens our capacity to support data mobilization efforts and engagement at the regional level. The Secretariat will continue to foster communication between the contractors, nodes and representatives. Given the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope that these new contractors (who are long-standing members of the GBIF community) will provide additional capacity for our network to flourish. We will monitor the success of this model and explore opportunities to expand this approach to other regions in the coming year.

Responsibilities of the elected regional representatives and deputies within the GBIF Nodes Committee

The regional representatives are node managers who undertake to represent their region within the Nodes Steering Group on a voluntary basis and in addition to their role as node manager (see section III in Terms of Reference). The responsibilities of the regional representatives and deputies include coordination of regional level activities, ensuring information flows with the region, promoting GBIF regionally and engaging the GBIF Participants in the implementation of the Work Programme. There are often capacity constraints at this level due to the voluntary nature of the regional representative roles.

Roles of the new regional support contractors

The new role of regional support contractors is primarily focused on providing technical help desk support to assist partners engaged in BID- and BIFA-funded projects with their data mobilization plans and other project goals. The regional expertise and additional capacity that the contractors bring strengthens project support and allows frequent communication with BID- and BIFA-project teams (often in languages other than English) to encourage their long-term engagement in GBIF. The contractors can also assist interested institutions with data mobilization in countries that are not yet GBIF Participants and therefore do not have a national node. The overall aim of this initiative is to develop capacity and strengthen the community of practice within the regions concerned while working in collaboration with the nodes and the regional representatives and deputies.