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A Brief History of the Commission for Developing Countries (CDC) and its Predecessors

In August 2009 the adhering organizations of the IMU decided to merge its two existing commissions working on projects for developing countries, the Commission on Development and Exchanges (CDE) and Developing Countries Strategy Group (DCSG) into the Commission for Developing Countries (CDC), which was to continue the expanding and successful work previously carried out by CDE and DSCG.

Having started its work in January 2011, the CDC brings together all of IMU’s historical and current initiatives and projects in support of mathematics and mathematicians in the developing world “under one roof”.

First organized steps in 1971

The IMU took its first organized steps towards the promotion of mathematics in developing countries in 1971 when the IMU Executive Committee resolved to set up an international group to assist the Executive Committee in firstly advising other international organizations, governmental or nongovernmental on projects designed to encourage the growth of mathematics in developing countries, and secondly to suggest to the Executive Committee possible arrangements between existing research institutes and universities designed towards the same end. 

As a result IMU succeeded in receiving a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to support the All African Mathematical Conference in Morocco (1976), were the African Mathematical Union (AMU) was created.

Since 1978 several strategic steps were taken to support developing countries.

Commission on Development and Exchanges (CDE)

The Commission on Development and Exchanges (CDE) was created in 1978 through the General Assembly as a subcommittee of the IMU. The aim of CDE was to support mathematicians based in developing and economically disadvantaged countries through individual research travel grants, travel grants to conferences in developing countries as well as travel grants to conferences in developed countries. Since January 2011 this grant program is carried out by the CDC’s Grants Selection Committee.

Developing Countries Strategy Group (DCSG)

The Developing Countries Strategy Group (DCSG) was set up in 2003/2004 to create new programs and to raise funds to support them. Examples of some of the projects include the study “Mathematics in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities”, which was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

There is also the African Mathematics Millennium Science Initiative (AMMSI), which is a network of mathematics centres’ in Sub-Saharan Africa that administers a scholarship programme for mathematics graduate students in Africa, and helps to organise workshops, conferences and lectures. This initiative was strongly supported by DCSG and since 2011 from the CDC. Within this framework several mentoring partnerships have been established between UK mathematicians and mathematics departments in Cameroon, Ethiopia and Ghana.

The DCSG also worked with the London Mathematical Society (LMS), the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences (ICMS) and the African Mathematics Millennium Science Initiative (AMMSI) to create an initiative called Mentoring African Research in Mathematics (MARM).This is a mentoring partnership, where lecturers from the United Kingdom work with lecturers from Africa, who work together to improve the teaching quality of mathematics. The program is designed to counter the mathematics “brain-drain” from Sub-Saharan Africa by supporting qualified mathematics professionals in situ. The scheme concentrates on the creation of joint research partnerships between UK mathematicians, their colleagues in sub-Saharan Africa and doctoral students of those colleagues. The scheme is financially supported by the Nuffield Foundation and the Leverhulme Trust and overseen by the MARM board.

Another program now supported by the CDC is the Volunteer Lecture Program (VLP), which was established by DCSG in 2007 and, which is also supported by France’s International Centre for Pure and Applied Mathematics (CIMPA) and the U.S. National Committee on Mathematics. It is a program where lecturers go to teach an intensive 4-week course in a developing country. Professional mathematicians with doctoral degrees or equivalent can apply as volunteer lecturers and universities in the developing world can apply to receive volunteer lecturers for their degree programs in mathematics. The VLP pays for the travel and living expenses of the visiting lecturer.

The main objectives of the VLP include:

  • Building capacity in mathematics and mathematics education in developing countries.
  • Increasing mathematical interaction between the mathematical communities in the developed and emerging world and
  • Increasing opportunities for the vast, mostly untapped reservoir of mathematical talent in the developing world.


The DCSG also supports (financially as well as by contribution of professional expertise) the efforts of the French Centre International de Mathématique Pures et Appliquées (CIMPA) to rebuild the mathematical infrastructure in Cambodia, with the cooperation from Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia, with considerable mathematical resources.

The initiative has resulted in the establishment of a Masters program in mathematics at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the program is also supported by French, US and Japanese mathematicians. Each course is taught by a recognized international mathematician, with the assistance of a Cambodian counterpart from the Department of Mathematics at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).

This close cooperation between foreign experts and Cambodian staff benefits both parties, building RUPP’s resources and experience in postgraduate teaching and allowing 
international professors to gain experience teaching internationally and to better appreciate the students and faculty at RUPP and more generally in Cambodia.

Since 2004 the DCSG has administered an annual grant to IMU by the Abel Fund for the purposes of supporting mathematics in the developing world.

In 2004 DCSG advised the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) on the establishment and awarding of the Ramanujan Prize  for young mathematicians from developing countries. The prize is funded by the Neils Henrik Abel Memorial Fund and is awarded annually to a researcher from a developing country less than 45 years of age who has conducted outstanding research in a developing country.

Duties and activities of the DCSG from 2003-2010 have included:

  • Overseeing the work and the policies of the CDE, investigating and promoting mathematical activities in developing countries
  • Encouraging the VLP, identifying and contacting  existing and new sponsors to develop proposals
  • Implement member contribution-programs destined for support of mathematics and mathematics teaching in developing countries.
  • Fund-raising for mathematicians to attend conferences and also exploring connections between IMU initiatives and the ICMI Solidarity Fund.
  • Locating inexpensive or free online mathematics research resources and advertising these to mathematicians in the developing world.
  • Serving as a “clearing house” for the activities of individual countries and mathematics societies in support of mathematicians in the developing world.
  • Creating a database of mathematicians and mathematics in the developing world, while encouraging proposals and appeals for targeted support for mathematical organisations or individual mathematicians in the developing world.

All these activities are now coordinated by the Commission for Developing Countries (CDC).